Fashion houses are set to end the use of ‘bling’, the ostentatious use of jewellery, diamonds and gold accessories, the heir to the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy empire has predicted.
It is the label-flashing form of conspicuous consumption beloved of wannabe rappers, Russian oligarchs at play and taste-deprived reality television stars.
Paris Mens Fashion Week: Berluti
Now – at long, long last – the signs at the Paris men’s fashion shows this weekend are that the era of “bling” is drawing, unlamented, to its close.
Antoine Arnault, the 34-year-old heir to Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, (LVMH) a luxury and fashion empire valued at close to £60 billion, said: “We are going to enter an era in which logo and ostentation is going to be less successful.
“It will be about real quality.”
Mr Arnault is well placed to make this prediction. The group founded by his father, Bernard – France’s wealthiest man, and according to Forbes magazine the fourth richest in the world – spans fifty of the world’s best known high-end brands.
They include Christian Dior, Krug, Tag Heuer, Bulgari, Givenchy, and Glenmorangie as well as Louis Vuitton itself, of which Mr Arnault was head of communications for five years.
Despite worldwide financial turmoil, the sector is enjoying an “anti-crisis” he says: between June and September last year LVMH reported sales of £4.9 billion, an 18 per cent increase across the group.
Arnault said he believes that the global appetite for luxury goods is poised for a bling-busting shift.
“People are going to want more quality, and less ostentation,” he said.
“Especially in a world in economic crisis: you don’t want to be seen with evidently expensive products. Just something that is beautiful.”
The most surprising aspect of the luxury industry’s 14 per cent boom in the face of broader economic gloom is that it is driven by male consumers, who are now spending £155 billion a year on luxury clothes and accessories for themselves, according to a new study.
This bodes ill for Natalia Vodianova, the Russian supermodel with whom Arnault has been romantically linked.
“The only explanation is that people still want to please themselves,” Mr Arnault said.
“Men seem to be a little bit more selfish these days, and spend a bit more on themselves and a little bit less on their wives or girlfriends.”
To meet this growing male market, Arnault is spearheading the launch of a new, men-only business to provide the bling-free, inconspicuously luxurious clothes he believes these men want.
Berluti, a venerable LVMH-owned maker of handmade £1000-and-up leather shoes launched its first menswear collection here on Friday night.
Mr Arnault said “The collection is more Aston Martin than Ferrari. I love Aston Martin. And you know we had the file on our desk [to possibly purchase the company]. A few years ago we talked about it, it’s luxury too. But it was too much.”
Despite passing on Aston Martin, Arnault says he hopes LVMH will buy more old, high-end luxury companies. He said: “The group needs to continue to grow, to preserve savoir faire, craft and heritage.”
Yet LVMH is sometimes portrayed as the Roman Empire of fashion: a voracious acquirer of territory with its eye fixed only on profit and power.
The family that controls Hermes is currently mounting a spirited campaign against what its claims is an attempt to LVMH to mount a surreptitious takeover.
Last year Patrick Thomas, Hermes’ chief executive, said of LVMH’s purchase of more than 20 per cent of his company: “If you want to seduce a beautiful woman, you don’t start by raping her from behind.”
Citing an imminent shareholders’ meeting – he sits on the LVMH board – Mr Arnault declined to discuss the Hermes hoo-ha.
Yet he insisted the LVMH empire’s emphasis is not conquest, but civilisation too.
“This image, that we are [only] here to make money, it is just the opposite,” he said.
“Speak to people in Berluti, in Dior, in Dom Perignon: not once have we worked with a brand that we didn’t glorify. I don’t know why, but some people really want to push that button, to say ‘they are evil’. We hear it [the criticism], but we do not accept it.”
It is almost a year since John Galliano was fired as head designer at Christian Dior after his notorious drunken, anti-semitic comments in a Paris bar were broadcast online. LVMH’s hunt for Galliano’s successor continues: the most recently-touted candidate is Raf Simons, of Jil Sander.
Before that it was the American designer Marc Jacobs, who currently runs his eponymous brand and Louis Vuitton – both of which are owned by LVMH.
Mr Arnault said of Dior: “They will wait until they find the perfect fit for the job. You have to speak to people, look around. They have patience.
People say “what’s going on?” but inside [Dior] people are absolutely Zen about it. There is no urgency at all.”
Of Jacobs, he said: “Whether he’s at Vuitton or Dior, the guy is a genius. An incredible artist. I feel when I’m with him that I’m close to Picasso, in a way.
“The only thing I want is that he stays with us. The discussions were very peaceful, very calm with Marc and my father, and everything is fine between us.”
The paradox of high-fashion’s high sales during this period of financial decline has, Mr Arnault believes, every chance of continuing.
“If you have trouble in your private life, who are you going to speak to?,” he said.
“Not the new friend you made the day before, but people you trust and have known forever. Vuitton, Berluti, Hermes: it is those brands that have never compromised on quality or values that people turn to.”