At Louis Vuitton, a New CEO’s Mission
This week, luxury giant LVMH reshuffled the leadership of its biggest brands. Christian Dior chief executive Pietro Beccari will succeed Michael Burke at the helm of the group’s flagship label Louis Vuitton. In turn, Delphine Arnault, Louis Vuitton’s EVP for product (and LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault’s oldest child) will leave the brand to become CEO of Dior.
Beccari’s appointment was seen as logical, even inevitable, by many LVMH insiders: after leading Vuitton’s marketing from 2006 to 2012, the Italian executive secured a place in the group’s inner circle of trusted managers during star turns as CEO of Fendi and Dior.
At Fendi, Beccari diversified the brand’s product offer and elevated its image. A seasoned marketer who got his start in the consumer goods industry, managing mass-market brands for the likes of Reckitt Benckiser and Henkel, Beccari clarified Fendi’s unique positioning as the brand of Rome, fantasy and fur, then amplified that message with memorable spectacles, including a haute fourrure show staged at the Trevi Fountain.
At Dior, Beccari’s spin on the iconic French label fuelled a historic expansion. Since his arrival in 2018, sales have roughly quadrupled to nearly €9 billion ($9.7 billion), growing rapidly even during 2020′s strict coronavirus lockdowns. Working alongside designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Kim Jones, Beccari created a Dior that was simultaneously more relatable and more dramatic: the collections were stacked with recognisable, wearable products but were packaged with big-budget marketing activations that packed a punch, including shows inside giant art installations or at historic landmarks in Greece, Morocco and Egypt.
But at Vuitton, the world’s biggest and most profitable luxury label, Beccari will face fresh challenges and higher stakes. In 2018, Vuitton went where no luxury house had gone before, surpassing €10 billion in annual sales. Since the pandemic, sales have accelerated further. In 2022, the brand topped €20 billion in annual revenue, according to HSBC estimates.
Beccari will need to make his mark on the luxury juggernaut without disrupting its historic winning streak. How will he steer the brand’s next chapter of growth?
Of course, the first challenge Beccari will face will be onboarding a new designer at the brand’s menswear business. More than a year after the sudden death of Virgil Abloh, a successor still hasn’t been named. Following Abloh’s transformative tenure will be a challenge for any designer, and successfully launching the brand’s next chapter for menswear will require careful supervision and support from the CEO.
Beyond installing a new designer, there are major opportunities for Beccari to seize in brand marketing, but the “shock-and-awe” tactics that served Beccari at Fendi and Dior won’t exactly be new to Vuitton. The brand was among the first to stage large-scale travelling shows, presenting Nicolas Ghesquière’s collections with spectaculars from Los Angeles to Kyoto. Meanwhile, Virgil Abloh’s menswear shows — and studio-designed outings that have followed his untimely death in 2021 — have included big-budget immersive scenography and live performances by stars like Kendrick Lamar.
In stores, the brand has deployed massive installations including sculptures, multi-story holograms and more, exploding the concept of store windows to activate entire buildings. The current collaboration with artist Yayoi Kusama is a first-class example of the brand’s multi-dimensional marketing prowess. Vuitton also recently tapped both sides of the world’s top football rivalry — Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi — in the same campaign.
Analysts estimate that Vuitton spends over €1 billion per year on marketing and promotion. So even if Beccari’s flavour of “shock-and-awe” won’t be a revolution at Vuitton, he will certainly have a dream budget to work with — and one that makes extending the brand’s lead over rivals almost a foregone conclusion.
Part of the role of any leader at Louis Vuitton is to update and reinterpret its longstanding position as the brand of travel. Alongside Burke and Delphine Arnault, Ghesquière added the concept of time travel to the brand’s message, blending references from science fiction, comic books and Art Nouveau with wide-ranging nods to designers like Cristobal Balenciaga, Martin Margiela, Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler. The arrival of Abloh in 2018 extended the notion of travel to social mobility and the “hero’s journey,” using narrative touchpoints like “The Wizard of Oz” to evoke self-actualisation and dreams.
Those ideas added depth to the Vuitton story. But as other brands joined Vuitton in staging blockbuster destination shows, the brand’s attachment to physical travel has become less singular. (Not to mention that Gucci recently relaunched its travel line with a campaign fronted by Ryan Gosling.) Finding new and innovative ways to celebrate Vuitton’s travel heritage will surely remain a key focus at the brand under Beccari.
During Burke’s tenure, Vuitton pulled back from the glitzy, pop sensibility cultivated by designer Marc Jacobs in favour of a more sophisticated angle. The brand raised prices, focused on pushing more upscale leather options (reducing its dependence on its signature monogrammed canvas), and promoted its wares with a curated cast of celebrities seemingly selected more for their prestige than mass appeal.
But Vuitton has at times confused being sophisticated with being complicated, particularly on the women’s side. In terms of both marketing and merchandising, Beccari will need to walk a tightrope, making the brand more broadly understandable without diluting the sophistication level it achieved under Burke. The company is simply too big for a niche approach, but flattening its message could risk brand fatigue, or stall progress on its long-term shift from gateway luxury toward the top end of the market.
Big placemaking projects will almost surely be on Beccari’s agenda. Controlling the best real estate and flexing those locations to outshine competitors is a pillar of Bernard Arnault’s vision for LVMH, and Beccari has shown he can deliver on the sort of large-scale developments the chairman is focused on.
At Fendi, he secured a long-term lease for a Roman architectural landmark, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, to be the brand’s headquarters and transformed the former corporate base into a multi-level consumer-facing complex with an expanded flagship, art installations, restaurant and luxury hotel. At Dior, he spearheaded the transformation of six buildings owned by the brand into the world’s biggest luxury boutique, combining them into a complex complete with a fashion museum, pastry shop, restaurant, haute couture salons, spa and hotel suite. It’s the size of a department store — just for Dior.
Vuitton has recently invested in multi-level complexes in New York, London, Seoul and Tokyo. But while recent Paris boutiques like its Place Vendôme location are illustrious, the brand doesn’t have anything at the scale of Dior’s megastore in its home city.
Burke hinted in a recent interview that this was soon likely to change. He floated the idea that Vuitton’s Pont Neuf headquarters could be better suited to a consumer-facing space, like a store-and-hotel complex, pushing Vuitton into the hospitality category, which would be well in tune with the brand’s travel DNA. The brand recently took over and gutted a massive furniture store adjoining its headquarters and is currently using the space as an exhibition venue, pop-up restaurant and gift store — with more changes to come.
Vuitton could also have designs on a sprawling building that LVMH recently leased on the Champs-Élysées, which was formerly the headquarters of HSBC. The space was reportedly earmarked for Dior, but those plans have yet to be confirmed.
In the year ahead, Vuitton’s new CEO won’t just be focused on long-term investments but on navigating a luxury market plagued by immediate uncertainty. Whether local clients in the US and Europe can continue to drive growth remains a question hanging over the space as central banks continue to raise interest rates, cooling the economy.
China, however, is poised to make a comeback after an end to the government’s strict Covid policies, which disrupted travel, shopping and wider economic growth in 2022. In the longer-term, fast-emerging markets like India, Brazil and Indonesia could also help Beccari carry Vuitton to new heights.
THE NEWS IN BRIEF
FASHION, BUSINESS AND THE ECONOMY
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THE BUSINESS OF BEAUTY
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MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY
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Compiled by Joan Kennedy.
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