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Berluti CEO Talks Streetwear, Millennials and Rolling the Dice on Men’s Wear

Antoine Arnault, son of LVMH Chairman Bernard Arnault, and the CEO of high-end label Berluti, decided to invest roughly $115 million several years ago to turn a Parisian brand known chiefly for well-crafted footwear and leather goods into a full-blown purveyor of men’s wear.

It came down to a simple premise, Arnault said at the WWD Apparel + Retail CEO Summit in New York City last week: “Men want to spend their money, too.”

Investments across the fashion portfolio at LVMH, which owns Berluti, reflects an intentional focus on men’s offerings overall, and Arnault spoke of a shift in the creative direction at many of LVMH’s houses to keep pace. With men’s wear outgrowing the women’s wear market, betting on the desire for men’s fashion is a smart wave, especially when you factor in the industry’s favorite buzzword: streetwear.

To Arnault, the streetwear phenomenon represents a a structural shift—not simply a passing fad—and what matters most is not his opinion about the trend, he said, but whether a brand’s designer thinks it’s important. Even a brand as traditional and timeless as Berluti is embracing streetwear, Arnault said, by incorporating sneakers—albeit leather and calf skin ones—into the collection because that’s what will attract consumers.

Some designers, like Off-White’s Virgil Abloh who now leads Louis Vuitton creative, might be more strongly linked to streetwear than others, but even Berluti’s artistic director Kris Van Assche “understands its appeal right now,” Arnault said. Designing street-inspired footwear might be “less in his DNA,” Arnault continued, but Van Assche knows what it takes to operate within the LVMH group and to “cater to the customer today.”

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Because to ignore the streetwear customer would be to ignore the excitement that Arnault said cleaned out Abloh’s London pop-up store with Louis Vuitton 48 hours post-launch.

Millennials might love the photo opp that a good temporary store presents, but Arnault was quick to dismiss the notion that the 18-to-37-year-old crowd is all style and no substance. Au contraire, he said.

These shoppers might savor the thrill of fashion’s “hype cycle” and find themselves distracted by the glitz and logos, but their visits to a Berluti store more often than not involve a pointed interrogation of the salespeople with questions focused on the brand’s heritage, history and longevity. That is, millennials aren’t solely preoccupied with making a momentary splash on the likes of Instagram. They understand that luxury is an investment and they want to ensure their money is smartly spent.

So what happens next when millennials grow up and out of their logo tees and gaudy bags? Arnault sees these consumers transitioning toward some of the more low-key luxury houses out there.

“When this cycle of very glitzy fashion comes down, and we might be seeing it already, this customer will naturally go towards…fashion and brands that will promote simple, beautiful cuts, extremely durable products and beautiful fabrics,” Arnault explained. “You need to cater to those two ends of the spectrum, but definitely it’s a circle.”

Arnault credits the slow and steady growth happening at Loro Piana, where he serves as chairman, as the byproduct of this consumer evolution. The purveyor of cashmere, wool and fur garments is by no means nearly as “buzzy” as a brand like Gucci and “is the most understated brand probably on the planet,” but Arnault said he doesn’t think it’s the kind of label that wants to be as heavily exposed as some of its peers.

“I think the customers like that it’s a bit of a hidden gem even though we have big stores on the big avenue,” he said. “It’s nice to feel that the store is a little empty—you have time, you have your sales associate to yourself for an hour or two. That’s how the Loro Piana customer wants to shop.”

The brand might not see the eye-popping expansion in annual turnover that some flashier competitors are enjoying, but Arnault likened Loro Piana’s future to growing “like a big, beautiful yacht.”

Continuing, he said, “As a shareholder, I feel much safer to be on a beautiful yacht than on a jet ski. Especially if a storm arrives.”