AMEX Publishing’s Luxury Conference Recap

Luxury: The Remix 2013 was the theme of this year’s American Express Publishing’s Luxury Conference held April 21 – 32 in Dana Point CA.  Held at the beautiful St Regis in Monarch Beach, Maxine and I were living the good life in CA sunshine for a few days. 

Interesting and timely topics including change, fast moving wealth, technology and innovation were all discussed in great detail by iconic industry leaders such as Sir Richard Branson, Robert Chavez, Domenico De Sole and Jane Lauder. 

What we love about the AMEX conference is the diversified field of attendees – we get to mingle and network with people from hospitality, retail, automotive, beverage and media – all focused on selling to and servicing the luxury consumer.

 Aside from the networking we also get to learn a lot.  As a fellow attendee commented to me “I always leave her smarter – the content is amazing”. 

 We found out that the cycle of wealth has never been so fast – 1/3 of all millionaires today weren’t millionaires’ 3 years ago.  And they are traveling.  For example we learned from Robert Frank about a Lamborghini dealership in Miami who sells a car every few days – but has not sold one to an American in 2 years.  These people are dubbed the TLC – Traveling Luxury Consumer – and if you are a brand, and are not getting their attention – you are in trouble. 

 Frits van Paasschen advised the audience to “Focus on Trend lines – not Headlines” which is something Bill Clinton told his management team at Starwood when he spoke to them last year.

 From a retail perspective the Design District in Miami seems to be the hottest real estate in the country – with residential development starting to be focused on. 

 Some things haven’t changed … we’ve heard for a few years now that consumers are spending on things that mean something to them.  Experiences – travel and second homes sales are increasing.  Investments are also doing well – jewelry as a category is on an upswing.  Heritage – collecting items is no longer what matters to most people.  General consensus is that if you are going to spend the money there needs to be a certain reason – craftsmanship and service leading the way. 

 Dominico De Sole said “Quality will be remembered long after the price is forgotten”.  No matter how wealthy people are looking for a sense of value and the key to a successful brand is the ability to tell a story.  Stores should be a temple to a brand – which is how they have built the Tom Ford business – limited, steady growth.  

What’s Next for Nicolas Ghesquière?

WWD.com November 26,2012

PARIS — Will Nicolas Ghesquière find a backer and strike out on his own with a signature label, or wait for the right fashion house to rev up?

The designer — who is to officially exit Balenciaga on Nov. 30 after an acclaimed 15-year tenure at the Paris house — is bound to weigh several options, observers said.

 “There will be a lot of brand owners who will be scratching their heads wondering how they can attract him,” said Pierre Mallevays, managing partner of Savigny Partners, a London-based boutique investment bank specializing in luxury goods. “Major fashion talents can truly have a transformational impact on brands,” he continued, citing as examples Alber Elbaz and Phoebe Philo, who respectively catapulted Lanvin and Celine to critical and commercial success.

As for the possibility of finding a fund to mount a signature fashion house, Mallevays downplayed that likelihood.

“I don’t see private equity or hedge funds backing (a Ghesquière) brand, because of time horizon and fashion risk,” he said, pegging the required investment for such a high-end designer brand at around 50 million euros, or $63.7 million at current exchange, over five years — with no guarantee of immediate financial return. “Only a strong group with a confident vision and the means to boot would seriously contemplate that. The temptation for any such potential backer will be to try to apply Ghesquière’s talent to an established brand with operating leverage, not just to a start-up, however prestigious.”

Luxury titan Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is said to be keeping close tabs on the hot French designer, having courted him aggressively last year as a possible successor to John Galliano at Christian Dior.

Contact between LVMH and Ghesquière dates back at least a decade, including a long-ago proposition for him to become Givenchy’s couturier, a Paris-based source said.

According to another source familiar with the luxury empire, building a signature fashion house for Ghesquière is seen as a less favorable option than plugging the star talent into one of Arnault’s galaxy of global brands, which include the likes of Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Celine.

Indeed, one of the few times Arnault launched a fashion brand from scratch was in 1987, when he launched a couture house for Christian Lacroix, eventually off-loading the troubled firm in 2005 to Falic Group, the Florida-based travel retail firm.

LVMH officials declined all comment, and Ghesquière could not be reached for comment.

Stefano Corneliani, senior analyst at Intermonte SIM in Milan, agreed that designer start-ups are a rarity in today’s climate.

“The market is overcrowded, and one in a thousand succeeds. To build a business from a designer name doesn’t work — it’s the other way around. You invent a business proposition, then you tap a designer,” he said, citing Geox and Tod’s as examples — where designers are not even paramount. “You start with an idea, such as the breathable shoe for Geox and the formal casual designs for Tod’s, and back that up with strong marketing and media communication,” he explained.

Corneliani noted that “Cyclopean investments are needed the smaller you are, and you are lucky if you break even in five or 10 years.”

He noted that Ghesquière could work for a typical Italian brand that would want to become more international, pointing to Hogan and its recent collaborations with Karl Lagerfeld as an example.

Sources close to Ghesquière said he intends to take some time off, though he has already been approached regarding several projects, some of an artistic nature. He is said to be seriously considering mounting a signature brand, while remaining open to opportunities working for another couture name.

Karine Ohana, a managing partner at boutique mergers and acquisitions firm Ohana & Co. in Paris, agreed private equity would be a remote possibility for Ghesquière given the importance of deal size and exit strategies for such funds.

“I believe only private investors that have a good trust and understanding with the designer can back such a lifetime project,” she said, noting that Tom Ford has a private family among his backers, and Proenza Schouler is “beautifully developing through a private fund as well.” (In July 2011, Proenza Schouler disclosed a partnership with a group of 20 investors led by financier John Howard and Andrew Rosen, the Theory founder and co-ceo who’s known for nurturing emerging talent.)

As for Ghesquière, Ohana said he has attained international renown and “stands among the most talented and reputed worldwide fashion designers today….He is probably perceived as one of the very few who are perpetuating the French couture image, glamour and know-how, in line with Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Lanvin.”

Executive search professionals agreed designers of Ghesquière’s stature rarely come onto the job market.

“I would expect that if Nicholas Ghesquière wasn’t already in talks with or committed to another brand at his departure from Balenciaga, there would be some brands or backers lining up to court him. I say ‘some’ because only a heavyweight with pull and power would have the confidence and seductiveness to even approach him,” said Mary Gallagher, European associate for New York-based search firm Martens & Heads. “Over the years, he has become as legendary as (Balenciaga founder) Cristóbal himself and would imbue star power to a brand.”

Gallagher spied few openings at present that would match the scale of Ghesquière’s talent — and likely his demands. “But with certain brands we’ve seen how someone’s sudden availability can force a situation,” she said, alluding to Raf Simons landing as Galliano’s successor at Dior not long after he was ousted from Jil Sander. “And, depending on when a creative director’s contract is up for renewal, Ghesquière could be on deck for a maison.”

To be sure, several of Ghesquière’s designer peers are keen to see him back in action.

Told about speculation that the designer could mount his own brand, Lagerfeld told WWD he thought it was “not a bad idea,” suggesting it might be time to stop reheating heritage brands and create some new fashion houses.

Elbaz said it “makes him sad” to see “someone so talented” on the sidelines. “It was always Balenciaga, but he always made it himself, too,” he enthused.

Elbaz noted, however, that it is not uncommon today for designers to take a hiatus from design, as has been the case in recent years for Philo, Jil Sander, Hedi Slimane and Veronique Branquinho, to name but a few. Slimane, for example, after exiting Dior Homme, spent five years devoted to photography before taking up the role of creative director of YSL earlier this year.

After being ousted as the designer of Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche women’s ready-to-wear in 2000, Elbaz took an extended break (besides one turbulent season for Krizia Top in Milan) before landing at Lanvin.

Under Armour Taps Leanne Fremar

WWD.com October 1, 2012

By Rosemary Feitelberg

As part of its plan to build its women’s apparel business, Under Armour has named Leanne Fremar senior vice president and executive creative director for women’s.

Fremar, who joins the company Nov. 11, is a 10-year veteran of Theory, where her most recent role was brand creative director.

Her arrival will mark the first time that Under Armour has had an executive in this role. She will be based in New York, but will spend a significant amount of time at the company’s Baltimore headquarters. Fremar will report to Henry Stafford, senior vice president of global apparel and accessories.

Women’s apparel accounts for 30 percent of the brand’s $1.4 billion in total apparel sales, compared with 20 percent five years ago, Stafford said. “All of our apparel — women’s, men’s and children’s — is seeing growth of more than 20 percent, but women’s is the fastest-growing division,” he said.

Five years ago, Under Armour was known by women as a sports brand, but the company has since broadened its reach to include apparel geared for yoga, barre classes and spinning. “We’re definitely going to continue to push more style and fashion and trends for women’s apparel,” Stafford said. Being more strategic about retail distribution in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where the brand sees opportunity, is one of the areas Fremar will zero in on, he said. The company will stay the course with current partners, but will also pursue department stores and specialty stores to try to increase the women’s business.

Under Armour also plans to build on the ethos of its “Sweat Every Day. I Will.” campaign, which made its debut earlier this month and was the company’s largest women’s initiative to date, according to Stafford.

“Leanne has an eye for talent, a great fashion sense and a passion for sports. That’s a unique combination,” Stafford said. “She will connect the dots for us with merchandising, design, marketing, advertising and product development for women’s to seal the DNA of the brand.”

 

The Art and Science Of Fashion Design

FashionablyMarketing.com September 21, 2012

Guest Post By Theresa Fuchs-Santiago, Vice President & Britton Warren, Research Associate , Martens & Heads

 Having met with many designers over the years, we are constantly hearing “a good designer is able to design anything.” But is this really true? I am not sure some of our client would agree so that got us thinking, what are the skills that make a successful designer?

 After consulting with members of my team, we constructed a list of important traits, abilities, and attributes that a designer at any level needs. And of course, as with any industry, personality and cultural fit within an organization is always critical to success.

 1.) A passion and dedication for design. While this might seem obvious, this particular industry/job is a life choice vs. a job. It consumes most of a designer’s life and is a full-time commitment with long hours.

 2.) Creativity with the ability to interpret specific brand DNA successfully, while constantly evolving the aesthetic. A good designer understands what “codes” make a brand special and how to incorporate them consistently, but can also bring a sense of “newness” to the customer. At the senior level, designers begin to infuse more of their own personal style within an existing aesthetic to give a brand its’ own “epoch.”

 3.) Understanding of the business side of fashion. This includes the design process, calendars, pricing, and positioning to create “complete collections” that are commercially viable. Sheer creativity without commercial sense is no longer an option in this competitive marketplace.

 4.) Ability to find trends and filter out appropriate trends for your brand. Just because something is “hot” does not mean it’s relevant to every brand. Neons, bedazzlement, and cutouts all have their time.

 5.) Strong communication skills. While this is important in any field, communication with a creative team about shared visions, concepts, and ideas with team and cross-functional partners are vital to success. Creating a full and cohesive collection is a team effort.

 6.) Solid technical skills. This includes sketching, drawing, CAD, draping, fitting, etc. Knowledge of different fabrications, materials, and trim is important and, depending on the size of the company, you might have to know how to source and develop product.

 7.) Leadership and vision. Depending on level, a designer might be responsible for inspiring and motivating the design teams, as well as sales, marketing/PR, etc. What is your brand and where is it going? How is it relevant or necessary? Why should someone buy it?

 8.) In the case of designers who have their own lines, it’s important to define and identify one’s own brand, aesthetic, customer, and selling point, and stay consistently true to this. In the overlycrowded marketplace, there is little room for imposters or knockoffs. What is your collections’ reason for being?

9.) The ability to work outside of the spotlight is important for junior designers and those supporting big names and major brands. Only a handful of Creative Directors become household names, and many times it’s their support team that has designed the actual collection pieces, without public recognition. 

10.) Resourcefulness! Not every brand and line can afford the most luxurious materials, so it’s important to get creative and turn $1.00-a-yard fabric into something special and desirable. Money is the bottom line, so a cost-conscious designer is vital in all but the most extravagant houses.

Slow and Steady Growth for Chaiken

WWD.com September 18, 2012 

By Lisa Lockwood

 Chaiken, the San Francisco-based sportswear brand, is putting the pieces together to become a factor again in the fast-growing contemporary market.

 The brand, which was relaunched in 2010 as Chaiken and Capone and has since gone back to the simpler Chaiken, is building on several fronts. The company relaunched its Web site, designed by Sweden Unltd.; is beginning to show major specialty stores the collection, and has hired Jeffrey Chow as design director. Other moves in the past year and a half were the naming of a president, David Lazar, who is based in San Francisco, and the hiring of Kim Vernon, president and chief executive officer of Vernon Co., as a business consultant.

 “Since David [Lazar] has come aboard, we’ve done a lot of refining,” said creative director Julie Chaiken, who cofounded the brand in 1994.

 Lazar joined the company in January 2011, having previously been founder and ceo of Twenty, president of Three Dots and vice president of merchandising, men’s, at Express.

 Since the relaunch, Chaiken said they’ve taken stock of what was working and what wasn’t and moved into a new space at 785 Market Street in San Francisco, and opened a showroom in New York at 230 West 39th Street.

 Chaiken, which has previously shown at Fashion Coterie, decided this time to show at Designers & Agents, which runs through Thursday.

 Hiring Chow was a key move for the brand. The designer moved to San Francisco in April. A winner of the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award, Chow has worked for Poleci, Perry Ellis International, Esprit, Tommy Hilfiger, Emilio Pucci and Lilly Pulitzer, in addition to having his own line.

 “He’s helping us to move [the brand] forward,” said Chaiken. His influence will be felt in the spring collection. The line is produced in San Francisco, New York, Peru and China. 

For spring, Paul Maffi photographed Chaiken’s look book for its retail customers and clients. Styled by Vanessa Traina, the book will be published in print and digital forms.

 Chaiken, which has always been known for its great-fitting pants, is rounding out the line with knits, skirts, sweaters and dresses. “It’s not for a girly girl,” said Chaiken. “It’s sport inspired.” Spring’s wholesale prices range from $75 to $400.

 For fall, Chaiken’s line is available at Knit Wit in Philadelphia; Wendy Foster in Santa Barbara, Calif.; The Store in Mill Valley, Calif., and Jamie Lyn in Beverly Hills. “The goal for spring 2013 is to take it to the next level,” said Vernon.

 Chaiken noted that the redesigned Web site, chaikenclothing.com, will add e-commerce in the fourth quarter. They’ve also redone their Facebook page and their Tumblr account is active. The brand also has a YouTube channel.

 “I’m really proud of what Julie has done in the past 10 months. A fantastic foundation is being laid to create a great contemporary brand,” said Vernon.

How to Be a Better Interviewer

TalentZoo.com August 15, 2012

By: Kate Benson

Not everyone is a good interviewer. It’s not a skill that one is born with — it’s something you learn and then need to work on developing. Like any other job aspect, it requires training and experience.

I recently came to the conclusion that while I like to meet people and hear about their goals and aspirations, if I don’t have a specific agenda in mind — the things that are critical to particular clients — it feels a bit empty. In order for me to be most effective, and best utilize my time along with the candidate’s, I need to be looking for something. 

Then I started thinking — this thing that I do all day long is completely foreign to some people.  So I thought it would be beneficial to write down a few helpful hints. Think of it as a cheat sheet.

  1. Prepare.

Take time to review a resume before meeting the candidate. Many of my candidates tell me that the person they met with clearly had no idea of their background. You don’t have to study the entire document, but review where they have worked, the positions they have held, and the accomplishments listed.

  1. Take away the nerves.

I always spend the first several minutes with someone in small talk. I try to get people talking about a neutral, safe topic so they have a bit more ease and comfort for the interview. I know there are some interviewers whose technique is to make the candidate feel uncomfortable to see how they perform; to me, that’s just not a fruitful way to begin anything. 

  1. Have a good understanding of your needs.

If you are the hiring manager, be prepared to talk about the role, the nuances of success and failure, and what you are specifically looking for. Talk about what’s worked and what hasn’t —how the role has evolved or changed. How you want to build upon something that is in existence or tear down and change everything. Be able to talk about the department and company in macro terms. 
If you are meeting a candidate for someone else’s team or department, pre-determine what you are screening for. Is it fit? Analytic abilities? The ability to work with creatives or with cross-functional partners? Are you the finance screen? Have an agenda; it’s not a popularity contest.

  1. What do you really want to know about this person? 

How they will fit in with the company?  What skill sets they bring to your department? How long is their runway? Will what they bring complement or challenge you? Can they take what they know and apply it in your role? Why have they made specific decisions? It’s important to keep this in mind during the interview, and the best way to get the answers is to be direct.

  1. Know yourself.

Are you a quick study or do you need to spend two hours with someone to get a good feel for who they are? Allocate enough time to get what you need from the meeting. Do not allow yourself to be rushed or distracted. People have invested in this process. No matter the outcome, you want them to walk away with positive feelings about your company. 

  1. What are the barriers to success in this role or in the organization? 

Be prepared to talk about things that are specific to your department, your management style, or the organization — give specific examples that have been problematic with previous employees to see how they would respond to these issues. 

  1. Pay attention to non-verbal indicators. 

We have a great screen in my office: Who are those people who come for an interview and treat our receptionist horribly? Who are those people who are rude on the phone?   

  1. Use your time wisely. 

We have all heard stories about the candidate who came to interview seven or eight times.  That’s crazy, but if it is your company culture that has to be understood, OK. However, think about the people who don’t get the job. What was their experience? 

  1. Conversation vs. Interrogation.

Make it a dialogue — give the candidate an opportunity to talk. You would be surprised how many of our candidates come back from a meeting and tell us they did less than 25% of the talking. 

  1. Open-ended questions.

This is the best tool to see how people think. Why are you here? What compels you about our company? What is our competition doing that we are not? What are we doing that makes you want to join us?

Interviewing is an art that requires the complete attention of both parties involved. Interviewers need to be empathetic to get beyond the spoken word to grasp the intangibles. The interviewee must be well prepared to present their own credentials and to address the needs of the organization. Each party must enable the other to participate equally and freely in a dialogue that seeks to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of the potential hire. 

Recruiter.com: An Employer’s Guide to Interviewing: A 10 Point Check List

Recruiter.com July 26, 2012 

By Kate Benson

 Not everyone is a good interviewer.  It’s not a skill that one is born with – it’s something you learn and then need to work on developing – like any other job aspect, it requires training and experience.

I recently came to the conclusion that while I like to meet people and hear about their goals and aspirations, if I don’t have a specific agenda in mind – the things that are critical to particular clients – it feels a bit empty.  In order for me to be most effective and best utilize my time along with the candidates, I need to be looking for something. Then I started thinking – this thing that I do all day long is completely foreign to some people.  So I thought it would be beneficial to write down a few helpful interview hints – think of it as a cheat sheet.

1.)      Prepare
Take time to review a resume before meeting the candidate.  Many of my candidates tell me that the person they met with clearly had no idea of their background.  You don’t have to study the entire document but review where they have worked, the positions they have held and the accomplishments listed.

 2.)      Take away the nerves

I always spend the first several minutes with someone in small talk.  I try to get people talking about a neutral, safe topic so they have a bit more ease and comfort for the interview.  I know there are some interviewers whose technique is to make the candidate feel uncomfortable to see how they perform – to me that’s just not a fruitful way to begin anything.

 3.)      Have a good understanding of your needs

If you are the hiring manager, be prepared to talk about the role, the nuances of success and failure, and what you are specifically looking for.  Talk about what’s worked and what hasn’t – how the role has evolved or changed.  How you want to build upon something that is in existence or tear down and change everything.  Be able to talk about the department and company in macro terms.
If you are meeting a candidate for someone else’s team or department – pre-determine what you are screening for.  Is it fit?  Analytic abilities?  The ability to work with creatives or with cross functional partners?  Are you the finance screen?  Have an agenda– it’s not a popularity contest.

 4.)      What do you really want to know about this person?

How they will fit in with the company?  What skillsets they bring to your department? How long is their runway?  If what they bring will complement or challenge you?  Can they take what they know and apply it in your role?  Why they made specific decisions?  It’s important to keep this in mind during the interview, and the best way to get the answers is to be direct.

 5.)      Know yourself

Are you a quick study or do you need to spend two hours with someone to get a good feel for who they are?  Allocate enough time to get what you need from the meeting.  Do not allow yourself to be rushed or distracted.  People have invested in this process.  No matter the outcome you want them to walk away with positive feelings about your company.

 6.)      What are the barriers to success in this role or in the organization?

Be prepared to talk about things that are specific to your department, your management style or the organization – give specific examples that have been problematic with previous employees to see how they would respond to these issues.

 

7.)      Pay attention to non-verbal indicators.
We have a great screen in my office – who are those people who come for an interview and treat our receptionist horribly?  Who are those people who are rude on the phone?

 8.)      Use your time wisely.

We have all heard stories about the candidate who came to interview seven or eight times.  That’s crazy – but if it is your company culture that has to be understood, OK. However, think about the people who don’t get the job….. What was their experience?

9.)      Conversation vs. Interrogation
Make it a dialogue – give the candidate an opportunity to talk.  You would be surprised how many of our candidates come back from a meeting and tell us they did less than 25% of the talking.

 10.)     Open-ended questions

This is the best tool to see how people think.  Why are you here?  What compels you about our company? What is our competition doing that we are not?  What are we doing that makes you want to join us?

Interviewing is an art that requires the complete attention of both parties involved. Interviewers need to be empathetic, to get beyond the spoken word to grasp the intangibles. The interviewee must be well prepared to present their own credentials and to address the needs of the organization. Each party must enable the other to participate equally and freely in a dialogue that seeks to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of the potential hire.