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Reviving the saddle bag

Robert Williams
Robert Williams • 5 min read
Reviving the saddle bag
SINGAPORE (Aug 20): Beyonce is a fan. So was Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City. Excitement for the return of Dior’s equestrian-inspired Saddle bag line — which dominated the “it bag” era of the early 2000s alongside Balenciaga’s “Lariat”
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SINGAPORE (Aug 20): Beyonce is a fan. So was Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City. Excitement for the return of Dior’s equestrian-inspired Saddle bag line — which dominated the “it bag” era of the early 2000s alongside Balenciaga’s “Lariat” and the Fendi “Baguette” before being discontinued — has been bubbling up since designer Maria Grazia Chiuri put them in her runway show in February. Trendsetting models Bella Hadid and Elsa Hosk were soon spotted carrying vintage Saddle bags, driving up demand on luxury resale sites such as Vestiaire Collective.

Then, in early July, just as Europe’s other fashion houses were winding down for their summer recess, Dior unleashed the bags in a marketing blitzkrieg that was hard to miss: Scores of Instagram influencers from around the world posted images modelling the US$2,000 ($2,726)- plus bags the same day Dior released its own campaigns, with models posing with vintage cars on the streets of Paris.

Vogue and Marie Claire published dreamy videos from Dior’s ateliers of the bags being hammered into shape on wooden moulds. On the Chinese social network Weibo, Dior took a more literal approach, posting a clip of Hong Kon fashion star Elle Lee posing as an elated client in front of a shop mirror. Some of the Instagrammers acknowledged that they had been gifted the bags and used hashtags such as #SuppliedByDior.

Making a splash with new product launches is becoming more important and more challenging for luxury brands as social networks become more saturated with fashion images than ever. The prestigious airs that top-end labels have spent decades cultivating are increasingly seen as a mere prerequisite.

For LVMH, whose brands including Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Celine are among the world’s most established, new product launches are essential to keep up growth — and to maintain their lead on fast-growing challengers such as Kering’s revamped Gucci and Balenciaga divisions.

“Consumers are asking now for ongoing novelties,” Equita SIM analyst Paola Carboni says of the move to push the bags in a big summer “drop”, outside the usual fashion calendar. “It’s consistent with the changes in creative direction at LVMH — the idea is to renew the offer on a constant basis.”

With retro logos and reissues of archival designs driving the fashion conversation by tapping customers’ nostalgia — as in Versace’s Tribute collection — it is no surprise that many designers are feeding the hunger for new releases by reviving old standards rather than risking big ad dollars to promote an untested product.

“The Dior Saddle bag is a perfect product to relaunch today,” says Katy Lubin, communications director at the fashion search engine Lyst. “It’s instantly recognisable on Instagram, plays into the logomania trend and comes with a serious dose of early-aughts nostalgia.” LVMH said in May that it would take a minority stake in Lyst.

Since the campaign went live in July, web searches for Dior Saddle bags are up nearly 1,000% [as at end-July] on Lyst, Lubin says. A Dior spokesman says the launch had generated “incredible store traffic” and cross-selling opportunities as clients rushed out to buy the bags.

“It will be interesting to see whether such a big-bang launch campaign will speed up the product’s life cycle — if it’s already everywhere, then how long before it’s over?” Lubin says.

In a bid to keep its edge, LVMH has reshuffled its management over the past year — putting a new CEO and menswear designer in place at Christian Dior Couture, moving Dior’s veteran chief Sidney Toledano to oversee LVMH’s smaller labels, and expanding and revamping Celine under star designer Hedi Slimane.

Scores of Instagram influencers from around the world posted images modelling the US$2,000-plus bags on the same day that Dior released its own campaigns..Designer Virgil Abloh, who rose to prominence as creative consultant to Kanye West and runs the cult streetwear brand Off-White, showed his debut collection as head of Louis Vuitton’s menswear in June. The push for new products has gone beyond seasonal fashions and handbag launches: Last year, LVMH went so far as to create a new makeup brand from scratch in partnership with Rihanna. LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault has said that the brand, Fenty Beauty, is on track to reach €500 million ($790 million) in sales this year.Arnault combined Christian Dior Couture with LVMH last year after owning it through a separate holding company for decades, and the fashion house has been pushing up reported sales for the luxury conglomerate this year, helping to offset a spike in the value of the euro that risked dragging down profits.The Saddle bag blitz is one of the first moves at Dior by CEO Pietro Beccari, who took the helm this year after previously running LVMH’s Rome-based Fendi brand. At Fendi, Beccari won acclaim for his digital savvy. He tapped top Instagram stars Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid as well as lesser-known artists and athletes to star in campaigns.Instagram campaigns such as Dior’s are not just about awareness, but also about cultivating a more personalised relationship with consumers, says Jessica Michault, senior vice-president of industry relations at digital marketing consultancy Launchmetrics. Celebrities and bloggers whom social media users have chosen to follow can act as a “bridge” between big brands and their consumers. “When done correctly, it feels authentic and organic,” Michault says. — Bloomberg LP.

This article appeared in Issue 844 (Aug 20) of The Edge Singapore.

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