Italian luxury firm Loro Piana defends takeover

Amid controversy and angst over foreign takeovers of well-known Italian companies, the head of Italian luxury textile maker Loro Piana has argued the case for selling a family business, in an interview with AFP.

Italian luxury firm Loro Piana defends takeover
Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

Loro Piana, bought by French giant LVMH for 2.0 billion euros ($2.7 billion), is now eyeing further global expansion, Pier Luigi Loro Piana,
chairman and chief executive of the once family-run business, said.

The takeover was no act of betrayal and would help retain jobs as well as develop the company, he insisted.

"The life of a business is not like a football team! We are not taking part in an Italy-France game or against Germany," he said in an interview.

"We are trying to do our best for our company and for Italy," he said.

The business goes back six generations and embodies classical Italian luxury, with its roots in tradition and the community where it started out in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.

It started out in its current form in 1924 in Quarona, a small town at the foot of the Alps.

Specialising in the production of rare textiles such as cashmere, vicuna, merino or lotus flower, it has also expanded into high-end fashion.

LVMH has said it is buying 80 percent of Loro Piana — its most recent in a series of purchases including Bulgari, Fendi and Emilio Pucci.

Kering, another French giant in the sector, also owns the Italian brands Bottega Veneta, Sergio Rossi, Brioni and Pomellato.

These buyouts are part of growing foreign involvement in a variety of Italian business from food and drink to telecoms to the airline industry.

The national press has portrayed the takeovers as a symptom of economic decline. But the 62-year-old Loro Piana, said that the jingoism makes no sense.

The latest case is Spanish group Telefonica's plan to increase its stake in Telecom Italia which contributed to the departure of the chief executive of the Italian firm on Thursday.

Being owned by LVMH will lead to "a more rapid and also maybe more solid development that would not have been possible for a company like Loro Piana on its own," he said.

"Markets that were not an immediate priority for us can become ones that are since there will be more resources available," he said.

Not that the company, which employs 2,500 people, has much to complain about, he said.

The group is "in complete contrast with the national economy", which has been in recession for two years.

Turnover was €627 million ($847 million) in 2012 and is due to increase to €700 million this year.

"I don't think LVMH will want to significantly change the strategy of Loro Piana and I don't think that they would have bought it otherwise," he said.

Loro Piana and his brother Sergio, 65, will hold on to their executive positions, which they rotate every three years, as well as 20 percent of capital.

"If Loro Piana develops further in the years to come, we will have made the right choice for Italy, for ourselves and for the LVMH group," he said.

Marco Fortis, a professor of economics at Cattolica university in Milan said companies that have been taken over like Loro Piana are "major businesses but not big enough to grow more on the global market", particularly in emerging markets.

"In Italy, we are always complaining about foreigners buying companies" — even though it can also work the other way round, he said.

The strategy of Loro Piana and other luxury companies that have been bought by LVMH or Kering is actually "mutually advantageous", he explained.

France "has few businesses but a lot of capital and Italy has a lot of businesses but little capital", he said.

In any case, there will always be new generations of brands rising, he said, giving the example of fashion businesses Brunello Cucinelli, Cruciani or Lardini.

"There are always new, youth brands in the luxury sector that will be big brands in the future," he said.

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Paris exhibition celebrates 100 years of French Vogue

A new exhibition in Paris will tell the story of 100 years of French Vogue - from the post-war 'New Look' of Christian Dior through the sexual liberation of the 1960s to the dangling-cigarette waifs of the 2000s.

French Vogue celebrates 100 years
French Vogue celebrates 100 years. Photo: Thomas Olva/AFP

But as well as celebrating the magazine’s storied history, the exhibit comes at a time of turbulence for the publication.

Just last month, it was confirmed that its editor of 10 years, Emmanuelle Alt, was out and wouldn’t be replaced.

She was not alone.

Looking to cut costs, owner Conde Nast International has axed editors across Europe over the past year, and put international Vogue editions under the direct control of global editorial director, Anna Wintour, in New York.

New York-based Anna Wintour now has overall control of French Vogue. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Like much of the media industry, Vogue is struggling with tumbling sales and ad revenue in the digital era.

But the latest twist is also part of the endless push and pull between New York and Paris going back to its early days.

“The whole history of French Vogue is one of back-and-forth with Conde Nast in New York – growing more independent for a while, then being reined back in,” said Sylvie Lecallier, curator of the new exhibition, “Vogue Paris 1920-2020″, which opened this weekend after a year’s delay due to the pandemic.

The Paris edition was often the loftier, more bohemian sibling to its more hard-nosed New York version.

But it was also the hotbed in which much of 20th century style and womenhood came to be defined.

“Paris was the place to hunt out talent and content and bring it to New York,” said Lecallier.

The exhibition charts the evolution from art deco drawings of the 1920s through the erotic image-making of photographers like Helmut Newton in the 1960s and 1970s.

Its last peak was under editor Carine Roitfeld in the 2000s, who brought back a provocative Gallic identity by ridding the newsroom of foreign staff and becoming a fashion icon in her own right.

Her successor, Alt, was a quieter presence, though she still oversaw key moments including its first transgender cover star, Brazilian Valentina Sampaio, in 2017.

But internet culture has created “a perfect storm” for Vogue, says media expert Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis.

“The first 80 years of Vogue’s life, it had the market to itself, it was the bible for fashion,” McCabe told AFP.

“But online today, there are so many other ways to get your information. Influencers, Instagram, YouTube — everyone’s a threat.”

In a world where new fashion trends can blow up around the world in seconds, it has become much harder for a monthly magazine to set the pace.

“It’s not that they can’t survive for another 100 years — but they will be differently sized,” McCabe said.

Vogue has tried to branch out into different areas, including events.

“I used to work for a magazine, and today I work for a brand,” Alt said on the eve of French Vogue’s 1,000th issue in 2019.

But the big money was always in print, and Vogue Paris sales are dropping steadily from 98,345 in 2017 to 81,962 to 2020, according to data site ACPM.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the new top job in Paris, redefined as “head of editorial content”, went to Eugenie Trochu, who was key to building the magazine’s online presence.

She declared herself “thrilled to be part of Vogue’s international transformation”.

For the curator of the exhibition, it is ironic timing.

“We had no idea it would end like this when we started work on the exhibition,” said Lecallier.

“Who knows where it will go from here.”

The exhibition Vogue Paris 1920-2020 is at the Palais Galliera in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. The gallery is open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday and is closed on Mondays. Tickets for the exhibition are €14 (€12 for concessions and under 18s go free) and must be reserved online in advance.