Louis Vuitton doubles down on exotic skins with new handbag workshops – WWD

VENDOME, France Louis Vuitton reinforced its commitment to using exotic skins in its handbags, with the official inauguration on Tuesday of its last two leather goods workshops in France.

In the context of the French presidential campaign and the aggravation of the crisis linked to the movements of Russian troops in Ukraine, a large media contingent attended the ceremony, in the presence of Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Louis Vuitton Chairman and CEO Michael Burke and French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

Illustrating the close ties between Arnault, the third richest man in the world, and the government of French President Emmanuel Macron, which is about to announce its candidacy for re-election, Le Maire spent four hours visiting the workshops of Azé and Vendôme, in the Loir-et-Cher region in central France which is home to a number of historic castles.

The minister donned white cotton gloves to pick up a crocodile leather Capucines handbag in a silver and gold gradient, while listening intently to an employee explaining part of the manufacturing process, which takes 350 steps.

“I salute the global success of LVMH, which is good for France,” said Le Maire, noting that the group has recruited 1,800 artisans over the past five years. “We see here that each employee takes real pride in making these Vuitton bags, in defending this French excellence which is more a matter of craftsmanship than of industry.”

Louis Vuitton Abbaye Vendôme leather goods workshop in France.
Piotr Stoklosa/Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

LVMH spent between 15 and 20 million euros to buy and restore the historic building of the Abbey of Vendôme, which dates from the 11th century and housed in turn a Benedictine monastery and a cavalry regiment. The four-story structure has been open since September 2020, but its grand opening has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Oratory workshop, near Azé, is presented as the first industrial building of this type in France, with an eco-design that reduces energy consumption by half compared to a classic Vuitton leather goods workshop.

The two sites, which employ 150 people but will eventually accommodate 500, specialize in bags made of exotic skins such as crocodile, ostrich and python, thus joining three other Vuitton workshops in France with similar skills. The Oratory site, operational since October, also produces prototypes and other types of bags, such as the Onthego shopping bag in monogram canvas.

Arnault, who was flanked by his son Frederic, CEO of watchmaker Tag Heuer, touted Vuitton’s remarkable growth, noting that when he took over the company in 1987, it had just three leather goods workshops. By the end of 2022, it will have 19.

“Since then, Louis Vuitton’s sales volume has multiplied by 30,” he said in a speech to staff at the Abbaye Vendôme, attributing the company’s success to highly skilled workers. “LVMH is a family group and when you join LVMH, when you join Vuitton, you don’t join an anonymous company, you join a family,” he told them.

A view of the Louis Vuitton Abbaye Vendôme leather goods workshop in France.

A view of the Louis Vuitton Abbaye Vendôme leather goods workshop in France.
Piotr Stoklosa/Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

The inauguration comes 10 days after 240 workers from three Vuitton workshops staged a walkout over wages and working conditions. Although they only made up 5% of staff in the leather goods division, the protest reignited public debate about whether entry-level employees at luxury goods companies, which are thriving despite the pandemic, are getting their fair share of benefits.

While its rival Hermès announced last week that it would pay a bonus of 3,000 euros to its nearly 18,000 employees after an “exceptional” year of growth, LVMH ended six months of negotiations with its leather goods workers by a deal last week that increases their pay. by 7% and reduced their average work week from 35 hours to 33 hours.

Arnault noted that employees who are entitled to a share of the benefits earn the equivalent of 18 months’ salary on average. “Louis Vuitton’s employees are among the happiest and best paid, which builds their loyalty. This is our contribution to purchasing power and job security,” he told reporters. “When you join Vuitton, you want to stay.”

Vuitton’s arrival in Vendome has helped attract other luxury makers, such as porcelain maker Marie Daâge, local officials said. The town was once home to tanneries and supplied gloves to the royal court of France during the reign of Renaissance king Francis I, but in recent years it has specialized in producing metal parts for industries such as automotive and aeronautics.

Burke said LVMH had increased its investment in exotic leathers, unlike rival French luxury company Chanel, which said in 2018 it was stopping the use of leathers such as crocodile, lizard, snake and lambskin. line. Animal rights group PETA has regularly called on LVMH and Hermès to follow suit.

A Louis Vuitton Capucines BB bag in crocodile leather.

A Louis Vuitton Capucines BB bag in crocodile leather.
Piotr Stoklosa/Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

“We think that made in a sustainable way, it’s an extremely important trade to maintain, because if we don’t maintain this trade, the making of items in this exotic skin, these animals will become extinct,” Burke explained.

“If you don’t buy these pelts, their habitat becomes much more valuable than real estate development,” he continued.

“The only way for this land to remain in its natural state is to have value for this land, and the highest value this land can have is to produce crocodile or alligator eggs, which we buy then for about $50 each. And for every 100 we buy, a year later we have to release 10 year-old alligators and crocodiles into the wild, which has brought the species back from near extinction,” said he declared.

By the end of 2022, 100% of the crocodile skins used to manufacture Louis Vuitton bags will come from farms certified according to the standard implemented by LVMH in 2019, which reinforced the traceability requirements for tanneries. That compares to 93 percent currently. The group’s Heng Long Tannery in Singapore sources hides from farms in Australia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and the United States.

In addition to settling on the historic site, Vuitton – which has a flagship and high-jewelry workshop on Place Vendôme in Paris – has reached an agreement with local authorities to use the Vendôme name for its jewelry collections.

LVMH said it would continue to expand its production capacity, with plans to hire 1,000 people by the end of 2024. Presenting the group as an example to follow, Le Maire said the government had committed to increasing the share of industry in national wealth to 20% in the next few years, from 12 to 13% currently, by making France more competitive.

He noted that Macron had already lowered production and corporate taxes, and pledged to cut corporate taxes by an additional 10 billion euros to 15 billion euros. “The real battle for industrial recovery is not just about taxes,” said Le Maire. “We will only achieve the reindustrialisation of France by recognizing the value of training, manual labor and learning.”

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