Designer Focus: Valentino

Valentino Bond Street

Luxury fashion brand Valentino was acquired by Mayhoola for Investments (a Qatar based operation) for $730m in 2011. The label’s sales in 2012 were in the region of $640m. Now, just three years later, Valentino has already topped $1bn in annual sales, it’s being widely reported. Valentino reached the figure after strident year-on-year growth where total revenues increasing dramatically by 48% in 2015; going from $880.4m in 2014 to $1.09bn.

Creative directors, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, were appointed a few years before the change of owners and have made the accessories and footwear the “must-have” items. The “rockstud” design detail, which is applied to heels, trainers, belts, and handbags as well as menswear accessories, has catapulted the sales into the stratosphere and perhaps accounts for most of the recent growth.

The Valentino Rockstud

The ready-to-wear collections, as well as haute couture, (which shows in Paris on the official couture schedule) have had the fashion press swooning at times and have received much editorial acclaim. But one wonders given the eye-watering pricing architecture who actually buys it?

Where t-shirts go for £345, knitwear from £1,000, tailoring from £1,500 and leather bomber jackets £3,500, this is not for the average consumer or even the dedicated fashion follower, especially as the ready-to-wear collections are considered rather fashion forward. These prices position the brand as one of the single most expensive designer ready-to-wear collections on the market today.

It has also been told to me by a senior retail buyer that the ready-to-wear collections are a “tough sell” on the shop floor, particularly menswear, which has developed a “couture sporty hybrid” aesthetic. For menswear Valentino has reworked military camouflage across the whole collection for a number of seasons, with re-colouring and engineered print details. And once again it has created a wide range of men’s trainers, in multiple colours, print and fabrications to great commercial success.

Valentino Men’s SS16

For many of the behemoth luxury fashion brands today, ready-to-wear collections are becoming loss-leaders and are used primarily for marketing and brand building purposes. This was something alluded to by Moncler CEO Remo Ruffini who, when talking about the Thom Browne-designed menswear collection Gamme Bleu, said “it’s more about marketing than sales”.

Interestingly, Piccioli and Chiuri were for years the in-house accessories designers at Valentino under the founder Valentino Garavani. From the regular sightings of him on the front row of their couture shows, they clearly still have his seal of approval. It’s also rather telling that another luxury brand Gucci (owned by Kering) also appointed its former head of accessories Alessandro Michele to the creative director role to recent acclaim and an upturn in the most recent revenues. Thus further highlighting the point “accessories are king”!

There has been an extensive refurb and redesign of the Valentino retail spaces worldwide, including the recently opened London flagship on Old Bond Street designed by architect David Chipperfield, which will house the full collections of womenswear, menswear, accessories and fragrance. There will also be a VIP area for customers by appointment.

Chipperfield also designed the New York flagships store which opened in 2014, and has used Terrazzo and marble cladding in shades of cool grey which are the mainstay of the design and are enhanced by natural oak used for the staircase, doors and display fixtures.