‘There is no home in the world that does not have Louis Vuitton products’

It was the image that caused a sensation on social media: soccer superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi hunched over a chess set placed on top of exclusive Louis Vuitton luggage.

That image from the 2022 campaign broke the record at the time for most likes on Instagram. Now, the world’s largest luxury house, with more than €20 billion in annual sales, seeks to capitalize once again on one of the sporting world’s biggest duos in a new campaign starring rival tennis virtuosos Rafael Nadal. and Roger Federer.

The pairing is a coup for Vuitton CEO Pietro Beccari. It’s been just over a year since he took on one of the luxury sector’s biggest jobs with a mandate to further grow the LVMH-owned brand, which had its origins as a 19th-century suitcase maker, transforming it into a cultural giant. .

“There is no home in the world that does not have (contact with) Louis Vuitton products,” Beccari tells the Financial Times in a video interview from Paris. “There aren’t many brands that can say they enter people’s lives like we do.”

Beccari is not just referring to sales of handbags and ready-to-wear fashion, although they more than doubled between 2018 and 2022, according to HSBC estimates. Now, under LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault and Beccari’s leadership, Louis Vuitton is further pushing the boundaries of luxury in a bid to reach an ever-wider audience.

“We are in the books, in the writing, in the editing. “We are in music,” says the 56-year-old Italian executive. “We dedicate a lot to sports. . . so we largely cover a spectrum of life that interests people. It is like a magnet so that they feel attracted to the brand.”

Beccari’s grassroots approach to the luxury brand was epitomized by his appointment last year of musician and producer Pharrell Williams to design menswear. What Williams lacked in technical design know-how he made up for in cultural prestige, transforming runway shows into entertaining events with elaborate staging and musical guests like Jay-Z. However, the appointment has divided the fashion world, with critics lamenting what they saw as the triumph of spectacle over craft at LVMH’s flagship brand.

Pharrell Williams at the Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2024 Menswear Show in Paris © WireImage

For Beccari, however, weaving an ever-deepening web of overlaps between popular culture, entertainment and brand identity is strategic and key to the megabrand’s future: “For every show Pharrell has done so far, he’s always “We’ve released new songs,” the latest of which was produced for Miley Cyrus and debuted at Louis Vuitton’s latest fall/winter 2024 menswear show.

In the same season, “Pharrell also launched the cowboy hat and now you see that almost everywhere in America. Even Beyoncé has an album that supports cowboy culture (for which Pharrell has also written some songs),” says Beccari. “These are examples of our brand in the luxury sector, not only in the sale of bags, but also in its influence on culture.”

However, Louis Vuitton’s growing ubiquity presents its own challenge as the brand attempts to balance accessibility without losing the veneer of exclusivity that is essential to mastering luxury prestige and pricing. “We’ll see if I’m good at it or not in two or three years. . . but this is an eternal dilemma,” says Beccari.

One of their bets is to create limited distribution of basic products, such as sunglasses and fragrances, to create shortages. This has been “incredibly successful,” she notes. “Normally a successful perfume would be in 80,000 or 90,000 stores. We limited it to around 400.” (Louis Vuitton’s store network is much larger than its luxury peers like Hermès and Chanel.)

A classic black and white photographic portrait of a man wearing a dark jacket and a dark button-down shirt.
Pietro Beccari, CEO of Louis Vuitton © Nathaniel Goldberg

Louis Vuitton’s control over its distribution network and its policy of never discounting its products are another advantage, according to Beccari. He also highlights its service system, which allows customers to return purchased products to the brand for repair.

“We need to preserve our desirability despite our visibility and that is the biggest challenge we have,” says Beccari. “We are making sure that the levers we put in place will pay off in the long term, and I think this campaign (with Nadal and Federer) will help increase the appeal of the brand in the long term.”

Still, taking Louis Vuitton to the next level is becoming more difficult due to a slowdown in luxury sales across the sector after a multi-year boom during the pandemic. Brands with a broader and more aspirational customer base, such as Louis Vuitton, have been more affected by the slowdown than competitors such as Hermès, which cater to the upper tier of wealthy customers.

The increasingly bleak outlook in the key Chinese market, which fueled growth for much of the last decade, also presents a challenge for the sector as a whole. “Beccari arrives at a rather difficult time because the industry is going through a certain slowdown and, in particular, the rebound in Chinese consumption is not at the level that most industry managers would have expected a few months ago,” says Erwan Rambourg. Global head of consumer and retail research at HSBC.

Beccari, however, has a naturally competitive nature, having previously been a professional footballer in Italy’s second division in his youth, as well as a coach. Born in a small town in Italy’s Parma region, Beccari was recruited to LVMH from mass-market shampoo maker Henkel in 2006.

He quickly rose through the ranks at luxury group Fendi’s first leading fashion brand before being named CEO of Dior, the group’s second-largest brand by sales, in 2018. Under his leadership, Dior’s sales quadrupled, according to estimates by HSBC, when expanding. its market share in women’s and men’s fashion, leather goods, jewelry and home goods. He also oversaw the renovation of Dior’s flagship at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, which includes a museum, a restaurant and a private suite.

Beccari has similar ambitions to leverage Louis Vuitton’s pedigree to expand its hospitality offering. It already operates a lounge at Doha airport and restaurants in Osaka, Chengdu and Seoul. A large-scale project on Paris’ Champs-Elysees, still under construction, is expected to include a Louis Vuitton-branded hotel.

“We have plans on the Champs-Elysées, it’s no secret,” says Beccari. “We are already active in the lifestyle and believe that we should do much more than just buying bags.”

Two men holding tennis rackets against a backdrop of snowy mountains
A behind-the-scenes photo of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal © Annie Leibovitz

With Federer and Nadal, Beccari is bringing to life a project he first conceived in 2007, when he was executive vice president of marketing and communications at Louis Vuitton, with Antoine Arnault, Bernard Arnault’s eldest son and then communications director at Louis Vuitton.

It is a revival of the Core Values ​​campaign that began in 2007 and ran into the 2010s. The latest version shows Federer and Nadal, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, hiking the rugged peaks of Italy’s Dolomite mountain range, both with branded sports backpacks (Federer in a classic Christopher-style monogram and Nadal in an Eclipse monogram version).

Was it difficult to bring the two superstars together? “Not at all,” insists Beccari. “They are good friends and see each other in private. It was a rivalry that turned into friendship. “They are proud of it and I think they set an incredible example.”

“We sell excellence, quality, success and optimism. In a way, the notion of travel and adventure in life is a mirror of that,” continues Beccari, and the driving force behind LVMH’s sponsorship of this summer’s Paris Olympics.

For the executive, Nadal and Federer personify the Olympic spirit. “I think no one represents this extreme, fierce competition that turns into friendship more than them, which is exactly what sports should be.”

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