Earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, Chopard made a surprising decision. It launched a clothing collection. And what made the move into a different luxury category interesting, was not that a luxury brand had expanded into something different, but it was that a jewellery and watch brand did so because this kind of move usually never happens in the world of hard luxury.
Choosing its annual grand soiree in Cannes as a key moment to launch its first couture collection, Chopard sent 50 looks down the runway, accompanied by 76 high jewellery creations, all designed by its co-president and artistic director Caroline Scheufele, with a glittering line-up of models including Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen and Natalia Vodianoca.
Many stars were also in attendance, from actress Kate Beckinsale to K-pop group Aespa as well as British Vogue editor Edward Enninful and singer Robbie Williams who performed at the event.
“I'm stepping out of my comfort zone, but, you know, I have seen colleagues coming from fashion into watches and jewellery, so I said I might as well do the opposite,” Chopard co-president and artistic director Caroline Scheufele, told Vogue Business in an interview.
“I want to show the friends of the house [and] my clients my way of fashion; pieces that you can wear more often, not a haute couture dress you wear just once. You can wear it with a jacket, trousers,” Scheufele said, adding that the collection had been designed to create harmony so that the dress enhances the jewellery.
But glamour and glitter aside, was the move a part of a bigger plan from the hard luxury brand to pivot to a new category? And if so, what can we expect to see next?
The first thing to note is that this isn’t the first time a hard luxury brand has ventured into new waters, said Robert Burke, Chairman and CEO of Robert Burke Associates, a New York-based consulting firm specialising in retail and fashion.
“Bulgari and Cartier have both ventured into handbags, which is traditionally easier for jewellery brands to pivot into as opposed to clothing. Chopard launched their first handbag in 2020 as well.”
But a move into fashion from hard luxury is a world away from the usual pivots seen from fashion brands into categories like home furnishings, for instance, mainly because there are very big differences between the two worlds and their mindsets.
“The reason why fashion brands can go into homeware is because they work with textiles first and foremost,” noted Christopher Morency, journalist and consultant. “There's textiles in homeware, and there's textiles in fashion. So there's a very natural synergy between those two disciplines. Whereas if you look at a jewellery brand and fashion, it has completely different skill sets.”
“There are completely different price points,” he continued. “It's a different team structure. There's seasonality involved, obviously at a much quicker pace, and perhaps a slightly different audience, even though there's a similar audience that buys luxury watches and jewellery. Is that audience still slightly different than the customer that was also interested in luxury fashion?”
There is also another point to consider, how does moving into another category add to a brand’s authentic story?
“Beyond going into fashion to try and grow your business, what’s the reason behind why a brand enters into a market where there are already 30 different other brands that already have a trusted relationship with luxury clothing?” said Morency.
“I think it's going to be the most difficult challenge they're going to have, is to shift perception from their current clientele,” he added. “To retrain that thought of what the brand is. Because everything in the brand needs to change, and that can be confusing for a lot of companies. I see this all the time.
It’s a view shared by Burke. “It’s easier for fashion brands to enter jewellery, than it is for jewellery brands to enter fashion.”
“Clothing companies often go into other categories such as jewellery, watches, and now even hospitality,” he noted. “It does not translate as well the other way around, and to date has not been as successful.”
“It’s tough for a jewellery brand to go into a new vertical,” he noted. “The consumer will continue to view them as a jewellery brand and it’s difficult to translate to the consumer the value they get. Chopard will need to come up with innovative ways to integrate their brand DNA and craftsmanship into the new fashion line for it to be received well by consumers.”
However, there are many points where a move from hard luxury to soft luxury could make sense.
“There's always the potential of crossing over into other categories,” said Morency. “They already have that addressable market in their pocket; they have their clientele where they have owned that relationship over decades; they have the infrastructure. So they definitely have one up over a new luxury brand, in my opinion.”
When luxury fashion brands do move into hard luxury, it can be successful. However, it is important to note that these expansions are considered more of a brand extension and passion project than actually key revenue drivers.
“An example of a fashion brand entering jewellery would be Louis Vuitton watches,” said Burke. “It’s more of a passion project for LV focused on high quality pieces, limited production, and craftsmanship. It’s not a key revenue driver for them.”
“Transitioning into fashion might be a risky move for Chopard, but it could help them attract a wider audience base if successful,” he added. “They will also look to rely on their core customers at the beginning to support this new endeavour,” said Burke.
For Mario Ortelli, managing partner of the luxury advisory firm Ortelli&Co, it could represent an opportunity to bring even more attention to the brand’s existing jewellery collection.“If Chopard is able to keep their couture collection super-high-end, linked to the company's history, I would say this is a good marketing strategy that helps bring your jewellery collection into the spotlight more.”
But ultimately, it’s about what fashion adds to the story of Chopard.
“If they can leverage the relationships that they have already and they can translate the story well as to why they're doing it haute couture in the first place, and the designs are good, then you can do it,” said Morency. “There could definitely be a market for it. I don't see it being a massive market, but it’s not aimed for at that.”
“We’ll see if it becomes an experiment that they do once a year or can be a continuous line with different pieces,” said Ortelli. “It depends on how it was received by the customers and their community, but the idea of creating timeless, dreamy pieces, one-off pieces, that you wear once and treasure forever, makes sense.”