Louis Vuitton’s Roberto Eggs shows us around the label’s sumptuous ‘townhouse’ concept in Selfridges.
With 461 stores globally, Louis Vuitton has a wide-reaching network, so Roberto Eggs, the brand’s president of Europe, Middle East and Africa, is hardly short of shops to get excited about from the 38 countries under his supervision. But as he surveys the plush first floor of his imposing new three-storey “townhouse” shop-in-shop at Selfridges in London, it is telling that the one word he uses over and over is ‘unique’.
“It’s a unique concept that we started thinking about four years ago,” explains Eggs. “What we liked about Selfridges is that it had a very clear view on how it wanted to structure the store and it was still when everything was possible as they were [in the process of] relocating their different brands. Then the idea came up to have it interconnected, which is something quite unique.”
The space, described by Louis Vuitton chairman and chief executive Michael Burke as “understated yet grand”, is vast. The ground floor alone, where its famous bags and luggage have centre stage, represents an area nearly three times the size of the previous corner plot the brand had occupied since 2000.
“In the beginning we concentrated on what is the core of the brand, which is travel and the bags,” Eggs says. “But since then almost 14 years have passed, and the brand has developed into other product categories that we couldn’t display in the small store we had.”
This was what initially prompted Louis Vuitton to devise the townhouse idea, or “the UK’s first real ‘shop-within-a-shop’ experience”, as Selfridges managing director Anne Pitcher describes it.
The menswear collection is situated directly above the bags and accessories, showing off the work of British designer and Louis Vuitton men’s style director Kim Jones and his team in lavish surroundings. A further level up, the second floor is home to womenswear, and currently displays the penultimate collection for the French fashion house from former artistic director Marc Jacobs.
“Each level is part of the universe of the floor,” Eggs explains. However, the most unusual architectural element is its most important - the one-of-a-kind rotating lift wrapped in a golden double helix, symbolising, according to the store’s French architect Gwenaël Nicolas, the threading of the brand’s DNA between the different sections.
It’s an ambitious project - Eggs says for more standardised store designs of this size, a timescale of between 18 months and two years is far more usual than the four years this project took. The lengthier process was partly down to the complicated lift - during construction, builders had to dig down three floors and only secured planning permission thanks to the store being located in a position formerly occupied by an atrium. “Through the rotation you can discover the full Vuitton universe,” Eggs says. “It’s pure entertainment and the luxury shopping experience is becoming more and more an entertainment in itself.”
But why not open a standalone store instead of wrestling with the complexities of an iconic Grade I-listed building?
“We have pretty good coverage here in London as we have six stores,” Eggs counters. “In my view there is a purpose to each store and there is a specific purpose for us to be present [in Selfridges].”
He asserts the famous department store is a destination and by creating this townhouse concept Louis Vuitton is adding value to both businesses - for him it’s a win-win situation for both parties. “I believe here we are really pushing the boundaries of what you can experience within a department store.”
But this is no one-off vanity project; the townhouse is part of a wider strategy to revamp Louis Vuitton’s store portfolio. “We will concentrate much more on the existing network to enhance the experience in the stores we have,” says Eggs. “This [Selfridges store] is a brilliant example of what we want to do.” He explains that the idea of having an additional standalone store is less attractive than revamping an existing one to give it a fresh store experience.
“Vuitton is right to be focusing on existing stores rather than rolling out new outlets, with investment in destination flagships or the Maison stores, a strategy we have seen more luxury brands implement over the last two years,” says Honor Westnedge, senior analyst at Verdict Retail, “It is more efficient for brands to invest in core stores to create a lifestyle experience which showcases full ranges, rather than rely on new [shops] to drive footfall.”
In the past year Louis Vuitton has concentrated on investing in the cities that contribute the most revenue, with not only the townhouse opening in London but also a dedicated footwear concession in Selfridges in July and menswear concession in Harrods in August. Further afield, in the last year new stores in Venice and Munich have also replaced older formats. Westnedge suggests this is a sensible approach: “Overexpansion can negatively impact brand appeal or a store’s destination status, so by limiting its physical presence Louis Vuitton can protect its image and keep an element of exclusivity.”
However, this doesn’t mean Eggs is closed to new locations. “This [strategy] does not prevent [Louis Vuitton investing] when there is a very good opportunity and we feel like there is still untapped potential in a country,” he says, with first-time openings in Poland and Kazakhstan and additional stores unveiled in Dubai and Istanbul this year testament to this. Next year, Frankfurt, Florence, Geneva, Barcelona and Moscow will all see a shiny new Louis Vuitton experience come to town, while the business is also working on a secret store project for London, although no further details about this intriguing concept are available.
LVMH does not split out Louis Vuitton’s financial figures from its stablemates such as Céline, Givenchy and Christian Dior, but overall the company’s fashion and leather goods business brought in revenues of €4.7bn (£4bn) in the six months to June 2013, an increase of 1%, or organic growth of 5% on the year before.
Profit was just shy of €1.5bn (£1.25bn), with the profitability of Louis Vuitton described in the latest report to shareholders as at an “exceptional level”.
Eggs still sees the five key markets under his supervision as the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The first three rank “more or less the same” - tellingly, these are the same five territories in which Vuitton currently operates bespoke country-specific ecommerce platforms. Two further countries will get their own transactional websites soon, but until Eggs can be sure that the logistics and service is in place, he won’t commit to a launch as he says “the expectation of our clientele is very high”. And besides, according to Eggs, Louis Vuitton believes “there is nothing better than the stores to sell - we will very much hang on the bricks and mortar”.
The six Louis Vuitton stores in London are visited by customers from all over the globe, and the number of tourists is set to grow, according to Westnedge. “Tourism levels are forecast to rise over the next five years, increasing the demand for luxury goods in London,” she explains.
Management consultancy Bain & Company’s 2013 Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study forecasts the European luxury market will have grown 2% in 2013, with increased spending among tourists counteracting slower spending by European nationals, and tourist spending now making up 55% of luxury revenues in the UK .
This is a trend Louis Vuitton has been monitoring for some time and is able to capitalise on. “The investment we are making in cities like London and Paris is as much driven by the tourists as the local clients,” says Eggs. “We define the level of investment and type of offer according to the type of clientele, always bearing in mind that we want to cherish our local clients because they are always there.”
Daily deliveries to stores keep this offer fresh and allow the brand flexibility to maximise sales during country-specific seasonal events such as Chinese New Year. “This is a continuous learning process,” says Eggs. “We don’t think we know everything.”
So what does the future hold for Louis Vuitton now that Marc Jacobs has left to concentrate on his own brand and been replaced by former Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière?
“I think we’ll discover much of Marc’s legacy in the years to come,” Eggs says. “We are much more global today and he created this universe where there was a positive tension between tradition and modernity. [Ghesquière] is considered one of the most talented people of his generation - everybody is excited about the first collection.”
Whatever Ghesquière’s debut looks like, Louis Vuitton has a grand new London home in which to display it.