Shaking Sameness: Luxury Goes Custom To Rev Up Consumers

PARIS — Luxury brands are out of control. That is, they are breaking out of the direct-control mantra that defined the Nineties.As companies...

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And how.

"It’s really terrible. It’s very boring," Diego Della Valle, chief executive of Tod’s SpA, recently told The International Herald Tribune fashion conference here. "Whether you’re in Milan, Paris, London or Düsseldorf, all the luxury streets are basically the same. You see the same products, the same windows and all the same brands."

Sir Paul Smith is also outspoken on what he considers luxury overload.

"The very nature of a rollout means that it’s very formulaic and that’s very hard to go against," he said. "Unfortunately, there’s just too much of the same thing. In some cases, you could take the name sign down from the city and you wouldn’t know where you are."

Della Valle said his solution is simple: Half of the decor and furniture and half of the merchandise must be unique in each Tod’s and Hogan location. Della Valle set no timetable for achieving that goal, but stressed that "we want to have shops that are unique." He also noted that the firm is experimenting with boutiques that house all of its brands under one roof.

Asked about made-to-order luxury, a new push for some of his competitors, Della Valle said that tactic is "not modern" because customers don’t want to wait for an item to be produced. "A more modern idea is to have different products in different stores," he said.

"The luxury customer has no patience," agreed retailer Majed Al-Sabah, owner of the giant Villa Moda designer complex in Kuwait. "We have to get the made-to-order product to the customer no later than four-to-six weeks maximum."

Al-Sabah said having exclusive merchandise in his branded boutiques, which include Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo and Yves Saint Laurent, best drives traffic and sales. He recently commissioned Miuccia Prada to design caftans for his store, which he said boosted brand awareness and sales, achieving 50 percent sell-through in two weeks.

"It brought more traffic to the Prada store and people bought even more pieces from the main collection," he said. What’s more, "the feeling of the customers was so great as they were very pleased, and [they] appreciated the fact that Miuccia has feelings for their lifestyle and gave them what they wanted. It made such a huge impact."
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