Louis Vuitton lures China's super-rich with custom leather "art"

Wed Jul 18, 2012 5:45am EDT
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By Melanie Lee

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Louis Vuitton is courting China's wealthy with one-of-a-kind shoes and bags it is branding as unique works of art to reclaim its exclusive cachet in the luxury market.

The French luxury brand, a unit of LVMH, is set to open its largest China store in Shanghai on Saturday, complete with a gilded spiral staircase and an invitation-only private floor where big spenders can get their hair done while dreaming up designs for custom bags.

"The made-to-order concept is the ultimate luxury," Louis Vuitton Chief Executive Yves Carcelle told Reuters during a tour of the store, which the company calls a "maison".

"It's the same with art. If you are interested in art, the ultimate is to commission an artist rather than buy a piece that is already done," Carcelle said.

Louis Vuitton routinely ranks among the most admired brands in surveys of Chinese consumers. But ultra-luxury names such as Hermes are making inroads, and some top-tier consumers now look down on Louis Vuitton as too common.

The company hopes to cement its exclusive luxury status with the new Shanghai store, which boasts steel sculptures and carries a wide array of goods ranging from chic coats and hats to brightly colored bags made from python or alligator skin.

It also sells carrying cases for tiles used to play the Chinese game mahjong and made-to-order trunks for tea sets.

China is the world's third biggest market for personal luxury goods, worth at least 160 billion yuan ($25 billion). In the next three years, it is expected to leapfrog over Japan and the United States to take the top spot, with the luxury segment expanding to 180 billion yuan ($28 billion).   Continued...

Yves Carcelle, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton Malletier, poses for a photograph after an interview with Reuters at the largest China LV store in Shanghai, July 17, 2012. REUTERS/Aly Song