Because of their timeless character and French knowhow, luxury goods that are “made in France” are well-known for quality. Products from famous French brands depend on their historical legacy and prestige, and are synonymous with quality. According to Bernard Arnault (CEO of L.V.M.H.), “a brand should be build up slowly and with a lot of patience.”
Like a French wine that has to mature slowly. The various French fashion houses and their luxury products are particularly popular in the United States and China. Globally, the French companies represent twenty-five percent of the industry’s turnover. And French designer clothes are key here.
Because of the global credit crunch, the buying behavior of consumers has changed considerably over the past years. The fashion industry has been faced with disappointing sales for a number of years. Consumers increasingly want to invest in durable items that are not seasonable, but can be used for more than just one year. Quality products that do not lose their value instead of cheaper items. This explains the success of French luxury brand Hermès, which is one of the few brands that has seen an enormous increase in sales revenue over the past credit crunch years. Known for its excellent quality products that are timeless and come with a rich legacy and craftsmanship. Compared to 2011, this brand realized a turnover increase of 22.6 percent over 2012 to thirty-five billion Euro. This was mostly due to consumer spending in Asia, America and Europe. In 2013, a revenue growth of 7.8 percent to 3.75 billion Euros was realized. Hermès expects that the final profit over 2013 will come close to 2012’s record level of 32.1 percent.
At the moment, Chinese consumers are on third place when it comes to the purchase of luxury goods, but they will climb to first place in 2015. Over the next five years, Asia will become the largest market in the world for luxury goods, with an expected growth of 170 percent. This is mostly because of China, but also because of emerging markets such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Another important emerging country is Mexico, where many luxury brands have opened stores.
To remain as exclusively as possible and stay ahead of the competition, many luxury brands buy up entire companies, to ensure that they only produce for that particular label. This ensures the quality of their products and keeps the knowhow within the company. Christian Dior for example has purchased approximately 2500 acres of land near Grasse (the French perfume capital), where their own roses and jasmine flowers are grown, in order to secure and guarantee the continuity and quality of their perfumes. And in 2012, Dior purchased the Parisian embroidery company Vermont. Hermès already owns two alligator farms in Louisiana, and two crocodile farms in Australia. Luxury conglomerate L.V.M.H. recently purchased the Johnstone River crocodile farm in Australia to gain independence from the crocodile leather on the market, and “grow” it themselves. And British designer Kim Jones manufactures it into supple, short sports jackets in his collections for Louis Vuitton, one of the many brands under the powerful L.V.M.H. umbrella. Or into crocodile leather elbow pieces on sporty boy scout parkas with various American football symbols on the back.
“We have used the crocodile leather on purpose to make it all very luxurious.” Jones states. The collection is inspired by the American Road Trip, with Jones having made a trip from New Orleans to Las Vegas. The cowboy bandanna dangles loosely as a scarf around the neck throughout the collection: on blue plaid suits and Bermuda shorts, and sometimes used in patchwork peasant-like blouses. Everything is truly amazing! And with a front-row David Beckham. “Kim is a very talented designer. The black dinner jackets are one of my favorites in the collection. But I also really like the silver bomber jacket.” For the first time ever, L.V.M.H. has overstepped the six billion Euro line and realized a revenue increase of four percent over 2013. “Despite of slow economic growth in Europe, we performed well. All our brands have proven to be extremely dynamic. With the Louis Vuitton brand as the most profitable,” says L.V.M.H. CEO Bernard Arnault.
Another French powerhouse is the legendary Yves Saint Laurent. There, Hedi Slimane is now in creative control since Stefano Pilati’s contract was not renewed. Enraging many, Hedi changed the name Yves Saint Laurent quickly to only Saint Laurent Paris... without Yves. Totally lacking in respect, according to many Y.S.L. fans. But Pierre Bergé (ex-partner of Yves) sees Hedi as the only and rightful person that can revive the legacy of Y.S.L. in the collections. “Hedi wants to shock. And when you are an artist, you should shock,” Bergé says. Hedi is taking a new path that focuses more on a younger crowd, working from Los Angeles instead of Paris, where the sewing workshops of Y.S.L. are. Fashion for a younger generation that no longer associates the label Saint Laurent Paris with the big man Yves himself. The collection is a mix of David Bowie meets rock&roll. Golden jackets, extremely tight black pants, black leather motor jackets and super-slim cut costumes and bolero jackets that created a furore for Hedi as a designer at Dior Homme. With many feminine elements, such as spangles, short bright-pink pointy boots and boys wearing make-up. The fashion press was not really enthusiastic about Hedi’s new approach, but the incredible sales figures speak for themselves. Department store Barney’s in New York rather quickly sold sixty percent of the entire collection. And online, the leather bomber jackets and accessories were sold out within days. Soon, new Saint Laurent flagship stores will open their doors in Paris and New York City.
Besides the established names, there are also lesser known designers showing their collection in Paris. Often less commercial, but with interesting visions, like the Croatian born designer Damir Doma. In 2008, he showed his first men’s collection, and gained experience at Raf Simons, among others. His sober collection is dominated by the oversized silhouette for bomber jacks, overalls with silver zippers and loose-fitting coats with large collars and blind fastening. Some trousers have an extremely heightened (feminine) waist-line, as popular in the 1980s. The tops in enlarged herringbone with three-quarter raglan sleeves give the shoulders a rounder silhouette, which is now part of the new silhouette for men. Somewhat feminine, but a must at Doma. The monotonous color palette of white, neutrals, Yves Klein blue and violet is broken by large diamond patterns.
The Dutch fashion industry saw a decrease in turnover of 3.7 percent in 2013 in comparison with 2012. Men’s fashion is falling behind in terms of revenue by 3.1 percent over the first three quarters of 2013. Over 2014, a decrease in revenue of 1.5 percent is expected. The middle-end segment suffers the most, as people either buy cheap or very expensive clothing. In 2012, nearly 2,600 clothes shops closed in The Netherlands, on a total of 18,000 clothes shops. Many shops also saw their revenue decrease because of increased internet sales. Because on the web, revenue is still increasing with sixteen percent to 730 million Euro in 2012. On average, each person ordered eight articles more. The recession and dramatically low consumer confidence do not seem to have a negative effect on web retail. It is expected that over 2013, the online market will continue to grow with eight percent to 10.5 billion Euros. Consumers will increasingly purchase online because of the faster and more flexible delivery times and improved return policies. Years ago, it was unthinkable that luxury brands would sell their products on the web. But now also for them, the web has become an important source of revenue. Often consumers can directly order from the collections after seeing the shows online. The British Burberry and the Spanish Loewe were some of the first to do so.
Fleurs & Graphique
It was mostly in Milan that many designers showed floral prints in their collections for men. Less prominently present in Paris, only one designer was convincing in floral prints for men: the Belgian designer Dries Van Noten. Shorts, Bermuda shorts, blazers, singlets, pyjama trousers, bomber jackets, and breezy shirts are all printed with different floral prints. To keep it masculine, black is used as a base with the print on it. “All the flowers are somewhat dark; they do not have sugary floral patterns. Some patterns are even hand-painted on the fabric,” Van Noten states. With feminine and breezy fabrics, such as silk and chiffon. Highlights in the collection are a black trench coat, a three-quarter coat, and a black shirt with tropical white floral print at chest height. Besides the floral bonanza, many designers choose graphical and sleek patterns. Viktor & Rolf, two of the few Dutch designers to show their collection in Paris, do this as well. Enlarged black calligraphic letters form the word “Monsieur” on commercial grey sweat shirts. Some shirts have the text “Viktor&Rolf” as all-over print, and graphical wide stripes are used in college-like Oxford coats and matching trousers. And wearing short black socks under shorts and Bermuda shorts seem to be an absolute must with nearly all designers. Even in the warm summer months.
Extremely graphic are the prints that Belgian designer Raf Simons uses on his extended t-shirts, sometimes made of tricot. A mix of 1950s advertising prints with Pop Art influences. His collection was inspired by the French, self-taught architect and furniture as well as industrial designer Jean Prouvé. Striking is the highly childlike quality of his men’s wear; sleeping suits (knitted play suits) and boyish jersey polo shirts and Bermuda shorts with upturned waistbands. “Everything is produced as unnatural as possible at the moment. But at the same time we think of freedom, and I wonder what the biggest contrast is? So I ended up with a baby boy, children and youth. The most natural is of course the baby. It is just there and is alive without any garments.” Remarkably, Simons concludes that much of his men’s wear is also bought by women. “I find it fascinating that women want to buy something from my men’s collection, having it seen worn by men.” The other way around is still tricky for men...