LOS ANGELES — Alexandre Arnault is aiming to recharge and perhaps redefine what it means to operate a luxury brand at retail these days.
Arnault, whose father is LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault, rose to cochief executive of Rimowa last year after it was announced the upscale German luggage maker had sold a majority stake to the French conglomerate. The deal made Rimowa the first German maison to enter the LVMH portfolio and ushered in a new direction of sorts with Arnault now helming the business — which counts 150 stores, 13 of which are in the U.S. — and evolving a brand founded in 1898 for the digital age.
Arnault, in town for the opening of the company’s first pop-up concept shop, said the store aims to be a new take on retail. The space is located on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills just steps away from its existing store sandwiched between Dior’s men’s and women’s boutiques.
“Indeed it is the first time that we’ve actually done a pop-up and the thinking behind it was really to do something fun, new and exciting compared to what we have in our retail network, which is sometimes a bit clinical and white,” Arnault said. “We used new materials that we never had before like wood, concrete, foam and we basically made two parts in the store.”
One space is an installation drawing inspiration from airport luggage carousels, while the other is more of a lounge area. The assortment includes the company’s luggage and accessories in addition to juices made in conjunction with Juice Served Here, Kaweco pens manufactured in Heidelberg, travel-friendly beauty products from Austria-based cosmetics brand Susanne Kaufmann, exclusive stickers from Los Angeles creative studio Commonwealth Projects and T-shirts from German brand Merz b. Schwanen. Art from London illustrator Charlotte Ager and photographer KangHee Kim decorate the space.
If the Beverly Hills pop-up is successful it could pave the way for additional temporary shops throughout the world, Arnault said.
“We want to try out this design and how it fits. If it works well, I’m definitely excited to roll it out to other places, even though my vision for the brand is different from other luxury brands,” he said. “I’d much rather have a few different [retail] concepts for the brand.”
That end speaks to what Arnault said is at the core of Rimowa’s retail strategy, which is that every store looks and feels different depending on the market. Short-term spurts of the brand via temporary shops would play an important part in that plan.
“It’s [pop-ups] key because if I look at myself and I also look at people from my own generation, I feel like going into stores is only interesting when there’s something new to discover,” he said. “I feel like especially in America, the retail sector is struggling because people don’t get excited by stores anymore, whereas retail outlets that do very well are the ones that are able to offer a different, shared experience depending on where they go. Obviously, a lot of brands from our group [at LVMH] do well from a brick-and-mortar stance. Say, for example, Fendi. They offer a different experience at their Design District store in Miami than here on Rodeo and I think that’s why consumers stay excited. Then again, I also think e-commerce is key and, coming back to Rimowa, especially for us, unless you need the suitcase right now because you’re traveling, it’s sometimes problematic to leave the store with such a big item.”
Rimowa also sees online as a key growth driver and plans to launch U.S. e-commerce next year, the executive said.
Elsewhere in the business, brick-and-mortar next year will be ruled by two main objectives: retrofitting some stores, such as Beverly Hills, to make them more in line with the brand and being opportunistic about store locations in key retail cities.
“I don’t want us to have any rules as to where we go because I think our brand is unique enough that we fit in many different neighborhoods,” Arnault said saying the brand is just as comfortable in Beverly Hills as it could be on, for example, the funkier Melrose Avenue.
Rimowa also continues its evolution on the digital front. The company released an electronic tag last year that sends a travelers’ boarding passes to their suitcase, allowing them to bypass the bag-check lines or the need to speak with an agent at the airport for a paper tag.
Digital is important to the future of the company for three key reasons, Arnault said. Those include distribution to customers who perhaps don’t have access to the existing retail network, communication via more targeted avenues than what print has typically allowed and technology.
“Technology I think could be the most exciting for our product at Rimowa because technology is a way to enhance the experience of consumers. It’s obvious to see how it could be extremely valuable within a Rimowa suitcase,” noted Arnault, who said he couldn’t get into the details on future innovation. “We’re going to evolve more and more toward technology in the products not to become an over-technical suitcase, but to use technology to enhance the consumer experience.”
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