The changes sweeping through the fashion and luxury industry continued unabated in the first half — and they show no sign of slowing up, with even more M&A activity set for this year; business strategies from new chief executive officers seeking growth amid uneven demand, and designers eager to prove themselves in new jobs at Givenchy, Chloé, Lanvin, Jil Sander and other brands.
The ongoing threat of terrorism in Europe, Brexit woes, currency fluctuations, department store wobbles and retailer bankruptcies may have put a damper on consumer sentiment and spooked brand leaders, there was still much to cheer: The Chinese consumer is back in action — at least for now — and buying more at home than abroad due to new government policies.
According to UBS and Global Blue, tourist spend in June was up 9 percent worldwide year-over-year, with Chinese consumption climbing 15 percent in the month. Sales in mainland China continue to grow strongly, according to UBS.
The watch industry has also begun to show signs of recovery after a tough run that saw sales and profits at the big manufacturers slide, and luxury giant Compagnie Financière Richemont buy back stock and, in some cases, melt it down.
Both Kering’s and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s brands showed strong growth in the first half, while analysts at Bernstein believe the luxury sector overall will rebound in 2017, with 3.5 percent growth after a one percent contraction in 2016. Bernstein said a rebound in the European and Chinese markets will fuel that growth, as will product categories such as jewelry and footwear, which are each set to rise 7 percent in the year.
M&A activity in the first half was vigorous, with Coach snapping up Kate Spade for $2.4 billion in cash and Michael Kors rocking the markets with the purchase of Jimmy Choo for an eye-watering $1.2 billion — and talking about more acquisitions. “We are creating a global luxury fashion group. Our focus is on international fashion luxury that are industry leaders,” John D. Idol, chairman and chief executive officer of Michael Kors Holdings, told WWD.
Smaller deals also abounded — Osman, Rapha, Farfetch, Richard James, Forte Forte, Charlotte Olympia, Golden Goose and scores of other brands — received fresh investment, while Bally and Belstaff are among the European brands seeking new owners.
Talk of IPOs is also in the air. Although the company denies that is imminent, Farfetch is said to be mulling a multibillion dollar listing, while SMCP, the accessible luxury company operates the Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot brands, plans to list its shares on Euronext Paris. Other fashion houses, such as Valentino, are taking a more cautious approach. “An IPO in 2017 is not on the table and we’ll see what happens in 2018,” said chief executive officer Stefano Sassi.
The first half also thrust a few fashion and luxury managers under the spotlight.
At Burberry, Marco Gobbetti took over from Christopher Bailey as chief executive officer. The Italian executive and former chief of Céline has never run a publicly listed company before, but said he relished the challenge. There will be many of those: Burberry is in the thick of a cost-cutting program and is looking to become a more efficient, streamlined and alluring brand in an increasingly competitive environment.
Gobbetti will also be under pressure to harmonize Burberry’s digital and bricks-and-mortar sales and to ensure that its see-now-buy-now runway strategy — which has had uneven results across the industry — is working for the brand.
Patrice Louvet will face similar challenges at Ralph Lauren Corp., which bid an abrupt farewell to its new-ish chief executive officer Stefan Larsson earlier this year. Louvet is sliding into the hot seat at a time when U.S. department store sales are struggling and Ralph Lauren is looking to elevate is name and de-emphasize its discount business. Among his priorities will be global expansion in Asia-Pacific, digital growth and generally restoring a shine to the heritage brand.
It’s also been a lively few months for designers, with changes galore and an unprecedented number of creative talents sitting on the sidelines as brands rethink their strategies. Riccardo Tisci, Alber Elbaz, Hedi Slimane, Stefano Pilati, Peter Copping, Francisco Costa, Rodolfo Paglialunga, Frida Giannini and Marco Zanini, to name a few, are pursuing new paths in fashion or other industries — or simply waiting for new opportunities to materialize.
Some designers have opted for a change of scene, swapping the runways of New York for those of Paris. Joseph Altuzarra was the latest name to announce that he’s off to Paris, following in the wake of Thom Browne. Altuzarra said the decision is part of a strategy to fuel his brand’s international growth. Both designers plan to showcase their collections during spring 2018 collections, which start at the end of September.
New York regulars Proenza Schouler, Rodarte and Monique Lhuillier all made their switch to Paris earlier this year, showing during couture week in July. Tom Ford was the exception: Having shown in London and Los Angeles, he’s opted to return to the New York catwalk in September.
Other designers are seeking to shine in new roles. They include Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, Natacha Ramsay-Levi at Chloé, Olivier Lapidus at Lanvin and Serge Ruffieux at Carven. In Milan, Jil Sander’s new co-creative directors Lucie and Luke Meier will make their debut, while Paul Surridge will show his first Roberto Cavalli collection as creative director in September.
A question mark continues to hover over Versace, which had been in talks since early this year with Riccardo Tisci about joining the company. Negotiations eventually broke down, but a new designer — although not as big a name as Tisci — is said to be waiting in the wings, with an announcement expected in the autumn, a season that promises to bring ever more drama — and disruption.