When Delvaux CEO and Chairman Jean-Marc Loubier bought the brand in 2011, he decided to push this hidden Belgian gem into the international market.
Eight years later, the luxury handbag brand has established a solid footprint in key geographies like Asia, North America, and Europe, with a total of 42 retail stores across the globe. Now, as Delvaux’s continues to add boutiques around the world, its revenue from markets outside of Belgium has jumped to over 85 percent, up from just 3 percent seven years ago.
Delvaux was one of the most important investments Loubier made since creating First Heritage Brands, with the Fung Family and the Singapore-based investment firm Temasek. The LVMH veteran, who previously led the expansion of Louis Vuitton into the Chinese market in the ’90s and held key roles at Celine, is telling a story about the history and craftsmanship of this 190-year-old brand to a global audience by leveraging the company’s solid retail network and harnessing the power of digital communication.
“We want to have a beautiful, strong brand that is also approachable, cozy, and nice to people,” said the affable Loubier. “When they look at us, I want people to smile.”
On a sunny March afternoon, Jing Daily sat down with Loubier at Delvaux’s first flagship store in the United States, located in Manhattan on prestigious Fifth Avenue, adjacent to Central Park and near key luxury shopping destinations like Tiffany’s and Bergdorf Goodman. Loubier shared his thoughts on China’s market and consumer behaviors, the brand’s recent store opening in the U.S., and why it’s important to have balanced retail development around the world in today’s turbulent socioeconomic environment.
How is Delvaux performing in China?
We’ve had beautiful success there. We are present in the most important cities, but we are still so small in that market. There will be ups and downs all the time, but I’m very confident of what we can do in China, the same way I’m very confident on what we can do in Japan, Korea, and also in America.
Will the Chinese economic slowdown be a concern?
What we want now is a balanced development of the kind of products we propose. [We know] the kind of customer we have in front of the product, but it’s also important for us to be strong in different countries. Our global expansion started with China, but we are now directly operating in Korea. We have a very strong subsidiary in Japan, and we are starting in America, Italy, and the U.K. We try to have a kind of international development policy. We don’t just bet on opening stores in one market.
Why did you choose to open a boutique store in the United States last year?
I made the decision to come to the United States when I thought that the company was ready for the challenge. By that, I mean the brand has started to become interesting and dynamic in the U.S. I also wanted to have a location that was meaningful in this country. That’s New York City — where we can tell the story of America and Belgium and mix and match the best of those countries.
Do Chinese shoppers favor certain bags over others?
The Chinese love “The Brilliant,” which is the epitome of our bags. We also do very well with “The Tempête,” from our high-end line, and with the newest one, which is named “Cool Box.”
You don’t often work with celebrity influencers, do you?
No. What’s important for us is to have a strategy that’s aligned with who you are or what you propose. Our customer will, of course, know about celebrities, influencers, etc., but they don’t need them to know what they want [to buy]. They don’t need them to be confident. We also don’t have brand ambassadors. We have specific actions, specific moments, and also we want people relevant to the target — the people close to us. But we want to use celebrities sometimes to show the brand has awareness. The idea is to not make the mistake of thinking that influencers are the target audience. What we care about is the real client.
Are you considering any e-commerce strategies?
I don’t want to sell e-commerce at the moment, because I want people to get the experience of what Delvaux is [in the stores]. It’s important that they feel what we stand for. You need something special to give clients a beautiful experience, and part of that experience is touching [the product] and hearing what the sales staff is telling them. That changes their understanding of the brand. E-commerce is a new tool, but it’s just a tool. Delvaux is moving outstanding products, so I want an outstanding setting. That’s part of the [shopping] experience.
How do you reach out to Chinese customers in the digital world?
We have WeChat, Weibo — you know, we do all that. In China, if you only use stores and don’t use Weibo and WeChat, many people will miss you. So, what we do is define our programs to fit these digital networks.
What’s your goal for the brand in China this year?
I try to have the most beautiful brand — not in terms of size but in terms of appeal — but I also want a global store network to help us move quickly. We want Chinese clients visiting our locations wherever they travel, even if they don’t buy. If a Chinese person comes into the store and says, “Oh, that confirms that this brand is interesting, what they do is different from the others,” or “It’s very unique and respectful,” that’s what’s most important.