The success behind the Karl Lagerfeld brand – exclusive interview with CEO Pier Paolo Righi

Karl Lagerfeld has had previous attempts to launch its own label. What has changed this time and what is your strategic approach?

This is the first time that there is a truly cohesive and strategic approach to build Karl Lagerfeld into an iconic global brand and business. The brand is born from a very clear vision, which is that of Karl himself. This translates into a brand which offers a unique lifestyle through a wide range of products, from men’s and women’s ready-to-wear and accessories to footwear, watches, eyewear, fragrances and lifestyle objects, all made accessible and affordable to a broader audience. Each type of product is creatively linked to one another and fully represents the Karl Lagerfeld DNA.  The world of Karl Lagerfeld is brought to life through a very modern approach and attitude, as testified by the important digital aspect of the stores. 

With Mr Lagerfeld involved in the Creative Direction of two major international luxury labels, how have you planned our the creative development process?

Karl is probably the most efficient and hardworking designer, if he weren’t it would be impossible to generate such an amount of creative output. Nonetheless the creative process does require important planning and timing. There is a large team behind the scenes that ensures the entire planning process to the last detail is as efficient as possible. All elements need to keep up with Karl’s pace. This is not always easy, but it works and is incredibly inspiring.

From the launch the Karl Lagerfeld brand has been associated to ‘’affordable’’ luxury. Do you agree? Tell us more.

Our vision is to make the world of Karl Lagerfeld accessible to a broader audience. This has always been Karl’s vision, to make sure that a large public can afford his creations. Customers will still find in our stores pieces that retail at several thousand euros, but in the same instance a 20 year old student also has the option of purchasing amazing Karl Lagerfeld signature bags for around 300 euros, as opposed to 3,000 euros.

Mr Lagerfeld has been fervent with the most diverse collaborations. Do you envisage such artistic collaborations for the KARL LAGERFELD brand?

Karl is probably the master of collaborations and has started many of the most renowned design collaborations. Every week we receive so many requests for collaborations that we have stopped counting. Only very few make the cut, as they must fit with the brand philosophy and strategy. They also need to be inspiring and good fun to work on. If this is the case, we go for it. If not, we don’t.

You have had numerous mono-brand store openings in 2013/2014. What is the predominant business model you apply? (franchise / DOS etc)

We opened our first concept store in February 2013 and have opened a store every 3 weeks since. We currently have 17 stores, five of which are in China. Our latest opening was only a few weeks ago at our European flagship on London’s Regent Street. The pace of mono brand store openings shows that they are a fundamental part of our strategy, as they represent the brand in an environment that is truly the world of Karl Lagerfeld. The shops can be concessions in department stores, our own stores as mentioned, or mono brand openings with regional partners, the Middle East being an example.

Which have been the best performing stores (regions) and which regions are you primarily targeting for retail expansion in 2014?

We are very privileged to be able to say that our stores have been performing very well across all markets. I believe this has very much to do with Karl having such a global and divers fan base in terms of gender, age etc. In the year 2014 we will be expanding into the Middle East.

How has the company performed in 2013 and what are your expectations overall for 2014?

We have had an amazing journey since we launched in 2012. Last year saw the launch of many new products and a large amount of store openings. The results have been very encouraging and we expect to continue at the same pace: almost as fast as Karl speaks!

Pier Paolo Righi serves as the President, CEO of Karl Lagerfeld BV. since 2012. Mr. Righi has been the General Manager of REM Nike Europe since 2008. He serves as a Member of Supervisory Board at and Fielmann AG and Fielmann Aktiengesellschaft.

Pier Paolo Righi and Karl Lagerfeld