VILEBREQUIN… Made in Romania

Vilebrequin Boutique

For more than 30 years Vilebrequin has maintained its place in the top of the most sought after brands of swimwear. Its appealing chic style and the colourful relaxed attitude it exudes has made it eternally irresistible to the lucky sun-seekers that grace the beaches of Saint Tropez. Ever since 1971, Vilebrequin has expanded all over the world, opening numerous stores in Europe, Asia and America. The latest addition to the international chain of Vilebrequin stores seems to be Eastern Europe.

The first step towards conquering the land of the ever-present nouveau riche trend-seekers was made by opening 2 stores in Bulgaria, one at the Sheraton Hotel in the capital of Sofia and another at the Black Sea side. The Bulgarian company who operates these two Vilebrequin stores under franchise, Vas Reserve, doesn’t seem to have much experience in luxury retail, but obviously had the necessary financial potency to pay the franchising fees and support the opening of two locations.

Seemingly the two Bulgarian stores proved to be such a smashing success, that the company operating the franchise decided to expand over to Romania, otherwise there is no logical explanation why such a company would venture onto a market where there are plenty of investors who have showed keen interest in the Vilebrequin franchise over the years. And so, only a few days ago, the Vilebrequin store opened in Bucharest at the JW Marriott shopping gallery.

Out of curiosity, the CPP consultants have paid a visit to the fresh location to feel the buzz. As we all know, in the retail industry, not to mention luxury retail, first impressions are vital. In this case, the first impressions were not at all to the store’s advantage. We could overlook (however, it’s not advisable) the very unfortunate choice of location for the Vilebrequin store, as the shopping gallery within the JW Marriott Hotel is practically deserted, with only the Louis Vuitton store trying hard to survive the low flux of guests and the devastating effects the financial crisis has had on the tenants. The store itself is quite small and tunnel shaped, so it has absolutely no display window. Upon entering, we were warmly welcome by the two sales assistants, the first thing which they asked was whether we spoke English. They are both Bulgarians and do not speak any Romanian, which to us is unacceptable as the store is in Romania and mainly addresses Romanian clientele. On the other hand, the staff were very well trained in presented the collections, fabrics, trends and general mix match advice.

We walked around the store, which is an overstatement, given its shape; it was more like turning round and round in the same spot. The décor was rather peculiar, as it didn’t resemble at all the distinct Vilebrequin Provence style concept present in their stores around the world. Clients who enter the store will see a bluish wooden wall on their left, which looks like it was painted in water colours, and on their right, the most cost-effective decorative solution: a wall paper with the image of the brand’s latest advertising. When asked about this somewhat strange choice of décor, the sales assistants informed us that it was the ‘new concept’ of the brand. Upon reviewing the products we were pleasantly surprised to see that the swimwear collection was complete. However, this feeling of contentment didn’t last too long because we observed that the prices were shown both in Ron local curruency and Euros.

Another striking aspect was the fact that when looking at the ready-to-wear collection we noticed that on the labels most said ‘Made in Romania’ or ‘Made in Bulgaria’. Being puzzled by this, we decided to try our luck once again and ask the shop assistants for more details. Obviously quite vexed by our questions, she reverted ‘It’s better than “Made in China”’. We dare contradict as Romanians much like their counterparts in the emergin markets of Eastern Europe are very ”label sensitive” when it comes to luxury brands – just imagine selling Russians a top luxury branded product ”Made in Russia. This is a psychological trace with deep roots in the communist past of each of these countries, the mentality being that locally produced goods are inferior to those made abroad, especially in the West.

It is also interesting to observe that the franchise owners decided to open the store in Bucharest at the beginning of the summer season, when the city tourist traffic decreases considerably as everyone focuses on spending as much time as possible at the seaside.

It appears that Bulgarian companies have a fetish for coming to Romania and opening businesses which are doomed from the start. A clear example for this was the Franck Muller mono-brand store in Bucharest which managed to last only a couple of months before disappearing without a trace. However, these outcomes are not at all surprising, taking into consideration that the companies who venture into these affaires have virtually no experience in the luxury industry and don’t even seek council about it from specialized consultants. We at CPP strongly hope that the Vilebrequin store will not end up having the same tragic fate as the aforementioned Franck Muller.

Mircea Filimon