The silent revolution at Louis Vuitton

Two years since the departure of Yves Carcelle and almost one year since the appointment of Nicolas Ghesquière as Creative Director, replacing the long tenure of Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton  has been silently undergoing major changes with the active involvement of Delphine Arnauld, daughter of Bernard Arnauld, owner of Vuitton’s parent company, luxury giant LVMH. In her role as Executive Vice President at Louis Vuitton she seems to over-ride the role of CEO Robert Burke who arrived last year from Fendi, Vuitton’s sister company within LVMH.

With the occasion of Ghesquière’s appointment, Delphine Arnaud said “We like adventures,”. However, it remains to be seen to what extent Vuitton’s new strategy is really an adventure or rather a carefully planned repositioning strategyof the French brand which turns 160 this year.

One of Delphine Arnauld’s key initiatives was to put 100% emphasis on the product and, this is reflected, for the first time in decades, with all advertising and communications campaigns focusing on products rather than celebrities. The present Spring Summer ad campaigns are set in South Africa and are promoted under the ”Spirit of Travel” title. No celebrities, no pretentious settings – just nature (sand and safari animals).

There is also a sense of instilling a younger mood into collections and this is also achieved through communications. For instance, Vuitton’s latest Foulards (Scarves) campaign features three pop culture artists, little known to the public, but likely to create a closer bond with audiences.

Interestingly, even before Marc Jacobs’s departure and after the appointment of Nicolas Ghesquière, Ms Arnaud’s strategic approach was not to reduce logo / mono-gram’s on products, on the contrary – the brand would be emphasized in larger print on both clothing and accessories items, in many ways defying the call by many analysts that the excessive use of logo’s was to blame for the slow down in sales. They sensibly anticipated that this was not the case, but rather there was a need to rekindle the appetite for the LV product and to do so, the brand would employ a stronger nurture of the aspirational factor.

Part of repositioning of the LV products has been developing more expensive products, at a higher price range and reducing availability. For the first time in many years, a Louis Vuitton bag – the new Capucines bag – would generate higher demand than availability, some flagship stores opening waiting lists, a common strategy at rival Hermes. Diversifying the leather types and colours has also been part of the repositioning strategy.

Few may have noticed that several of the long time announced projects have been delayed indefinitely, or reduced in scale, such as retail expansion into airports (Seoul’s Incheon remains the only airport in the world with an LV duty free store), the launch of the writing instruments line (remains very limited) as well as the launch of LV’s first fragrance.

To complement’s Vuitton’s high jewellery collection (the latest presented in 2012 at Bienale des Antiquaires in Paris), Vuitton launches last week at Baselworld an exceptional collection of high jewellery watch pieces, the most expensive Vuitton timepieces to date, thus adding to the high end product offering. Several of the LV iconic handbag lines are now also available in precious leathers, the Deese in aligator, the Capucines in aligator,  crocodile and Taurillon leathers, the Montaigne in ostrich, the Alma in aligator and crocodile.

New store openings has indeed slowed down, but not halted. Even in China, which most blamed for Vuitton’s weak performance, the company is opening 4 new stores this year, two of which are in Beijing. North America and South America are two other regions where Vuitton will continue to add new stores in 2014.

One strategic retail approach, initiated 3 years ago is very likely to be continued under the direction of Delphine Arnauld and that is opening larger stores, labelled Maison stores in key cities around the world. Maison Stores represent an excellent opportunity not only for differentiation (each Maison has a very distinctive interior design, different from ”regular” stores) but also to recreate a more desirable and exclusive shopping experience.

Oliver Petcu in London