Thursday, June 21, 2018

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

FGI Tastemakers Series Weaves a Breakfast Tapestry with Rose Marie Bravo & Victor Luis

Rose Marie Bravo, Victor Luis, and Margaret Hayes
Photo courtesy of FGI by 
Bruce Borner
Click images for full-size views

It was a very festive and intimate atmosphere on Wednesday morning in the lower level of the Cosmopolitan Club (a welcome change of venue from the usual 21 Club). FGI held their Tastemakers breakfast featuring former president and CEO of many brands as well as CBE (Commander of the British Empire) Rose Marie Bravo posing thought-provoking questions to Victor Luis, CEO of Tapestry. Before you start singing "I feel the Earth move under my feet," this Tapestry refers of course to the multi-brand umbrella including Coach, Kate Spade, and Stuart Weitzman.

The breakfast
Photo: Laurel Marcus

FGI President Margaret Hayes issued a welcoming introduction by FGI President Margaret Hayes likening the setting to a 'mini-wedding' while remarking that the Cosmopolitan Club was a female based establishment much like Fashion Group International. She also informed us that we had 25 minutes to consume scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage and bacon, hash browns, assorted danish, fresh fruit and a yogurt parfait (pretty much encompassing all food groups I'd say).

Rose Marie Bravo
Photo courtesy of FGI by Bruce Borner

Bravo, wearing a colorful Versace-esque blazer, led off with "It's been 12 years since I stepped down from Burberry -- my how things have changed! How do you (as CEO) deal with the speed of change? How do you get a team to deal with it?" Luis responded that you start off with a "clear direction beginning with the Coach brand which needed a big change. Once you have a focus, the hard part is to implement it". Of course, it's important to do that in a way that will "surprise and delight" the customer. How to transition from a single to a multi-brand? How do you know you are ready? Luis spoke of the acquisition of Stuart Weitzman saying that his team didn't want to buy SW at first, "they didn't think they were ready. I decided that we were and the team was ready."

President of Movado, Efraim Grinberg, event sponsor with Victor Luis
Photo courtesy of FGI by 
Bruce Borner

On the subject of multi-group luxury, Bravo wanted to know why the companies who own them are always French (no doubt referring to LVMH and Kering) -- "why not American?" she asked. She also inquired about the moniker -- "I had enough trouble just taking the 'S' off of Burberry -- how do you come up with a whole new name?" Luis explained that when Coach acquired Kate Spade, there was a social media backlash. "The Kate Spade customer didn't want to buy Coach thinking that they're going to be the same," so a new name for the multi-brand preserving each brands unique DNA was needed. Many proposed nomenclatures were already taken -- "I was shocked that Tapestry wasn't registered. It's a great metaphor -- different threads coming together in one tapestry."  As for the use of the sunny color logo: "Yellow is very New York -- the taxis are yellow, and it's a happy color."

Luis went on to explain the difference between "good product pickers" and "good storytellers," the latter being the real key to a brand's success. "It's not as much about retail as about brand," he explained. "Consumer habits are more online now, but we give narratives and stories through marketing and translate them globally versus the good product pickers locally. As a brand-led company, we want to be the best storytellers. We are building a brand for a decade in our business model. Our European competitors have companies passed down for generations -- we are creating a brand business model."

How did Luis take a brand like Coach upmarket? By differentiating from the past and its competition. "We had to make Coach a better more relevant brand. It never had the fashion cred of Michael Kors, Tory Burch or Kate Spade which all had more of a lifestyle image. " How do you do that? By hiring the right person: Stuart Vevers as Creative Director who sought to build credibility over time. "We are surrounding ourselves with the talent needed to do that. We asked 'what do we want to be?' and 'who do we need to make that happen?" In team building Luis refers to "green shoots," (not green shots lol) -- people that can take a brand to the next level while recognizing and allowing that each brand has its different culture and DNA. Luis credits optimism, innovation and inclusivity (more on that later) as the three most important values at Tapestry.

Is the business model of a business person and a creative director together, such as YSL and Pierre Berge still the norm? "People are becoming schooled on both sides these days. There's no way Virgil Abloh would have been a creative director 20 years ago," remarked Luis. Bravo went on about her tenure at Burberry where they had "20,000 SKUs of beige trench coats" and needed creative talent to elevate them. First, it was Raf Simons who had come out of Jil Sander followed by a "refresh" from Christopher Bailey from Gucci who was a youngster (28) but "the perfect person. It wasn't easy to change designers at that point," she said. "Angela Ahrendts did a great job utilizing his talents. Now there are two Italians at the top of Burberry (Marco Grobetti and Riccardo Tisci)." Because this is 2018 and everything is politicized, cue the immigrant discussion as Bravo points out that both she and Luis are immigrants whose families came to pursue the American Dream.

Luis's father brought the family from the Azores taking a job as a barber here."Education, education, education" was the key -- "Education plus the opportunity to leverage it along with hard work. How do I instill these values in my kids since they have a lot? When you have nothing then you're more concerned about how you treat people," Luis said. (IMO -- he's correct for old-school LEGAL immigration on which this country is based).

An intelligent audience member asked the best question: "With a multi-brand portfolio is it hard not to love one child more than the other?" Luis answered that he tries to "get the absolute best team for each brand," one who "understands their vision. The Coach brand gets the most attention and has the biggest funds attached to it."

Bravo raised the diversity of talent issue including race and age as "very important." "WWD did an article about the dearth of women at the top of beauty companies and Vanessa Friedman at the New York Times recently wrote about how few women were actually at the top of fashion companies as designers." Luis spoke of Kate Spade (after Bravo mentioned the "beautiful tribute in the stores to Kate Spade") which has "all women at the top of the brand. Of the top 30, 28 are women. As a white male without an accent, you have blind spots. This is a discussion in every boardroom across the country."

Key things to look for while hiring key people? "We want nice people, smart people, and technical skills. We look for team players -- no high performing jerks. We want high performing nice people -- it feeds on itself. I liken it to a sport -- some people play baseball, we play luxury retail. To play you need the right people on the team," adding that he's "laying the groundwork for the next person. Bravo mentioned Tiffany's changeover: "Once the person at the top changed, the whole company changed. Because of technology, everyone got the message very quickly."

Interestingly, Bravo recounted a "luxury shopping experience" that she recently had at, wait for it -- B&H Photo, buying bird watching binoculars for her husband's birthday. "I didn't want to buy them online, and I wanted someone to explain them to me. I was in and out of there in less than 15 minutes -- they were efficient and knowledgeable."

What about future acquisitions to the Tapestry "quilt?" "We filter 20-30 brands we'd like to acquire. You may want to get married to a lot of people, but they have to say 'yes,'" he quipped.

Other Luis quotes: "If people feel good about a company they do great work." "If it's playing, it's great. When it becomes work, you're in trouble." On work/life balance: "Balance is such a difficult word -- everyone has to find it for themselves. I try to keep the pendulum in the middle and not have it swing to one side or the other. For the past 12 years since I'm at Coach the most important issue is the work/life balance."




- Laurel Marcus



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