Passion for fashion

Concetta Lanciaux tells BusinessToday that Oman can develop a luxury goods sector by evolving its costumes and dresses

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The global fashion industry that we know of today has mostly been the effort of a few personalities, among them, Bernard Arnault, who has been ably assisted by Concetta Lanciaux. The lady, who was credited with consolidating Intel's European operations in the early 1980s, took the bold step of joining Arnault in 1985, who was unheard of then.
She has been part of Arnault's inner circle since then, playing a key role in the evolution of Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) and its strategies. As part of a core team at LVMH she was instrumental in introducing innovative strategies and creating the most powerful top management and design team in the fashion industry.
Lanciaux played an important part in the organisational development of the group, introducing innovative human resources practices and contributing to the modernisation of the luxury sector.
Within LVMH, she has worked to create ties between the French and Italian luxury industries and contributed to the expansion of LVMH in Italy. Lanciaux is a member of several boards - Fendi, Bocconi Business School, and French Fashion Institute. She is an honorary fellow of the London Business School and a well-known worldwide conference speaker on luxury branding, strategy, alignment of human capital and organisational development to brand growth, innovation and creative talent assessment.
Author of several books and articles, she was voted one of the 30 most influential businesswomen in Europe by the Wall Street Journal Europe in 2001. In 2006, ELLE named her among the Top 50 Business Women in France in recognition of her contribution to the modernisation of the French luxury industry. In 2007, she created her own company, Strategy Luxury Advisor, which advises on mergers and acquisitions. Lanciaux was in Oman recently as a guest speaker at the Women in Business Conference 2008. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with BusinessToday:

What is your role as senior advisor to Bernard Arnault, one of the most powerful men in the fashion industry?
The title of my job says everything about the scope of my job. As the advisor to the CEO and chairman, I advise him on strategies concerning the group with regard to the people, the future and synergies. When I joined Bernard Arnault, I was part of the team that contributed to turning them around and developing them. We started off with two or three companies, but gradually took over Boussac, Givenchy and Kenzo to name a few. Now there are more than 40 companies in the group with interests ranging from wines, spirits, fashion and leather goods, perfumes, cosmetics, watches and jewellery.
Are men envious of you because of your proximity to the chairman and CEO?
Well, because I was in this adventure from the very beginning I think people got used to seeing me around and consider me as part of the furniture. When some of these people came in I was already there and basically helped them to get going. Therefore, the phenomenon of jealousy did not arise at all.
Perhaps I think I do generate fear in some since I'm on the board of directors and make a few decisions. But that eventually goes away once they get to know me.

What is your observation of women in business here?
In Oman this movement of encouraging women to go into business is a very smart and intelligent one. Business is a neutral place and what counts is effectiveness and getting results. Though it may take some time it is very effective. Of course, we must not forget the importance of education in this regard. Women must not pursue just soft fields like arts and literature, they must also be encouraged to take up courses in business management. This will give them a firm footing and help them in their bid to become entrepreneurs. Conferences like this encourage other women to go ahead and achieve something on their own.
However, there must be follow-ups or it will end up like any other get-together where women end up having a good time.
Do you plan to go back to being a professor again?
I've been with LVMH for over 20 years now and I think they do not need me as much as they did earlier. In fact, people now look up to me as a guru. Sometimes I felt that I was an obstacle in the way of others coming up, so I decided to move on and create my own firm, which advises on mergers and acquisitions. Now I'm concentrating as a guest speaker, sharing my knowledge. However, I do not intend to return as a full-time professor.
Can you tell us more about your company, Strategy Luxury Advisor?
My company advises smaller companies on their development strategies. However, I advise only those companies that have certain values like quality, heritage and developing know-how. These companies could be in any field and since I have worked in an environment where I have learnt to create value addition, I enjoy what I'm doing. There is another thing that I am concentrating on: explaining the philosophy behind luxury. Contrary to what many people think, luxury goods are not a frivolity. To create a luxury product is not so simple; there is history, style and quality - a set of values that are very important for any business to have.
Is there a conflict of interest because of your role at LVMH?
No. There isn't. I'm on my way out at LVMH and they have become one of my clients. There has been a smooth transition.
Do you see a potential for Oman to develop its own luxury goods sector just like France did in the 18th and 19th centuries?
Whenever I visit a new country, I often ask myself whether they have the potential to develop luxury brands. Do they have a historical heritage? Are they thinking of revitalising and keeping it alive? From the little I've seen, especially the Heritage Village, I know the Omani people are proud of their past. I have not seen any such thing in China. On the contrary, the Chinese seem to be a bit embarrassed about their past. One of the trends in China is to destroy everything that is old and build new since they do not value it so much. But here in Oman there seems to be an understanding about their past and they are proud of their costumes and dresses. All you need to do is help it evolve by injecting a bit of creativity and develop brands based on your know-how.
Where do you expect LVMH's future growth to come from?
The group has such an incredible portfolio of brands and there is still a lot of scope for growth internally, which is also the stated vision of our chairman. However, if a tremendous acquisition opportunity comes along in the future, LVMH will certainly look at it. Right now we are looking at double-digit growth, at least in the medium term.
Are counterfeits a big problem for LVMH?
It is a difficult question to answer. Looking at the numbers, counterfeits do not seem to be such a problem. Nevertheless, there is a programme of close cooperation between the governments of several countries to protect intellectual property, copyrights and trademarks, which was not the case 5-6 years ago. This has made it so much easier to trace the source of fake merchandise. Also in the store, attention is given to maintaining exclusivity. Some may think that it is crazy from a business viewpoint, but in the fight against piracy it will pay off in the long term. For example, if someone comes to a store and asks for 15 bags, you know that something is wrong here. You may also have heard the phenomenon of people queuing up overnight to buy our products. This is where it pays to be exclusive.
Where is the next wave of growth for the luxury goods industry going to come from?
Many of the luxury brands are now stretching sideways and you'll have noticed that several of them have been asked to develop strong hospitality brands. Luxury branded hotels and mobile phones are just another step in the evolution of these brands.
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Passion for fashion
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