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

That is the image that has caused a stir on social networks: football superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are playing chess on Louis Vuitton’s signature luggage.

That 2022 campaign image broke the record at the time for most likes on Instagram. Now the world’s biggest luxury house, with annual sales of more than 20 billion euros, is looking to capitalize on one of the world’s biggest sporting duos in a new campaign featuring its rivals. Tennis virtuosos Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

The combination was a breakthrough for Vuitton chief executive Pietro Beccari. It’s been more than a year since he took on one of the biggest jobs in the luxury sector, tasked with further developing the LVMH-owned brand – which originated as a world-class luggage maker. 19th century – by turning it into a cultural company.

“There is no household in the world that doesn’t have one [contact with] Louis Vuitton products,” Beccari told the FT in a video interview from Paris. “There are not many brands that can say they have entered the lives of people like us.”

Beccari isn’t just talking about sales of handbags and ready-to-wear fashion – although these have more than doubled between 2018 and 2022, according to estimates from HSBC. Now, under the guidance of LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault and Beccari’s leadership, Louis Vuitton is continuing to push the boundaries of luxury in an effort to reach an ever-wider audience.

“We are working in books, writing and editing. We are in music,” the 56-year-old Italian executive said. “We are very passionate about sports. . . so we’re covering a lot of the spectrum of life that people are interested in. It is like a magnet for them to be attracted to the brand.”

Beccari’s casual approach to luxury branding is evident by his appointment of musician and producer Pharrell Williams last year to design menswear. What Williams lacked in technical design knowledge, he made up for in cultural cachet, turning catwalk shows into entertainment events with elaborate staging and musical guests such as Jay-Z. However, the appointment has divided the fashion world as critics lament what they see as a triumph of craftsmanship at LVMH’s flagship brand.

Man wearing white wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and flared jeans on fashion catwalk
Pharrell Williams at the Louis Vuitton fall/winter 2024 menswear show in Paris © WireImage

However, for Beccari, creating a network of deep overlap between popular culture, entertainment and brand identity is strategic and key to the superbrand’s future: “For every chapter show that Pharrell has done so far, we always have new songs coming out” – the latest of which was produced for Miley Cyrus and first performed at the fall/winter 2024 menswear show Latest from Louis Vuitton.

During the same season, “Pharrell also launched the cowboy hat and now you can see that everywhere in America. Even Beyoncé has an album supporting cowboy culture [for which Pharrell has also written a few songs]”, Beccari said. “These are examples of our luxury brands not only selling handbags but also having an impact on culture.”

However, Louis Vuitton’s growing popularity poses its own challenges as the brand tries to balance accessibility and lose the aura of exclusivity that is essential to its prestige and price point. luxury. “We’ll see if I’m good at it in two to three years. . . But this is an eternal dilemma,” Beccari said.

One of his gambles was to create limited distribution of low-end products, such as sunglasses and perfume, to create scarcity. He noted that this has seen “incredible success”. “Normally a successful perfume will be available in 80,000 or 90,000 stores. We limit it to about 400.” (Louis Vuitton’s store network is much larger than luxury rivals such as Hermès and Chanel.)

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

According to Beccari, Louis Vuitton’s control of the distribution network and its policy of never discounting its products are another advantage. He also pointed out its care system, which allows customers to bring back products purchased from the brand for repair.

“We needed to maintain our desirability despite our vision, and that was the biggest challenge we faced,” Beccari said. “We are ensuring that the levers we apply will pay off in the long term and I am confident that this campaign will [with Nadal and Federer] will help increase brand desirability in the long run.”

But taking Louis Vuitton to the next level is proving more challenging as luxury sales across the industry have slumped after a years-long boom during the pandemic. Brands with broader, more aspirational customer bases like Louis Vuitton have been hit harder by the downturn than rivals like Hermès, which serve the wealthiest customers.

The dark outlook in the key Chinese market, which has fueled growth for much of the past decade, is also a challenge for the entire industry. Erwan Rambourg said: “Beccari comes at a rather difficult time as the industry is going through quite a downturn and it is worth noting that the recovery in Chinese consumption is not at the level that most industry managers expected. wait a few months ago”. Global head of consumer and retail research at HSBC.

However, Beccari has a naturally competitive nature, having previously worked as a professional football player in the Italian second division, as well as a coach. Born in a small town in the Parma region of Italy, Beccari was recruited to LVMH from mass-market shampoo maker Henkel in 2006.

He quickly rose through the ranks of luxury group, leading fashion brand Fendi before being appointed CEO of Dior, the group’s second-largest brand by revenue, in 2018. Dior’s sales have quadrupled, according to HSBC estimates, by expanding its market share across men’s and women’s fashion, leather goods, jewelery and homewares. He also oversaw the renovation of Dior’s flagship building at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, which included a museum, restaurant and private rooms.

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

“We have plans in the Champs-Elysées – it’s not a secret,” Beccari said. “We have been proactive in our lifestyle and believe we need to do more than just buy handbags.”

Two men holding tennis rackets on snowy mountain background
Behind the scenes photos of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal © Annie Leibovitz

With Federer and Nadal, Beccari is making good on a project he first conceived in 2007, when he was executive vice president of marketing and communications at Louis Vuitton, along with Antoine Arnault, the eldest son of Bernard Arnault and was then communications director at Louis Vuitton. Vuitton.

It’s a revival of the Core Values ​​campaign that first started in 2007 and lasted into the 2010s. The latest version shows Federer and Nadal, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, trekking across the peaks jagged mountains of the Italian Dolomites, both wearing designer sports backpacks (Federer in the classic Christopher monogram style and Nadal in the Eclipse monogram version).

Was it difficult to bring two superstars together? “Not at all,” Beccari affirmed. “They are good friends and see each other privately. 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 concept of travel and adventure in life is a mirror of that,” Beccari continued, and was the driving force behind LVMH’s sponsorship of this summer’s Paris Olympics.

For executives, Nadal and Federer epitomize the Olympic spirit. “I think no one but them represents this fierce, fierce competition that turns into friendship, which is exactly what sports should be.”

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