A mistake and a lesson at Louis Vuitton

A few weeks ago I had a sudden rush of blood to the head and bought what seemed like a very nice jersey from Louis Vuitton, costing about US$930. It had a small LV logo on the neck, but for Vuitton it was quite discreet.

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But on reflection I decided it was a mistake. After returning home I tried it on a couple more times, and realized that as nice as it was, it didn’t fit the style and direction of the wardrobe I am building.

I therefore decided to return the item – and in doing so discovered LV’s returns policy: no refunds.

Credit notes? Yes.

But refunds? No.

And that policy is clearly written both on the receipt and below the cash register, so you have very little wiggle room if all you can say is “I changed my mind” – which is all I personally had to say.

Firstly I find this interesting, as this policy partially explains Vuitton’s continually stellar and growing revenue numbers – they don’t have refunds, so cash in the bank is cash that stays in the bank, and goods go back on the shelf; other stores do return for refund, although they don’t have to do so, at least under EU law.

Secondly it is a tiny bit annoying, mainly because I blindly spent nearly $1000 without thinking about it more carefully and sticking to rules I defined publicly some time ago.

Lessons learned:-

  1. Stick to Giorgio Armani for clothes, and Prada for shoes, just like you said you would.
  2. Don’t buy anything else from Louis Vuitton unless absolutely sure you want it.

I have since used a large chunk of the credit note to buy a nice shawl as a gift for my mother-in-law, who was very happy to have it. I consider that a save.

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The Impact of Armani Clothing

In recent days I have begun to wear Armani almost all the time – to work, on the street, around the house. I now own around 35-40 pieces of Giorgio Armani or Prada, and as I commented to my wife just last week, it is getting harder to dress in anything but Armani. Today as I sit in my office at the computer I am wearing Giorgio Armani shirt, pants, belt and sweater, and Prada shoes.

So what has been the impact? Perhaps a good illustration is to recount one nice story from work just last week.

I went to my head office, where I am well known, and entered one of the other departments. The office was empty but several staff were gathered at the coffee area outside chatting. One of my colleagues came running into the office after me and said “Can I help you?”, as if talking to a stranger, and then did a slightly odd double take. I thought it was a little odd at the time, and just said I wanted to leave some papers, which I did and left.

I found out the next day that this lady then confessed to her colleagues that she had not recognized me, despite having worked with me for more than two years. The story was related to me by another colleague standing in the coffee group. Several other people have commented that I look thinner or different – one (Italian) even asked if I was being dressed by Armani nowadays.

On the street I have noticed that I get a lot of quick, almost furtive glances from both men and women. To be honest I am used to anonymity, but now that I have noticed this attention I watch out for it and mentally keep count as I walk along a street. In stores I have noticed that attendants are more attentive, willing to spend more time with me than before, somehow taking me more seriously. This is especially true in the high end stores.

Finally I think I feel better presented and more stylish than ever in my life. Wearing these clothes has become the norm, not the exception. The clothes feel comfortable, I know they look good, and that makes me more relaxed.

I talk a lot about price on this journal, but it is now never a factor if I decide I want to buy something; I am however quite selective about what I buy, perhaps more so than at the start of this project. Even within the Giorgio Armani line I have found a sub-niche that suites me: the classic lines that cling a little bit around the torso and flow off the body to a single break at the shoeline. One assistant in the Munich shop has said that now she knows “my style”, she will call me when new things arrive that work.

It’s an interesting new outlook.

How Giorgio Armani Collections Get Released

This is my first pass through a seasonal release, or at least my first pass knowing what is going on around me; during the initial pass in December/January I was Bambi-grade naive about the whole process.

Today I was browsing again in Giorgio Armani Munich, where the attendant ladies now recognize me, and I spotted immediately the new pieces that had not been there even a week ago. Naturally I selected some new garments, one of them a pair of trousers that remined me of the wonderful “gliding drape” shot earlier in the blog, the one of Bellucci, Bruni and Christensen striding gracefully toward the camera. Naturally the VIP discount kicks in, even on the brand new stuff, saving about $100.

This gradual release of a new collection got me thinking about the seasonal process at a Giorgio Armani boutique. Clearly these clever guys do not just drop all the new season’s clothes into the shops in one awe-inspiring delivery. Rather, they phase, stagger the release of clothes so that there is always a reason for regular customers – addicts – to check in again during the entire season. They tease you, letting you know something new is happening or coming soon, or that some event is planned for shortly in the future, giving you a reason to return and shop.

This is very intelligent strategy. By aligning product release with customer cashflow, Giorgio Armani can smooth their sales profile across the months, and I start to see the careful thinking that goes into running a brand like Giorgio Armani. I realize too that I am in a position to be able to chart the changes in Giorgio Armani marketing strategy week-by-week, plotting waves of seasonal releases, the discount policy ebb and flow, and the alignment with significant events like the big shows.

This is something I may well try to chart in a while. But already the broad strokes of how this business operates are becoming quite clear, and once you see the skeleton of their strategy it does have it’s own internal shape and elegance. It is a marketing machine, certainly, but there is a subtlety to it, and if you weren’t watching you would not notice what is happening.