How LVMH Jewelry Brand FRED Conquered China

    The first LVMH-owned jewelry brand, FRED, had a surprisingly good year in China.
    The first LVMH-owned jewelry brand, FRED, had a surprisingly good year in China. Jing Daily spoke with its CEO Charles Leung to learn more. Photo: FRED
    Nag ManiAuthor
      Published   in Profile

    Key Takeaways:#

    China has been a bright spot for FRED for quite a while, and it saw a significant increase in sales in the French, Italian, and Korean markets.

    In 2020, China represented approximately 25 percent of FRED’s global sales, and its expansion has been very rapid.

    FRED is one of the first LVMH-owned Maisons to have debuted a flagship store on Tmall. It serves as a powerful online shopping site but also a vibrant information platform that reaches a large youth audience in China.

    There is a terrific portfolio of powerful jewelry brands under the auspices of LVMH, beginning with Bvlgari, Tiffany & Co., and Chaumet. But it all became part of LVMH after FRED — the first jewelry brand bought by the French luxury group when it grabbed total shares of the brand in 1996. And surprisingly, this popular jewelry brand managed to gain massive momentum in China last year when the pandemic was at its peak.

    FRED did good business in 2020 simply because its luxury ownership decided to become fully involved in its branding. In fact, the brand sailed through the market storm of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, achieving an astonishing figure of €100 million in sales globally.

    In an exclusive interview with Jing Daily, we caught up with Charles Leung, the CEO of FRED Paris, to find out more about the brand's history, how it's catering to the taste of young Chinese consumers, and more.

    Tell us more about FRED Paris.#

    With its roots and feel for the French Riviera spirit, the House is a bold, visionary jewelry brand that has made iconic and top-quality jewels since its founding in 1936. FRED always seeks to push the envelope of contemporary jewelry.

    Today, the brand is represented by its three distinctive collections, each with its own stories that illustrate FRED’s philosophy and values while appealing to either sex. They are the Force 10 buckle, inspired by the sea and sailing, Chance Infinie, based on the number ‘8’ to embody good fortune and femininity, and Pretty Woman, which explores the unlimited facets of modern love. Women and men wear them for engagements and weddings but also to celebrate any occasion in life.

    What were the secrets to the brand's excellent performance in China amidst the pandemic?#

    Last year, our focus was heavily on China, and we put most of our marketing investments into digital and social media platforms in China. Those were accompanied by the launch of our flagship store on Tmall Luxury Pavilion and a WeChat store in April of 2020 as the country was coming out its darkest time. This strategy allowed us to reach out to a larger target base through “friends of the brand” artists who share the same values as FRED. Our lines were also energized by some colorful and easy-to-wear novelties, including a special Force 10 buckle, which was sold exclusively online to benefit China’s Special Olympics Association. A new advertising campaign called “Live the Joy” was also launched shortly before summer in an attempt to reinforce FRED’s distinctiveness among other jewelry houses.

    We’ve also been able to expand quickly into different cities, thanks to our initiative of directly opening stores last year in cities like Hangzhou, Shenyang, and Qingdao. Right before the onset of Chinese New Year 2021, we opened our third boutique in Beijing in the form of a completely new store concept, positioned as our national flagship store and featuring a special zone dedicated to men’s jewels. While many luxury brands were impacted by the pandemic, China remained a bright spot for FRED, and we even made a positive start in 2020 versus 2019 — an exceptional feat for the sector.

    FRED opens a new flagship store at Beijing Wangfu Central. Photo: FRED's Weibo
    FRED opens a new flagship store at Beijing Wangfu Central. Photo: FRED's Weibo

    What worked and what didn’t as compared to your expectations?#

    Overall, China represented approximately 25 percent of FRED’s global sales in 2020, and that expansion was very rapid. In terms of last year's e-commerce, we made a presence by launching exclusive e-commerce stores on large platforms like Tmall, which serve as powerful online shopping sites but also vibrant information platforms that reach out to huge young audiences. Tmall was one of our top five online stores in China last year and allowed us to recruit and learn so much about new clients in the country.

    But we couldn't accelerate the pace of our physical stores opening in China as much as we would have liked as the search for appropriate projects takes time and care. We’re encountering a much stronger demand in China but we would never compromise what we believe in — top-quality products.

    How did the brand lure in first-time buyers in Tier-1 cities and beyond?#

    FRED has always been known for its pioneering designs of contemporary jewelry having a youthful and French-Riviera style. In China, we’ve stayed true to what the brand stands for, and that is how we’ve been able to attract first-time buyers in Tier-1 cities like Shanghai and Beijing since 2015. These two cities are strategically important for their young, well-traveled customers, who often look for top-quality French jewelry.

    As part of our expansion, we’ve reached other Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities over the 12 months, like Guangzhou and Chengdu, at the best shopping malls, with more cities to be added later. As a market “latecomer,” we’ve been very impressed by the openness and warmth shown by Chinese customers, and working with a high-profile A-list star like Guan Xiaotong as our Pretty Woman collection ambassador has helped attract and recruit more fans.

    What are your plans for the rest of 2021?#

    We’ve just launched our “Pretty Woman” jewelry collection, which is dedicated to women who dare to love in their own ways, as well as a revisit of FRED’s high jewelry legacy, particularly for our heart-shaped stones. To promote that collection, we will stage private events and presentations in different cities, starting with the opening ceremony of our new flagship store in Beijing Wangfu Central and followed by a pop-up café crossover at Laduree in Tokyo Ba-Tsu Gallery in the Omotesando area and a themed party at the iconic Bar83 at Sydney Tower.

    FRED's Pretty Woman collection is inspired by the eponymous 1990 film and features actress Emma Roberts, niece of Pretty Woman star Julia Roberts. Photo: FRED
    FRED's Pretty Woman collection is inspired by the eponymous 1990 film and features actress Emma Roberts, niece of Pretty Woman star Julia Roberts. Photo: FRED

    In 2021, we will add ten new retail stores to our growing network, six of which will be in China, with the other two in South Korea. We will also re-enter Singapore and unveil a new flagship boutique in Dubai. But as always, we are committed to curbing the energy consumption of all our stores — which are already among the lowest in the luxury industry — as part of our sustainability mission.

    In this age of e-commerce, will brick-and-mortar stores ever fully be replaced?#

    Although the convenience of e-shopping has become a successful trend, especially in China due to its sophisticated e-commerce platforms and payment systems, we do not believe that e-commerce can ever completely replace brick-and-mortar stores. We’re proud that our stores are praised for their inclusive and inviting environments.

    How important are celebrity endorsements for FRED Paris to appeal to young consumers in China and beyond?#

    Our founder, Fred Samuel, loved to befriend movie stars and artists throughout his life, including Pablo Picasso and Grace Kelly. They helped raise awareness and desirability of the brand the world over. Today, stars like Yang Mi, Fan Chengcheng, Olivia Wang, Orfila Wu, and Elvis Han have become more than just clients. They’re now “friends of the brand.” We also love to team up with athletes who have common values with FRED. Surfers, boxers, footballers, tennis players, and the former Olympic medalist in gymnastics Li Xiaopeng all own and wear Force 10 bracelets. And alongside Li, FRED works to raise public awareness and funding for mentally challenged athletes in China.

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