Ms Bellitini is signing several years of growth in a row and a very impressive successful story that has a lot to do with her vision, her commitment and the Excellency of all her team around the world.
Enjoy some extracts – Courtesy of the FINANCIAL TIMES & FT Fashion Editor Jo Ellison.
I believe in autonomy and trust and the creative side of the business, I believe in CEOs who are CEOs and creative directors who are creative directors. And I believe in a trustful relationship between the two.
I started in this industry in Prada with Helmut Lang and then I moved to Gucci and then Bottega Veneta and then Saint Laurent. The way I saw it in those places was that if you do not trust the person on the other side, you create panic, and panic is the biggest enemy of creativity. If things don’t go well, with trustful relationship and an open relationship, you will be able to talk to each other and correct it.
I believe really in having one creative head and making sure that you discuss the direction, you discuss the framework, you discuss the DNA of the brand, but then you let them free.
Even this morning somebody said we do not make anything that people need. Very true, but we make products that make people dream. And without creativity you don’t make anybody dream and a CEO cannot make anybody dream.
What was missing from Saint Laurent in 2012 was not the business or the foundation but the fashion authority and the clarity of the brand. A brand without clarity, at the end of the day, becomes just a commodity.
The biggest move to bring the clarity back was changing the brand name [from Yves Saint Laurent to Saint Laurent]. Not everybody understood, because we are not very talkative; the more you explain, the less sexy a concept becomes. But we were sure it was right. And in that moment you really need to do it with authority and you don’t have to be discouraged if things at the beginning are not exactly like you want.
The need for wholesale
I’m not obsessed with a concession model where basically we are responsible for everything. I want to continue to have a wholesale business, and a profitable wholesale business because you can be absolutely profitable with wholesale income. Plus there are some markets that you can only approach through partners, through franchises.
Wholesalers are the first people to react to the collection, and usually six months later, that is what is happening in store. I value a third party’s opinion. That’s another reason I like to have a balanced channel mix.
Finding the perfect balance
When I arrived at Saint Laurent, we decided to continue with the strategy of balance and focusing on processes as a priority and in particular on the right management of the supply chain. We changed the industrial part of the company to create business units. We had a business unit for luxury goods and one for shoes and we created one for ready-to-wear. The person in charge of the business unit is responsible for the whole process from development to production. We then created a COO who leads this function, in order to make sure that best practices from one category are spread across.
The second thing that we did, because we are obsessed with the local clientele, was to create leadership and give autonomy to the presidents of the regions. When you talk about local clients, you cannot pretend you’re managing everything from the centre. So I made sure that they could feel like small CEOs in their own territory. The presidents of the regions are my eyes and my arms into the market and they are the ones who have to have the solid knowledge of the market and who propose the right strategy to approach the market and the city.
We focus a lot on retail excellence but we don’t want to find robots in the stores. That’s a risk of mystery shopping, creating people who just execute something that you told them to. We’ve started to bring humanity into the relationship with the consumer. We always say the company should not only to outperform the market in terms of results but also on behaviour, by ‘out-behaving’ the market. Therefore you need to develop an appropriate way and behaviour for that to be done in a luxury company.
Clients today in luxury know about the product, what they want to find is a human, somebody who is interested and understands what they really want: if they are in a hurry they want to be served fast; if they have time to spend they want to be served quietly.
Nowadays most clients don’t want to be called; they want to receive an SMS. If you don’t know that or if you are rigid and tell your stores not to SMS because we’re a luxury brand, you lose them.
Hedi [Slimane] had incredible vision for the brand because he had worked at Saint Laurent with Mr Saint Laurent, so he had a very good understanding of the code of the brand. We were sure it was going to work; the first one to be sure was François-Henri Pinault who backed up the whole project. And we knew it was right because everything was based on the foundation of the brand.
Hedi brought the codes of the brand back to life in such an organic and natural way that even the younger generation, who were maybe not familiar with Saint Laurent, recognized it as authentic. And he brought back to the brand modernity.
How to build on Slimane’s success with a new designer
The beauty of our industry is that it’s dynamic. So you need to be able to move on.
Anthony Vaccarello, our new creative director, has a very natural and deep understanding of the DNA of Saint Laurent, of what was for Mr Saint Laurent the femininity, the sensuality, the modernity, the gender parity. So he will show it himself with his first collection.
We don’t need another revolution because now the brand is clear. What we need is a creative evolution as in luxury we do not progress without that. But we need to evolve from a base that is quite solid.
It’s not that we went and took the DNA of somebody else and Hedi brought it to Saint Laurent so that without him there is no reason for that to exist. It’s now very clear and the codes of the brand are clear. So the new creative director, exactly with the same creative autonomy, will be able to interpret these codes with his own language.
Gender parity doesn’t mean that the men’s business is as big as the women’s. Women are still the biggest consumers in luxury. But we are one of the few French couture houses that has since the beginning been both men and women. Mr Saint Laurent used to say I see nothing wrong with women and men wearing the same garment, so gender parity is part of the brand.
The permanent collection
In 1971 Mr Saint Laurent said we don’t need to change a product if it’s still perfect. A permanent collection is a collection that is made of icons. It’s not only the product that you don’t discount but a product that the consumer will recognise as part of the brand. And those are the products that give confidence to the person wearing it.
The biggest risk with a permanent collection is that it becomes dusty, it’s becomes like a rack at the end of the showroom, at the end of the store, that it becomes completely irrelevant. The trick is to keep it modern.
In our industry nobody wants to use the word liquidation. Let’s face it, we all end up with some product and we need to choose a strategy. Some people mark down in store, some people do family sales, some people manage through outlets, some do a combined strategy of different actions. As long as we do it with authenticity and without fooling people around, it’s no bad word.
It’s a question of balance. You need to have your permanent collection, i.e. the part that does not go on discount, and you need also a part of the collection that changes every season, and that you try to manage through high sell-through and scarcity, as luxury is also scarcity. But it can be that you have some left over of the seasonal part, that you need to manage appropriately, through mark-down or other strategy. As long as you have a strategy, keeping a balance in the offer, and controlling your mark-down, it is perfectly fine, and this for me also allows to stimulate creativity and innovation.
See now, buy now
I don’t really see how “see now, buy now” can work when you talk about the creative process. It can never be that any operational model kills the creativity, and in order to be able to do something like that you would have to ask a designer to work on a collection, finish it, show it to the press, hope that the press does not reveal it and ask him to do a show six months later. We all know that a creative mind the day after the show is already on something else.
You could do it eventually with a few deliveries of a few products or something like that, and there are other ways to make sure that you’re relevant and you create an injection of novelty in your store on a regular basis.