On Tuesday, Pharrell Williams will show his first collection for Louis Vuitton at Paris men’s fashion week, one of the most hotly anticipated debuts in recent memory. Details are being kept under wraps, but the marketing machine is already in motion: last week, Williams posted an image to Instagram of himself standing in front of a Paris billboard featuring a pregnant Rihanna wearing Vuitton checkered print and holding multiple bags.
Coverage in the months since Williams’ February appointment has focused less on the aesthetic direction and more on the sheer scale of whatever he and LVMH are planning for the luxury conglomerate’s flagship brand. Last year, Louis Vuitton became the world’s first €20 billion luxury label, so whatever Williams, as well as new CEO Pietro Beccari, are planning has to be big. On the business side, a playbook similar to Beccari’s efforts at Dior is taking shape: ever-bigger runway spectacles and store footprints, including a rumoured conversion of its Paris headquarters into a hotel-megastore.
Tuesday’s show should provide clear signs about the creative strategy that will underpin this expansion. Williams is a successful entrepreneur with his own streetwear, skin care and sneaker lines. But the primary reason he was brought on is to cement Louis Vuitton as a “cultural brand” (prior examples include the global Yayoi Kusama activations and a campaign featuring both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi). The goal is to link Vuitton with art, sport, music, film and anything else that occupies space in consumers’ minds, in many ways an extension of the project that began with Marc Jacobs 25 years ago to build fashion buzz around a somewhat dusty luggage brand.
The cultural brand concept is less of a linear move than the jump from travel to fashion. But once you get to Louis Vuitton’s scale, there’s no single category or market that is going to keep up momentum. The sample is small, but with a few key exceptions, brands struggle to maintain their hold over consumers once annual sales are deep into eight digits. It’s hard to be cool when you’re that big, and it’s a rare new idea that can move the needle at that scale. Gucci’s troubles began right around when it approached the €10 billion mark in 2021. In the mass market, Gap Inc. stalled out once it hit $16 billion in annual sales in the early 2000s. It’s still searching for its next act. Nike did manage to double annual revenue to $20 billion in the 2000s and then again to $40 billion in the 2010s, but has struggled to keep up that pace in the 2020s.
In luxury, there are still growth levers to pull. Louis Vuitton can open stores in new cities, and upgrade its flagships in existing markets. It can plaster its LV logo across the 2024 Olympics, conveniently held in Paris, and sell $39,000 NFTs. And it can hand the reins to Pharrell Williams to put on a hell of a show on Tuesday.
What to Watch for This Week
Cannes Lions advertising and communications festival kicks off
Paris men’s fashion week: Louis Vuitton
Paris men’s fashion week: Bianca Saunders, Acne, Lemaire, Rhude, Wales Bonner
UK reports May inflation data
Paris men’s fashion week: Rick Owens, Givenchy, Isabel Marant, Amiri, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Dries Van Noten
Bank of England interest rate decision
Paris men’s fashion week: Junya Watanabe, Dior, Koché, Comme des Garçons, Kenzo
UK reports May retail sales data
Paris men’s fashion week: Undercover, Kiko Kostadinov, Loewe, Hermès, Marine Serre
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