Fashion Week’s Big Dress Rehearsal & the Acquisitions Main Attraction


Robb Young | February 07, 2011

Our weekly analysis of the must-read luxury news headlines

Luxury Acquisitions

A famous lot sold by the Piasa auction house in 2009 — a collection of vintage wines and spirits from the cellar of the Parisian restaurant La Tour d’Argent

It has been a busy week for those tracking mergers and acquisitions across the multifarious luxury goods industry. And that’s not even counting the seemingly neverending LVMH-Hermès saga (which, by the way Reuters just characterised as being at the stage of LVMH offering a small “olive branch”). Nor does it count the long-awaited completion of PPR’s divestment of the discount furnishings chain Conforama (according to Internet Retailer), which some analysts see as a realignment by PPR to focus on growing an even bigger luxury portfolio around its current stable of Gucci Group brands.

The first among the new crop of M&A; stories that emerged was that PPR’s corporate cousin, Artémis, which is François Pinault’s private investment holding company, sold its remaining 40% stake in the Piasa auction house to Financière Piasa for an undisclosed sum (WWD). The sale is worth noting because it now leaves only Christie’s as the remaining luxury auction house asset under Artémis’s ownership.

Following other Indian industrial and retail giants hungry for a slice of Western luxury, Gitanjali Gems signalled interest in continuing its acquisition spree a few days ago. According to Reuters, Gitanjali is buying the diamond specialists Stefan Hafner, IO Si, Porrati and Nouvelle Bague – and already owns two Italian jewellers.

Jewels above by Nouvelle Bague, to be owned by Gitanjali Gems

But perhaps the most high profile acquisition came from the world of upmarket publishing. WWD reported that, after a year of speculation, French giant Lagardère has indeed sold off 102 international titles to Hearst Magazines in America. For luxury industry observers, the €651 million deal is particularly interesting because it includes both Elle and Elle Décor – and because it now means that Hearst is the second-largest magazine publisher in New York after Time Inc.

“ The Lagardère deal means that Hearst is now the second-largest magazine publisher in New York ”

Apart from the French edition of Elle and ownership of the Elle trademark which Lagardère will keep, 15 other editions from lucrative markets such as the U.S., Canada, Germany, Italy, Russia, China and Japan will all now be under the Hearst umbrella (which includes Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire and Marie Claire). The acquisition is causing quite a shake-up around the sector – not to mention uncertainty for the Lagardère-owned subsidiary Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S which until now oversaw the running of the US titles.

Elle Russia, February 2011 ( L ) and Elle Décor, US version Feb/Mar 2011 ( R )

In other M&A; news, Just Style confirmed that, as many market observers had been predicting, The Selfridges Group will acquire Dutch luxury department store De Bijenkorf from the Maxeda Retail Group. Meanwhile, if WWD’s sources are to be believed, the high-end Australian department store Myer is said to be in serious talks with Aussie fashion brand Sass & Bide. Some analysts seem to think this could ignite a strategy whereby Myer and its department store rival there, David Jones, turn the private label collaborations they have been nurturing with Australasian designers into an out-and-out bidding war buyout.

Rounding out the week were reports from Zawya that Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Hotel Investments sold off the Swisshotel in Kunshan, China to to Malaysia’s TA Global for $61 million and rumours in Fashionologie that Paris Gropu, the Dubai-based franchiser of luxury goods, might save the Gianfranco Ferré brand from disaster.

Fashion Week’s Big Dress Rehearsal

A partial screenshot from a video on Kenneth Cole’s e-commerce site

The New York runway shows commence in just three days, setting off that frenetic month-long tour which spans the world’s four fashion capitals – and a few more besides for those doing business in the smaller style hubs. Given that the first fall/winter 2011-12 season is upon us, it’s no surprise that the luxury industry’s headlines were dominated by fashion sector news last week. The fortnight before the opening of the womenswear ready-to-wear collections is always an extended dress rehearsal of sorts.

It’s a time to use the media to transform what is essentially a trade event into a consumer marketing extravaganza. It’s also that momentary calm before the storm when a heightened sense of suspense makes even fashion insiders more alert. But unfortunately, it’s also the sort of environment that makes others anxious, hasty and occasionally careless which, when compounded with the instantaneous and pervasive nature of the digital era, can lead to more than minor marketing mishaps.

“ The lead-up to fashion week makes some insiders alert but ohers anxious, hasty and occasionally careless ”

Nowhere was this more evident than in the controversy that American fashion designer Kenneth Cole got himself into last Thursday. In an apparent bid to publicize his firm’s e-commerce platform before New York Fashion Week, Cole tweeted the following from the offical @kennethcole account: “Millions are in uproar over #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at -KC.”

From international news networks like CNBC to local newspapers like the Montreal Gazette, scathing reports multiplied exponentially around the world within hours. And although Cole swiftly removed the tweet after a deluge angry replies on Twitter and issues an apology on Facebook, the onslaught continued – from more followers, fans and consumers.

While some were supportive, many more were extremely unforgiving. “I just through [sic] my KC shoes and… pants away,” wrote one. “Boycott for life,” read another. Even the more diplomatic critics were damaging: “Common Sense 101 indicates that making light of a serious social situation for commercial purposes is probably not a good idea…” while another chastised: “Too little, too late. On the Internet, nothing ever really disappears.” Yet another advised, “You should probably hire a PR person to run your twitter. Stick to creative directing behind the scenes. Get your own personal twitter if you just have to tweet.”

Tom Ford’s S/S 2011 womenswear campaign

As Kenneth Cole’s pre-fashion week microblogging blunder snowballed out of control, other American brands used more conventional media streams to get their message out. A round-up of WWD’s headlines in New York Magazine revealed two come-backs. Devi Kroell, the critically acclaimed luxury fashion and accessories designer who left her eponymous brand last year will return with a new label called Dax Gabler as will the vintage-inspired label Libertine, albeit minus one half of the original designer duo. Fashionista’s scoop that Tom Ford would be showing in London rather than New York also came via the analog world of the plodding press release.

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