Style / Fashion

The Importance of Leather Goods in Luxury Jewellery & Watch Maisons

While LVMH’s Bulgari continues to make milestones in the leather goods and accessories industry, the Richemont Group is not far behind in becoming the sector’s new power-player.

Apr 09, 2024 | By Sanjeeva Suresh

At first, one might think it to be an unassuming coincidence — the convergence of the high-jewellery and luxury leather industries. However, Mary Katrantzou’s appointment as Bulgari’s inaugural creative director marks both a strategic and creative shift in Bulgari’s positioning within the luxury market. Aside from allowing Bulgari to capitalise on the synergies between these two different product categories within the luxury goods sector, it also cements LVMH’s dominance as luxury’s key player alongside the unveiling of a longstanding strategy to capture the leather market. LUXUO examines how the companies behind jewellery and watches’ biggest brands have adopted this and why a new appointment and a diverse portfolio is one step in a bigger plan in the race for revenues.

Designer Mary Katrantzou

The Appointment

News broke at the end of last week of Mary Katrantzou’s appointment as Bulgari’s inaugural creative director of leather goods and accessories, a first in the 140-year history of the Roman Jeweller. This creative convergence only highlights the natural affinity between Bulgari and Mary Katrantzou seen through the similarities between their ideologies, inspirations and techniques. Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin states, “Mary shares with Bulgari not only the Greek origins but the search for excellence in the choice of materials, the way in which they are transformed with a particular emphasis on craftsmanship and a passionate love for colours.” This is a bold move for Bulgari and marks yet another high-jewellery brand putting an emphasis on its leather goods offerings.

Luxury Leather in High Jewellery

This burgeoning trend was also seen with Cartier and MontBlanc who both showcased a range of leather products to complement their jewellery and watch ranges. In 2019, Cartier unveiled the popular “Guirlande de Cartier” bag. The red octagonal bag was shaped to mimic the look of a jewellery box and was soon photographed with a bevy of influencers, the likes of Poppy Delevingne, Bryanboy and Susie Bubble each clutching onto the geometric accessory. Montblanc’s “Soft collection” on the other hand, honed in on amplifying the versatility of men’s wardrobes with travelling backpacks, duffle and messenger bags alongside utilitarian totebags. Montblanc’s “Extreme 3.0 Leather Collection” was a new luggage line that once again catered to an on-the-go lifestyle approach comprising of backpacks, wallets, phone cases and luggage bags diversifying from its namesake pen.

So why is the jewellery industry expanding into the leather goods sector? Simply put, jewellery brands do not need to make the expansion as the projected net worth of the luxury leather goods industry is approximately USD 271.83 billion as compared to the projected revenue of the worldwide jewellery market which could reach up to USD 310.90 billion. Despite this, the apparel and leather products market size has strongly grown in recent years and this was reflected in the 2024 fashion runway collections. From Louis Vuitton to Gucci, luxury fashion houses highlighted an emphasis on bags and leather goods across both menswear and womenswear showcases. This could be one attempt of luxury brands to expand their customer base in the event of an economic downturn that could see sales of luxury goods take a hit. This is also a clear indication for other luxury namesakes who did not make their beginning as a leather goods brand that these are revenues ripe for the picking.

Read More: Kering Group’s Decreased Sales Do Not Spell Trouble

The Battle Between Richemont & LVMH

Part of why Mary’s appointment is so monumental is because the inaugural role is also part of a bigger plan in the “game” of mergers and acquisitions. It is no secret that Richemont — the parent company that owns Cartier and MontBlanc — has a checkered history with competitor and fellow luxury conglomerate LVMH. In May 2023, Chairman of Richemont Group Johann Rupert put acquisition rumours to rest, stating that the company was not for sale after Richemont Group rejected the notion of an acquisition by LVMH. In July of the same year, Richemont acquired a controlling stake in the renowned Italian shoemaking maison, Gianvito Rossi. As Richemont later stated, “Gianvito Rossi’s footwear embodies the finest expression of made-in-Italy craftsmanship, leveraging the longstanding tradition of luxury shoemaking in the artisanal heart of the San Mauro district…”, highlighting that conglomerates like Richemont already had an eye for conquering the world of leather goods and accessories.

Lily Mcmenamy Fronts Campaign For Delvaux (Image courtesy of ShowStudio)

The underlying competition between the Switzerland-based luxury goods holding company (Richemont) and the French multinational holding and conglomerate (LVMH) doesn’t end there. Richemont expanded its fashion and leather portfolio in 2021 by acquiring the renowned Belgian luxury leather goods maison, Delvaux which then enabled Delvaux to leverage the Group’s global presence and digital capabilities, while increasing its “omnichannel opportunities” and customer engagement. Not to be outdone, LVMH acquired Grupo Verdeveleno in 2023. Grupo Verdeveleno is a Spanish company renowned for its expertise in tanning and finishing exotic leathers. LVMH acknowledged that the acquisition would enable Grupo Verdeveleno to further invest in quality, supply chain attention, traceability and sustainability, and enabling a large community of individuals who are artisans and craftsmen of excellence in the luxury leather industry worldwide.

Going back to Bulgari, the jewellery brand joined the LVMH umbrella in 2011, which is helmed by Forbes’ richest person in the world for the second year running, Bernard Arnault. Arnault is a magnate of commerce and understands how crucial the fashion and leather goods sector is particularly viable in LVMH, which saw sales for 2023 go beyond analyst forecasts and showcased a 13 percent increase in organic growth from 2022. New investments and diversifying portfolios are ultimately about the “long game” as seen with luxury group Kering that highlighted how short-term financial setbacks don’t spell disaster for long-term goals. Therefore, Katrantzou’s appointment at Bulgari further fortifies LVMH’s griphold on the fashion and leather goods sector.

Read More: LVMH Revenues Soared in 2023 Despite Economic Challenges

Continuing the Legacy

The Bulgari appointment sees Katrantzou overlooking the creative direction of the maison’s leather goods and accessories range including the one-of-a-kind high jewellery collection of bags and clutches. However, 2024 was not Katrantzou’s first time partnering with Bulgari, having previously worked with the brand in 2019 as part of her Spring/Summer 2020 couture show. Katrantzou would later expand her collaborations with the maison through the “Serpenti” and “Omnia” collections. Arguably known for her audacious sense of colour and craft, Katrantzou successfully reimagined Bulgari’s best-selling Serpenti Forever bag collection drawing inspiration from the House’s archive to inform the narrative of the bag’s collection. This is the first step in the new “leather legacy” of the Maison and only time will tell if Katrantzou can apply the same success seen in her earlier Bulgari showcase to her next leather range.

Regardless of future success, LVMH’s Bulgari has already claimed the first stake on the commercial importance of leather goods in jewellery and watch Maisons by formally appointing a well-known designer. It can be expected that competitors will follow suit, or even the other Houses under LVMH.

Mary Katrantzou’s debut collection as creative director of Bulgari’s leather goods and accessories will be available in Bulgari boutiques across the globe in August 2024.

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