Isabel Marant’s plan to grow ‘Parisienne’ luxury into a €500m business

For Isabel Marant, the new year brings with it a new look.

On Monday, the French label will unveil a new brand identity, complete with a refreshed logo and updated packaging designed by New York-based British art director Peter Miles, who has worked with brands from Marc Jacobs and Celine to Proenza Schouler in the past.

The changes to the logo’s lettering are relatively subtle — as Marant says, it’s “not an earthquake,” but rather an evolution that marks the next chapter of the label it launched in 1994.

“It was an explanation of the new era we have stepped into,” she told BoF in an interview.

The French label has a new brand identity designed by New York-based British art director Peter Miles.

Bigger changes are happening behind the scenes. With just shy of 300 million euros ($323 million) in annual sales last year, Marant, majority-owned by Paris-based private equity firm Montefiore since 2016, is no longer the sometimes hard-to-find brand beloved by fashion insiders. catching nonchalantly Parisienne style.

The brand is on track to reach 500 million euros in sales within four years, said CEO Anouck Duranteau-Loeper, who joined the company from Paco Rabanne in 2016 after running the leather goods business at Céline and working on strategy at LVMH. In recent years, Marant has opened dozens of stores, and product-wise, it has launched menswear and expanded its accessories offering, adding eyewear, jewelry and leather bags.

Marant has had success, most recently its £695 Oskan Moon bag, which has emerged as the new popular hero style since its debut in December. But it stumbled at the start of the pandemic and, as a small brand in a market dominated by a few giants, struggled with the turbulence that came with the onset of Covid-19. Montefiore tried to sell the brand a year ago. (Now the company says it’s flexible about going out).

Marant and brand CEO Anouck Duranteau-Loeper say the brand has reached a new level of maturity over the past five years, after bringing on Parisian private equity firm Montefiore as a majority investor in a bid to accelerate growth in 2016.

Now it wants to signal to its customers and the industry that the label is ready to play at a higher level. New products, new stores, and yes, a new logo, are part of that grand plan.

“With all the changes we’ve made, it makes sense to change the logo as well,” said art director Kim Bekker, a longtime Marant collaborator who rejoined the business in 2021 after a brief stint at Saint Laurent. “It really establishes all the growth that the company has gone through in the last two years.”

The Oskan Moon bag, which debuted in December, has become the brand's signature style.  Robin Galliegue

However, achieving the next phase of growth will not be easy. The brand’s recent run of success has come during an almost unprecedented boom in luxury consumption. It will have to execute its next phase as the industry enters a period of uncertainty. Isabel Marant is positioned at the affordable end of the luxury segment and remains relatively small, with sales just a fraction of the billions generated by the biggest luxury players. This makes it more vulnerable if the economic crisis forces middle-class consumers to pull back on spending.

Still, business was better than expected in 2022, both in terms of sales numbers and earnings growth, said Guillaume Leglise, vice president and senior analyst at credit rating and research firm Moody’s Investor Service. In January of last year, Moody’s raised the credit rating of the brand to B2, with a stable outlook. That’s still below investment grade, but it indicates that Marant’s financial outlook is better than it was two or three years ago.

“The brand positioning is well oriented, it resonates very well with customers despite all the current challenges,” said Leglise. “The numbers show that the brand is very successful.”

Isabel Marant carved a niche for herself with modern yet wearable designs that embodied the cool aesthetic of French girls. During the 2000s and early 2010s, the brand’s elevated take on jersey tracksuits, slim-fit sneakers and women’s bohemian dresses gained huge popularity among consumers, fueling the independent brand’s rapid growth. Many retailers stock the brand’s main line and its contemporary, affordable sister brand, Isabel Marant Etoile. The high-low collaboration with H&M in 2013 was a hit.

“There has always been a consistent vision for the brand that reflected Isabel’s personal style,” said Rickie de Sole, director of women’s fashion and editorial at Nordstrom. “Collections often exude a joyful and optimistic embrace of life, our customers can easily see themselves in them.”

For years, Marant was content to fly somewhat under the radar (in the early days, part of the brand’s insider appeal was that it wasn’t so easy to find outside of its home market). But soon the space occupied by Marant became overcrowded. Fast fashion players emulated the French girls’ aesthetic, cheaper French contemporary names like Sandro, Zadig and Voltaire expanded beyond their home market, and direct-to-consumer brands like Sezana and Rouja appeared on the scene.

It is a strong brand in terms of consumer love. It’s a fan brand, so it’s a brand that can create such strong loyalty without being a pure luxury player.

In 2016, Marant sold a 51 percent stake in her company to Montefiore, receiving a cash injection as well as a strategic partner with expertise to help grow the business.

Even then it was not easy to sail. The Covid-19 pandemic briefly hampered growth plans, with sales falling 13 percent in 2020. Last year, Montefiore explored the possibility of exiting the company after five years. However, despite “strong interest from various parties”, it has shelved the plans due to an uncertain market following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, said Montefiore chairman Eric Bismuth. (The company is “very flexible about the timing” of a future rollout, Bismuth said.) But the brand bounced back faster than expected.

“It’s impressive because it’s not a high-end luxury brand so it doesn’t feel irrational to buy it,” said Celia Friedman, director of luxury at strategic consultancy Publicis Sapient. “But it is a strong brand in terms of consumer love. It is a brand of lovers, so it is a brand that can create such a strong force [loyalty] without being a player of pure luxury.”

Part of Isabel Marant’s success lies in the fact that the brand is well diversified for a brand of its size, both in terms of product and geography, Friedman said. A well-balanced distribution strategy also helped, she added. The brand has grown from nine stores in 2016 to 73 today, although it has continued to influence wholesale. Combined, the two channels provide decent global exposure while remaining “still very curated,” according to Duranteau-Loeper.

Isabel Marant will present its new logo on Monday.

On the product side, adding leather goods to its offering and building other accessories has helped drive growth, with the category now driving 30 percent of sales. Marant and her team repositioned the Etoile line to complement, not cannibalize, core sales.

Initially, Etoile was a proposition in itself, offering customers a path to the brand at a lower price, Marant explained. It is now presented as a more casual offering focused on holiday and weekend dressing.

“There is a difference in price because there is a difference in the nature of the product,” Duranteau-Loeper said. “You would buy your denim from Etoile, and your fancy, sparkly dress or leather from Isabel Marant.”

In the future, the focus will be on nurturing men’s clothing, which was renamed Marant as part of the rebrand. The plan is to expand the menswear store’s footprint by opening locations in key cities around the world, adding to the two stand-alone stores currently in Paris. The ambition is to increase sales of menswear by 10 to 15 percent, up from the current 5 percent, Duranteau-Loeper said.

Internal forecasts show that the brand is on track to reach the 500 million euro mark in the next four years. The competition for consumer attention will only intensify if there is a recession. Although luxury buyers are more insulated from economic turbulence, they continue to become more discerning in times of economic uncertainty, gravitating to high-end, big-name brands, which can be seen as a better investment.

Meanwhile, Isabel Marant remains a niche brand in a fragmented industry, Moody’s Leglise said. For ready-to-wear brands rooted in a very specific aesthetic, staying relevant becomes more difficult.

“For this kind of brand … you really need to have the right collection at the right time, have the right product to maintain the appeal of the brand,” he said. “If you start missing [the mark on] collection, things can go wrong quickly.”

Nevertheless, Marant’s distinctive French style je ne sais quoi it still has a strong appeal. The global appetite for French luxury shows no signs of slowing, Publicis Sapient’s Friedman said, while Marant’s DNA is more rooted in culture and female empowerment than a specific look, giving the brand’s codes greater longevity.

“‘French-girl cool’ is more about style and energy than a specific look,” said Nordstrom’s De Sole. “Trends are always changing, but the desire to feel confident and carefree with a halo of polish will always be relevant.”

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