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Van Cleef & Arpels Sees Japan As Key Market

24 december 2009

Luxury French jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels continues to view Japan as a key market and is confident that sales will pick up once the economy recovers, its president and chief executive officer (CEO) said in a recent interview.

Referring to moves among some high-end foreign brands to rethink their presence in Japan amid a dwindling appetite for luxury goods, Stanislas de Quercize said, "I see brands say, 'Now, we have to go to China...as our good time in Japan has passed and the future is in China.' We are here when there is a blue sky. We are here when there is a typhoon," de Quercize said. "We are here to stay because we believe [in a] long-term relationship."

Companies handling luxury items are struggling in the Japanese market, hit by the slump in personal consumption amid the recession and the growing popularity of "fast-fashion" brands offering trendy items at cheap prices, like Sweden's H&M and Japan's Uniqlo.

LVJ Group K.K., the Japanese arm of French luxury brand Louis Vuitton, scrapped a plan late in 2008 to open the company's largest store in the world in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district. Italian fashion house Gianni Versace has recently closed its boutiques in Japan.

The Swiss luxury goods group Richemont, to which Van Cleef & Arpels belongs, saw sales in Japan fall to approximately $1 billion (EUR 692 million) for the year extending through March 2009, from a rate of just above $1 billion (EUR 699 million) in the previous year.

De Quercize is confident, however, that the Japanese market will recover, noting that his company completed the expansion and renovation of its flagship store in the Ginza district just three months ago. "We are betting for the future [of Japan]," he said.

Van Cleef & Arpels' jewelry appeared in Japan for the first time in 1973, distributed by Seibu department stores. The jewelry house opened its first store in Japan in Ginza in 1999 and now has 15 boutiques in the country. Japan accounts for one-third of the company's overall sales, he said.

De Quercize denied that Japan is losing its desire for high-end brands amid a shift in consumer taste to thrifty items. Citing record sales of the company's bridal jewelry collection this year, de Quercize said Japan will "remain a country of connoisseurship" and that the company can cultivate demand by offering high-quality products.

In contrast with the rapidly changing designs of fast-fashion houses, de Quercize stressed the "eternal, timeless design" of his company's products and said this will increase the value of creations by Van Cleef & Arpels. De Quercize was in Tokyo to launch a global tour of a retrospective exhibition titled "The Spirit of Beauty" at the Mori Arts Center in Tokyo's Roppongi, which offers an overview of more than 100 years of the jewelry house's creations.

"It's the first time we're showing all these collections of Van Cleef & Arpels which was started in 1906," he said. "This is the first time we're showing so many creations together and the first time we're showing such pieces as a bracelet from Marlene Dietrich, a bracelet from Jackie Kennedy and a tiara of Princess Grace."

The exhibition will run in Tokyo until January 17 and then move on to Beijing, New York and Paris.