Four international executives from mostly American companies convened in San Francisco on Tuesday to talk about the business of running a luxury fashion brand. As wide-reaching as the panel was, the conversation followed suit, with topics ranging from the changing timeline and purpose of the fashion show to global real estate and designer hirings.
Panelists at the final talk of the FT Business of Luxury Summit conference were Thom Browne chief executive officer Rodrigo Bazan, Move Now Commercial Brokers managing director Philipp Gajzer, Coach ceo Victor Luis and Diane von Furstenberg ceo Paolo Riva. There were no ubiquitous solutions or themes, other than for a recommendation for brands to find strength by focusing on what works individually and nothing is constant but change.
Luis spoke about the brand’s recent near “total reset,” and shift in mind-set from “accessible luxury” to “modern luxury.” He admitted that the 75-year-old brand had faltered a bit in the past by not competing as aggressively. “When you’re alone, that’s easy,” he said, “but when Michael, Tory and Kate come in next to you and not only create a business but have more of a fashion language, you are forced to compete.”
Thus, in a time when many brands are reimagining or abandoning the format of the fashion show, it was the right time, he said, to stage a fashion show. “It is about us telling our story and creating the fashion credibility,” Luis said. “We didn’t tell the story of our history and heritage as well as we should have.”
Diane von Furstenberg, alternatively, decided to forgo the traditional show in favor of a presentation, Riva said. “We did an ‘experience,’ which is what we wanted to achieve.” He said that fashion brands have been asking the fashion show to achieve too much, from showcasing the collection and communicating the message in an intelligent way to press to assisting buyers and attracting influencers. “It’s too much for one moment,” he has found.
But that’s not the most notable change at DVF of late. Riva couldn’t escape discussing last week’s announcement that designer Jonathan Saunders had come on in the role of chief creative officer.
He said that founder von Furstenberg would continue in a different capacity, but was not, in a word, “retiring,” and that he, von Furstenberg and the board of directors had all endorsed the decision. “She is very pragmatic, and will do more of what she has been building in a real way.” And Saunders, he said, “has an incredible eye for colors and simple, feminine designs, and all of this is DVF.”
Riva also shared his thoughts on the purpose of a physical retail space as the group discussed the morphing understanding of the term “flagship.” He said that when he found that the U.S. alone had 800 places to buy the brand, he considered it a “tyranny.” “It’s intuitive that this doesn’t make women happy; how can I control and partner with distribution with more than 800? The future of the concept of flagship is not driven by size but by being in a place that represents the community and also showcases the brand.”
Speaking of real estate, Gajzer said that recently, he’s observed brands walking away from lease renewals that are unaffordable. “Luxury brands are no longer willing to pay these level of rents and accept these sharp and steep increases,” he said. “Some say it’s not strategic anymore, so they can only land in a classic, typical luxury area.”
He offered that now might be a time to “optimize your portfolio” in key Asian capitals, where leases tend to be for up to five years, compared to the American or European 10 or 15. That, he said, can make it easier to adjust to volatility.”
Bazan of Thom Browne said that the brand had found success in focusing on a narrow point of view, starting with tailoring — which isn’t suited for the see-now-buy-now model.
“We have a beautiful made-to-measure business, so what about ‘see-now-try-now-buy-now — but I give it to you in eight to 12 weeks,’” he offered. “If it is something unique and specific to you, there is beautiful storytelling of ordering and customizing.”