Christmas remains important at the high end of the market, but when it comes to designer bags, will it be a Vuitton or Mulberry? With price not an issue in this rarified market, it’s all about the finer details.
Wander along Bond Street and the expectation has to be that you will pay an eye-watering amount of money for almost anything, but that, to an extent, it will be worth it for the degree of exclusivity it will give you. There is also, occasionally, the sense that the combination of flash and cash is what may characterise much of what’s on offer and that there may be a sameness about the whole street.
Nowhere is this impression more likely to be fostered than when it comes to the matter of buying small, medium and large leather goods.
Yet there are differences. A dip into Mulberry, followed by a stroll around Louis Vuitton Maison, does much to illustrate that there are many ways to skin a python, cow, sheep or almost any other mammal that the fashion crowd decides is this year’s must-wear.
In luxury terms, the two stores do bear close comparison. Both are global retailers of bags viewed as status symbols. A Mulberry or Vuitton piece is as likely to be correctly identified in Hong Kong as it is in London or Tokyo and both really do fit the term luxury – in terms of store environments and the price you have to pay to walk out with anything.
Louis Vuitton Maison on Bond Street is a mammoth production boasting three massive floors and a no-holds barred approach to store design that saw it garner almost as many column inches as there were celebrity attendees when it opened in the middle of 2010.
Mulberry, which opened even more recently, is on a somewhat more modest scale, trading from just a single floor, but is still substantially bigger than most of the other stores on the street.
Both cover much of the same ground and there will inevitably be a degree of migration between the two before a purchase is made.
Key looks and merchandise mix
As money is unlikely to be a serious hurdle if you intend shopping at either of these emporia, there seems little point in comparing the relative prices of the two offers – both are expensive, although Louis Vuitton seems to command a premium at its top end. For the sake of information however, a small, logoed leather clutch will set you back around £350 in Mulberry while something similar will typically involve parting with about £100 more in Louis Vuitton.
For those with more lavish budgets, it’s £500 upwards for a tote, shoulder or messenger bag, depending on the style you opt for, although expect to pay more if it’s Louis Vuitton that is finally selected as the purveyor of choice.
Neither retailer had really made much of a concession towards it being close to December 25. There was, however, plenty that would fit the word ‘gift’ for those with a Jag and a house in Surrey.
As for trends, the fact that many items in Louis Vuitton feature the iconic LV logo on them, and that you carry a Mulberry bag with its logo functioning as a buckle, indicates that at this level the tendency will be to play safe. Price tags in both stores were discreet.
Louis Vuitton 8/10
From the perspective of the window displays, Louis Vuitton does edge things. Its windows are filled with animals, or at least models of them, engaged in proving either that a piece of Louis Vuitton merchandise is weightier than an elephant, or that the converse is the case, depending on the item that’s on show.
The theme is circus-related and these are simple yet compelling pieces of the visual merchandiser’s art. At Mulberry, the two windows feature outsize packing trunks with clothes and the odd handbag dotted about. The vista is given a festive twist by the addition of neon holly leaf and berry motifs – it’s good, but then at this end of the market it really should be.
Internally, both stores are nothing short of excellent and the category divides are easy on the eye.
Louis Vuitton 9/10
Every single part of Louis Vuitton Maison seemed to have a slickly suited member of staff waiting to welcome you. They were discreet and pleasant and at no point were you left feeling that you were being crowded, but on the other hand, they were a smile away from being available to answer any question you might have. The same was true of Mulberry, although on the day of visiting this was much the busier of the two stores and therefore staff availability proved more of an issue.
A real positive in both was that while there was a security-cum-greeter type at the door, in neither shop were you left with the feeling you were being watched – you were merely welcomed.
Louis Vuitton 8/10
If you have more than £30m to spend, three floors to play with and the services of the go-to luxury environment interior architect to call upon, you’d expect something special. Louis Vuitton Maison does not disappoint, with everything from a ‘wonder wall’ – a series of boxes and screens on rails that create the effect of a vertical tableau that is constantly on the move – to artworks by the likes of Gilbert and George and Grayson Perry.
If you seek luxury, it’s here in depth. The same is true, although less ostentatiously, at Mulberry, where the shop is divided into a series of rooms with a beautifully finished fitting room at the back of the store. These are different interiors, but they both go a long way towards defining luxury environments. The victor’s laurels go to Louis Vuitton for a profusion of ideas, but only just.
Louis Vuitton 9/10
Would I buy?
Yes, in both stores, if I had the money.
I would, however, choose something that did not shout Mulberry or Louis Vuitton as this would appear both a mite nouveau and might carry with it the sense of needing to justify an expensive purchase. This would narrow the field very considerably in Louis Vuitton as its modus operandi for leather goods seems to be that, if it comes from a dead animal, brand it. But then what do I know? The mark given is purely personal preference.
Louis Vuitton 7/10
If service and quality are a given for luxury shoppers, then there will be few surprises for customers at either of these stores. It is the environment that carries the day in both instances – this is old-fashioned, unashamed opulence.
Louis Vuitton 41/50
Mulberry: 50 New Bond Street, London W1S 1BJ
Louis Vuitton Maison: 17–18 New Bond Street London, W1S 2RB
Number of floors:
Louis Vuitton Maison: 3
Mulberry: Universal Design Studio
Louis Vuitton Maison: Peter Marino