VUITTON CHIEF HEADS TO ASPREY & GARRARD AS LVMH TAKES STAKE
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — Asprey & Garrard aims to be a heavy hitter in luxury, so it’s enlisted the help of the biggest player around: LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
LVMH and Asprey & Garrard are expected to announce today a strategic linkup under which the French company will take a minority shareholding in the British luxury retailer. The exact stake has yet to be determined but it is expected to be less than 10 percent.
“LVMH has seen the movie and written the script in the world of luxury goods and they have a large contribution to make to Asprey & Garrard,” Lawrence Stroll, Asprey & Garrard’s co-chairman, said in an exclusive interview with WWD.
In disclosing the LVMH connection, Asprey & Garrard said it has lured one of the group’s key executives — Gianluca Brozzetti, head of Louis Vuitton Malletier — to be its global chief executive officer. Brozzetti’s contract with Louis Vuitton runs until the end of May. He is expected to join Asprey & Garrard no later than June 1. He will relocate to London, which will remain the global headquarters of the company, Stroll said.
It is understood that a successor to Brozzetti at Vuitton will be named within the next few months. Sources in Paris said possible candidates include Jean-Marc Loubier, president and ceo of Celine, who formerly was a top executive at Vuitton; Herve Martin, president of Kenzo, and Alain Lorenzo, former president of Givenchy Parfums, who is now ceo of e-luxury.com.
“This is quite a coup,” Stroll said. “We wanted someone with international experience in the luxury goods sector as well as lifestyle experience. We could not have found a better man in the industry, honestly, than Gianluca.”
Stroll stressed that the hiring of Brozzetti and the LVMH investment are related but separate issues. Sources said Brozzetti was eager to become involved in a more entrepreneurial venture, which is what attracted him to the Asprey & Garrard job. LVMH, for its part, respects and admires Brozzetti’s abilities and wanted to continue to work with him, which is why it decided to invest in Asprey & Garrard, they said.
The process was made easier because Stroll’s business partner Silas Chou has known LVMH’s group managing director Myron Ullman for a decade, ever since he was at Macy’s and the two men dealt with each other regarding Tommy Hilfiger. Stroll and Chou own 19 percent of Tommy Hilfiger Corp.
“It’s a win-win situation for both parties,” an executive close to the two groups said.
LVMH is expected to help Asprey & Garrard with such issues as store locations and product development, Stroll said. It is likely an LVMH executive will be named to the Asprey & Garrard board, although no final decision has been made. The deal was only concluded Sunday, Stroll said, and many issues still need to be finalized. This includes the exact size of the financial investment.
“This has zero to do with capital,” he said in a followup interview Monday, which took place via his mobile phone as he prepared to go skiing in Canada. “It’s very minority investment. It’s because they are so diversified in the luxury goods industry and a strategic alliance made sense.”
Industry executives said the investment fits in with LVMH’s strategy of expanding its holdings in the prestige jewelry and watch sectors. The group two weeks ago announced a major joint venture with the De Beers Group to turn the De Beers name into one of the world’s leading prestige jewelry brands with plans to invest a total of $400 million over the next five years. Under the terms of the deal, the De Beers venture must remain LVMH’s largest investment in the sector. A threshold has been established for all future investments in prestige jewelry and watches and the Asprey & Garrard stake is well below that number.
And there’s a potential upside for LVMH — Stroll and Chou aim to blast the dust off the 200-year-old Asprey and turn it into a brand rivaling Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Cartier or Tiffany. The Asprey brand eventually will cover as many categories as all the other luxury ones around.
“We now have a crystal-clear vision of what we want to do with the company,” Stroll said. “That is to create the greatest English luxury lifestyle brand in Asprey.”
Brozzetti will help them do that. One of the most experienced executives in the business, he’s been president and ceo of Louis Vuitton since June, having joined the company as its managing director in December 1999. He reports to Yves Carcelle, president of the fashion and leather goods business group at LVMH.
Prior to Vuitton, Brozzetti worked for Bulgari Group for 13 years, first as executive director of its watch and jewelry division and from 1993 as executive vice president of its fragrance division. His career has covered various positions at Procter & Gamble, McKinsey & Co. and the Gucci Group.
One of his first tasks will be to oversee the split of the Asprey & Garrard brands so that each stands on its own once again. Asprey will become the major focus, with Garrard returning to its roots as a retailer of jewelry and silver in classic designs.
Asprey currently makes its most expensive products in its own workrooms above the New Bond Street store while its middle- and entry-level products are sourced from other companies and brands, including watch brands such as Cartier, Patek Phillippe, Baume & Mercier and Tag Heuer. But within two years, Stroll and Chou plan to have every product carried by Asprey designed and produced in-house. They also see potential for the brand to cover more than its current jewelry, silver and leather goods.
“There will be a considerable extension into luxury apparel collections, accessories, shoes and so forth. These are businesses we’re not in today but we will be. They are all part of the British luxury experience.
“We want to keep Asprey’s tradition but with a modern-day sensibility.”
The shift will coincide with the complete remodeling of the New Bond Street store, which, when it’s completed in two years, will cover 27,000 square feet of retail space. It will be the largest store on New Bond Street, Stroll said. The cost of the remodeling has yet to be determined but it will be “huge, huge, huge,” Stroll said.
The remodeling will be complex because the site is a historically listed one that covers an entire city block and previously was made up of three separate buildings. When the store is completed, it will be split in two, with the largest portion being occupied by Asprey. The current watch department will be walled off again into a separate building and be given over to Garrard.
Once the New Bond Street store is launched, Asprey will look to open other flagships in New York and Tokyo. The company currently has a store in the Trump Tower but Stroll said this is too small for Asprey’s future ambitions. The company is searching for a site in central Manhattan of about 25,000 square feet. The Tokyo store will be a similar size.
“New York will definitely be the next store after New Bond Street,” Stroll said. “After that I’m not sure. We eventually think we can roll out to 40, 50 or 60 stores around the world.”
The other stores will range in size from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet. The smaller stores will be in cities like Bal Harbour, Fla., while the larger ones will be in cities such as Paris or Milan.
Brozzetti’s appointment is a continuation of the stage that began shortly after Stroll and Chou bought the company in June for about $150 million from the Brunei Investment Authority. In September, they appointed Rosa Monckton as ceo of Asprey & Garrard U.K. Monckton and Philip Warner, president of Asprey & Garrard in the U.S., will report to Brozzetti. Two other regional ceo’s for continental Europe and the Far East will be appointed within the next two years.
A group creative director should be appointed within the next two months; the company is in talks with two potential candidates who Stroll declined to name. The new design of the New Bond Street store will be not be drawn up until the creative director joins, Stroll said. The creative director will report to Brozzetti.
Meanwhile, the company is moving rapidly to bolster its design and production operations. A head designer, Alessandra Gradi, joined last Monday. Gradi previously has been a freelance designer for the last three years, working with brands such as Ebel and Alfred Dunhill. From 1994 to 1997, she was artistic director of the French jeweler Chaumet and prior to that she did a signature jewelry line for Ebel.
Asprey & Garrard also has hired 14 other designers, six product managers and numerous craftsmen in its jewelry, silver and leather goods workrooms, Stroll said. Among the design appointments are the young British designers Jade Jagger and Francesca Amfitheatrof, who will launch jewelry collections for Asprey beginning in February, and the British cookery writer Nigella Lawson, who will design a lifestyle collection for the brand.
“We are moving very quickly,” he added. “Do I wish it could go faster? Absolutely. We’re having so much fun recreating the Asprey tradition. It will be, we hope, the ultimate British shopping experience.”