Jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels sees Japan remaining crucial market

by Yoichi Kosukegawa

Kyodo News

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

“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,” Stanislas de Quercize said, referring to moves among some high-end foreign brands to rethink their presence in Japan amid a dwindling appetite for luxury goods.

“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 brought on by the recession and the growing popularity of “fast-fashion” brands offering trendy items at cheap prices, like Uniqlo and Sweden’s H&M.

LVJ Group K.K., the Japanese arm of French luxury brand Louis Vuitton, scrapped a plan late last year to open the company’s largest store in the world in Tokyo’s Ginza 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 692 million euro (about ¥92 billion) in the year to March 2009 from 699 million euro 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 Ginza just three months ago. “We are bedding for the future (of Japan),” he said.

Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry appeared here 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 nationwide. Japan accounts for a third of the company’s overall sales, he said.

De Quercize denied that Japan is losing its attractiveness 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 its creations.

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 district, offering an overview of more than 100 years of the jewelry house’s creations.

The exhibition will run until Jan. 17.

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