Marco Palmieri on rebuilding Lancel
It’s hard to imagine many better locations for a store than Lancel’s Paris flagship. Located at 8 Place de l’Opéra, it’s a marvelous airy space, in a heavily trafficked area, whose upper floor has an impossibly good view of a jewel of a building - Palais Garnier.
Yet, it’s also the French centerpoint of a great historic brand that has been bleeding cash at the bottom line for the past few years. Marco Palmieri plans to change that at Lancel.
The CEO and owner of Piquadro – the booming Italian suitcase brand – Palmieri acquired control of Lancel last June from the giant Richemont, the world’s third largest luxury conglomerate.
Founded in 1876, Lancel boasts 60 sales points – either mono-brand stores like in Paris, or corners in department stores. Like a number of other French leather goods marques – such as Longchamp – it was originally a maker of accessories for smokers in a small Paris shop, before becoming a noted global marque. However, its revenues have plummeted in recent years as lack of investment and a stale offer turned the brand cold. In the year ending March 31, 2018, sales had slumped to just 53 million euros; less than half the company revenues a half-decade ago. Losses were a stinging 23 million euros. A remarkable figure, when you consider that Richemont paid $346 million a decade ago to purchase Lancel.
In the end, according to sources, with losses expected to reach nearly 30 million euros in the latest year, Richemont effectively paid Palmieri to take the brand off their hands. Even if the deal requires him to pay Richemont up to 35 million euros in royalties over the next decade.
Buying Lancel marks Piquadro’s latest acquisition since it bought The Bridge, a Florentine marque in 2016. But what makes Piquadro’s CEO and driving force Marco Palmieri so sure he can turnaround Lancel, a brand that completely lost its allure?
“Why did we buy Lancel? Because after buying The Bridge, we got it in good shape, and making money. And, well, we realized that we could do that with other brands. So, we got in contact with Richemont. And, probably for them, Lancel was not that strategic, and they agreed to sell,” enthuses Palmieri over coffee in Paris.
Founder Angèle Lancel saw the handbag as the “secret of feminine seduction,” and her son Albert built the house into a global brand by emphasizing practical pockets and interior mirrors, and using fine leathers like lizard and calfskin.
He sees Lancel as a dusty jewel that can be polished, and turned around, with the right mix of management and mode.
“Lancel is a unique house, with 145 years of history, and an incredible archive. Thousands of great products from the late 19th century until today. It’s an extraordinary record of how this brand led the avant-garde. It became a classic brand but it really is an avant-garde brand based on research. Allow me to say: a free-spirited Colette before Colette,” insisted Palmieri.
A hard-driving entrepreneur, masked by a disarmingly languid manner, Palmieri first began producing leather goods in his own garage; travelling on sales trips around northern Italy in a Renault 5. Today, Piquadro turns over 100 million euros, and Palmieri is clearly onto a new stage in his career - luxury empire building.
His plans for Lancel?
“We want to be younger, and much more fashion. Our target is millennials, dynamic, rapid and all made in Italy. Before Lancel was made all over the place. Our goal is leather goods in Italy, with our bijoux bags made in France,” he says of Lancel, which was noted for collaborating with such diverse characters as Arletty, Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker.
And, he’s excited about his creative talent: designer Barbara Fusillo, who joined Lancel in September 2017, before the Piquadro takeover.
Born in Modena, Fusillo studied in Milan and Florence, before joining Miu Miu, first in Italy and then in Paris; which led to a two-year stint with Marc Jacobs in New York.
“That was a great experience, working with Marc on the bags directly for his collections. Before I decided to become back to Europe,” she says, speaking on the second floor of the airy Place de l’Opéra boutique, which first opened in 1921.
Her definition of the DNA of Lancel?
“In terms of leather – extreme quality, avant-garde ideas, creativity and a perfect equilibrium between creativity and functionality. Where the object is made for the needs of the owner,” says Fusillo, who works in Lancel headquarters on rue Ampère in the 17th arrondissement.
Her first collection since the takeover is a much stronger statement notably in the new Romane line: sleeker leather, canny hardware and a smarter urban mood: like the studded patent leather bags in burgundy and battleship gray, or the tech blue clutches with curvy side straps.
“Our new clasps are an interpretation of a closure that we found in the archive that gives character to the bag. While the patent leather is based on calf skin, allowing me to play with colors and give a uniqueness,” smiles Fusillo.
“We don’t want to shock people, but create a cool product. My main conception is the end of the ‘70s, but not like a hippie,” she adds.
Plus, they’ve updated the Opéra store, with clever pop art graphics; golden shelving and classier minimalist furniture. One can feel the fashion injection; sophisticated but never aggressive; with a sportier vein. There’s a hint of Gio Ponti, with a French retro-futurist taste.
Chuckles Palmieri, like a proud father before his latest offspring: “Lancel became a leather goods firm in the late 19th century. And it never, ever closed down. How many brands can say that?”
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