Last season saw headlines from the runways dedicate just as many column inches to financial warefare as it did to the latest looks. With mergers and acquisitions happening almost daily, however it is a mammoth task to keep up with who owns whom.
The soap-operatic feud between Gucci and the Prada-LVMH partnership over the sale of the fashion house Fendi was more memorable for its Mafioso-style characters than for who actually won. Likewise there was the headline grabbing departure of Jil Sander from the Prada Corporation just when it seemed that the exacting German designer had finally found a conglomeration to match her high standards and reconcile quality with profit. But all this familial bickering is misleading because there is far more at stake than just reputation. Fashion generates tremendous profits and the big players compete ruthlessly with each other to acquire the latest ‘hot’ label.
The biggest player in the market place is by far and away Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey. The group dwarfs other contenders with its clutch of fashion, beauty and luxury goods brands and is rarely out of the press. The report on brands within the LVMH holding company was seventeen pages long – versus two or three for anyone else. Fashionwise it possess Dior, Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Kenzo, Loewe, and Celine and of course Louis Vuitton and it also control 51% of Fendi with Prada. Most recently it has added fashionably revived label Pucci to its stable – watch this one run and run with LVMH at the reigns.
And its not just the fashion revenue that LVMH has to look forward to, it also owns the beauty arms of these profit-generating labels as well as lucrative leather goods and accessories. Beauty-wise Guerlain is one of its big brands and don’t forget watches – add Tag Heuer to the list. When you throw into the mix Philips Auctioneers and of course the champagne giants Moet Hennessey and Veuve Clicquot you get some idea of the power it wields.
But Prada is determined to rival the French fashion conglomerate, if not in terms of turnover, at least in acquisition of high profile names. As well as its eponymous holdings, Prada, Prada Sport and Miu Miu, the company holds the majority stake in Helmut Lang and, of course, 75% of Jil Sander. And with traditional partisan English labels making a spectacular revival Prada will be glad of its 72% stake in shoemakers Church & Co. LVMH is also not impartial to a traditional label either – Thomas Pink, with its up and coming profile is another of the brands aquired by the French giant.
Gucci, despite its ranking amongst fashion’s royal family seems to be falling slightly behind in the monopoly stakes. Perhaps the apparently genuine underworld element in the Gucci family – stories of contract killings to safeguard the family fortune are rife – could have clouded the firm’s business acumen. But Gucci is backed by its French White Knight, Francois Pinault and under his guidance has managed to seize Yves St Laurent from under the nose of Bernard Arnault, the LVMH chairman who is known to have coveted the brand. And Gucci also owns luxury label Sergio Rossi, so while it may all look like a scene from ‘The Godfather’ things are certainly not all bad.
Perhaps the least known holding company, in terms of consumer awareness, is Vendome. Its a serious player within the luxury goods market and esteemed brands include Cartier, Alfred Dunhill, Baume & Mercier as well as uber-fashion label Chloe and – because everyone has to have their British stalwart – Hackett of London.
Given the kind of profit these labels generate it is hardly surprising that tempers flare and swords are drawn. The fashion and beauty industries are not short of egos or greedy designers. And when reputations mean revenue – panicked down-on-their-luck labels are all too aware of the kudos they gain by associating with the big-name giants – it can get ugly.
In the fickle world of fashion patrons are rarely benevolent and they vie furiously for the latest acquisition. What’s more grudges are held. As Sander discovered to her cost, pitching yourself up against the big boys is not something to take on lightly. After all, with all that French (the country where you can be absolved of murder on the grounds of crime passionnele) and Italian blood flowing through the industry, finding yourself ousted from the ‘firm’ could cost you more than just your reputation.
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