Right now, as retail everywhere reels from store closures and consumer prudence, a sign that a luxury retailer is doing something right is by how little its sales drop, rather than how much they grow. In the first quarter of 2020, LVMH’s fashion and leather goods division — which includes brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior — saw a 10 per cent drop in revenue, on a like-for-like basis compared with 2019, which “proved slightly better than some analysts had expected”, reported news agency Reuters. Online sales at these brands, according to LVMH, has seen “rapid growth”.
Which means that right now is as important a time as any for Louis Vuitton to fortify its creative ranks, especially at its key revenue-garnering category of leather goods. At the end of May, the French luxury brand announced that Johnny Coca would be coming on board as its fashion leather goods director with effect from June 2.
It’s a journey that has come full circle for the Spanish-born Coca, who started his career at Louis Vuitton as a leather goods designer in the mid-1990s. His move to Louis Vuitton follows his five-year tenure as the creative director of British heritage brand Mulberry. To date, he has had his biggest commercial successes at Celine, most notably with his much-copied Trapeze bag design for the French label.
At Mulberry, Coca oversaw the creation of new designs such as the customisable Iris handbag and the fully sustainable Portobello tote; updates of brand icons like the Bayswater; and collaborations with interesting names such as Swedish cult fashion brand Acne Studios. He also introduced new eyewear, sneaker and ready-to-wear categories, and relaunched the men’s accessories and jewellery ranges.
There is no doubt that Coca brought new and relevant elements to the British brand, which been ailing after a misstep by former CEO Bruno Guillon, whose attempt to take Mulberry more upmarket led to the brand losing two-thirds of its market value between 2012 and 2014. However, despite an uptick in sales when Coca first took over, the creative director’s contributions were not enough to lift Mulberry out of the mire in these turbulent times: Already hit by tough retail conditions, Mulberry was dealt another blow when British department store chain House of Fraser, to which it is a big supplier, went into administration before being bought. When news of Coca’s departure was announced, Mulberry’s shares fell 17 per cent. As of March, its stock had fallen by a staggering 83 per cent over the past two years.
At Louis Vuitton, Coca will be working alongside Nicolas Ghesquiere, the brand’s highly regarded artistic director of womenswear. With access to the brand’s vast resources, not just financially but in terms of creative savoir-faire, it will be interesting to see how Coca takes an already very successful range of products to the next level.