Luxury groups face European challenge

21 August 2012

ROME: Luxury firms based in Europe must focus on enhancing their products and targeting potential pockets of growth such as exports and cosmetics, according to several leading industry executives.

Speaking to Women's Wear Daily, Giorgio Armani, founder and owner of the eponymous Italian fashion house, suggested manufacturers need to add "value to the purchase and more quality to the product.

"There is too much of everything in women's wear, but there should be more attention paid to the product, and not only because it's new. Forget about the needs of the media or about designers pushed by the groups' international interests," he said.

Thierry Andretta, the CEO of Lanvin, the French fashion chain, similarly asserted that prioritising the basics of luxury was vital to prospering in the present environment.

"You have to be very coherent with the product, and it pays, or at least it has for us. The fact that we have very selective distribution, with which we have developed the business, is what has made the difference for us."

Joel Palix, president of the Clarins, which sells fragrances, cosmetics and skincare lines, also argued that individual categories were facing diverse conditions.

"In cosmetics, business is still good in Europe. In times of difficulty, a lipstick or a fragrance is a great product to buy, so we're more resistant," he said. "Now if you talk about fashion, we are more dependent on the weather."

Gildo Zegna, CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna, the apparel and beauty group, further posited that there were some broader benefits to the current climate, however austere the European outlook.

"We have the advantage of a weak euro, which helps grow our exports," he said. "Newspapers contribute to the depression, but after all, the sector is holding up, and tourists compensate the weaker markets. That said, we must always be on the watch."

Elsewhere, Patrick Thomas, the head of Hermès, another French operator, warned that simply reducing overheads could not be the solution.

"If a company is in financial trouble, cutting costs cannot save it, and launching an economic stimulus plan at the same time, as long as it can be financed without creating further damage, is a good idea," he said.

Such a move may also buoy sentiment levels among shoppers, which is integral to fuelling growth, Franco Pené, chairman of Gibò, the Italian clothing manufacturer, added.

"To change the mood of the people is just as important as any other measure. If the consumer mood does not change, it will be a nightmare for many years," said Pené.

Data sourced from Women's Wear Daily; additional content by Warc staff