You know the look! Well, it’s obviously the most recognised fashion brand in the world. From its famous monogram to the patchwork, Louis Vuitton is synonyms with luxury.
Belonging to the house of LVMH Moët Hennessy (LVMH), Louis Vuitton today is worth $28 billion according to Forbes. Its products include leather goods, handbags, trunks, shoes, watches, jewellery and accessories. And, with such a wide portfolio, it’s no doubt Louis Vuitton is ranked as one of the most profitable brands in the world. Did you know it that its profit margins are approaching 40%?
To re-instill my point, here’s another study by WPP’s marketing and brand consultancy Millward Brown that states how the brand has shown consistent growth over the years.
From the streets of Beijing to the 5th Avenue, these LV monogramed bags and accessories are no doubt the symbol of luxury. But, in fashion with popularity also come the counterfeits. In a world with knock offs, where you have the option of choosing 1st copy, 2nd or 3rd – depending on your desire to own an original ‘Louis Vuitton’ – how does the world’s most desirable luxury label protect its image?
Innovation, innovation and innovation
Louis Vuitton owes the status to its humble beginnings, innovation and fine craftsmanship. Here’s an ode to how the brand was born. A miller’s son, Louis Vuitton — the man behind the brand — started his journey when he left home to make his living packing luggage in 1821.
Then, he was taken on as an apprentice by Monsieur Maréchal, a box maker and packer in France. He worked there for 17 years. Finally, he founded Louis Vuitton the brand in 1854. As luck would have it, at that time, Paris was on the verge of becoming the global epicentre for luxury. It was also the era for enormous crinoline hooped skirt. And, these huge constructions were difficult to transport. That’s what led to the rise in demand for professional packers.
Before starting his line of handbags, Louis Vuitton was known for his range of trunks and suitcases. At the heart of Louis Vuitton is travel and this was clear in his messaging. In fact, he first advertised his services on a small poster that read, “Securely packs the most fragile objects. Specialising in packing fashions.” He did not only offer quality and fine craftsmanship, but also customisation. He offered his clients trunks that he made himself in a workshop. And, with unique offerings like these soon success started coming along.
He was also known for his innovations. Vuitton was amongst the first designers to use canvas and glue for the casing. He preferred it to the traditional hide, which would imbue the content of the trunk with its smell. There was no reason why his patrons wouldn’t opt for this smell free packaging.
This gave him the boost to innovate further. He was determined to make a regular utility product fashionable. That’s when he started lining up luggage in colours — in particular a pale shade, and he called it Trianon grey.
Innovation was, and is still the key to Louis Vuitton’s success. In 1858, he introduced the slat trunk. Termed as a big leap moment for Louis Vuitton, the slat trunk reinforced with beech slats and covered in Trianon grey canvas was undoubtedly the first ever piece of modern luggage. In fact, this design innovation is still used by the brand.
Leaving a Mark
Louis Vuitton continued playing with its canvas and design to suit the modern times. But, the success of its canvasses led to an explosion of counterfeits in the market. So, with every new design Louis Vuitton included a discreet registered trademark, which was patented – a very early example of fashion branding.
Apart from patenting, the reason why Louis Vuitton has stood the test of time is because it has unabashedly stood for something more than affordability. Further, Louis Vuitton works with the concept of absolute quality, which prompts consumers to insist on the ‘Louis Vuitton’ bag and nothing else. And, what separates it from the counterfeits is that it always has a unique story behind it.
Resurgence of Exclusivity
Millward Brown’s report states that even though the value of luxury brands has declined by $7bn, Louis Vuitton has held the top spot in the luxury ranking. According to the report no brand has challenged this spot in the last 10 years. Today, its brand is valued at more than $27.4bn, though luxury brands continue to struggle. The other brand to have come close is Chanel (up at 15% to nearly $9bn).
Millward Brown spokeswoman says, “Louis Vuitton has mastered the art of doing things differently.” For instance, Louis Vuitton has successfully revitalised its brand by going back to its original LV monogram in a new way, while other brands were leaving the classic canvas for more luxurious leather and fabrics to justify their premium position, as stated in an online publication, vanguardngr.com.
Not just that. The brand also takes into consideration the local feel of a market. As mentioned in the Millward Brown study, “they (Louis Vuitton) have also harmonised their prices across regions – raising prices in Europe and lowering them in China. Although this will impact their financial performance in the short-term, they are protecting the brand by encouraging more in-store consumption and slowing the grey market of goods purchased in Europe to sell in China at a profit.”
Along with product, place and pricing, the brand has also changed its promotion strategy in order to maintain its leading image. The team at Louis Vuitton is responding to the new-age ad world, which is a more decentralised ecosystem of apps, online ads and social media pages. The challenge the brand faces today is to navigate between traditional market technologies and a high-culture message.
Yes, Louis Vuitton still brings out opulent photographs in fashion magazines across the world. But it is also creating a niche appeal online through its mobile app. Clearly, the label is not shying away from social media advances and is ready to face the new possibilities in order to attract younger fashion enthusiasts. In 2012, it launched an interesting online video – The Art of Packing. The interactive, step-by-step tutorial instructed visitors in the “art of packing.” The web app further outlined the basics — place heavy items at the bottom, wrap shoes in felt bags — as well as some of the more nuanced points of packing a suitcase or travel bag. Interesting indeed! It’s always good to know these basic life hacks, isn’t it? And, if these tips come for the luxury maker one is more likely to sit-up and listen. After all, they know style and what it means to live life the luxe way.
Bringing packing to life is just one part of its strategy. Louis Vuitton has a smartphone application that brings its advertising campaigns to life. It allows users to scan the campaign images featured as App’s icon in magazines or elsewhere in print. Thus, giving users a dedicated space to see product information, videos, images, and more. The Louis Vuitton Pass App also redirects users to purchase showcased products and locate stores.
It’s no surprise that LV is one of the leading luxury fashion brands with a strong digital presence. They seem to have covered the usual avenues — with state of the art mobile apps that allow users to browse through their latest collections. Their website is beautifully designed and easy to navigate, thus nudging the offline user to go online.
In all this, they haven’t detached from their legacy. They have a prominent section on their site that takes you through a detailed narrative of the history of LV. It’s interactive and it almost makes you live those brand stories.
Thus, keeping its concept of ‘innovation’ and legacy alive! Indeed, the concept of heirloom strikes a balance with modernity seems to have worked for LV. But, this makes me wonder if this idea is a hit only because of the brand’s premium history and the luxury value it carries? What are your thoughts?