Alexandre Arnault’s Rimowa Takes on China with a Mix of Heritage and Hip

In October 2016, LVMH acquired a majority stake in the German high-end luggage brand Rimowa, while also appointing Alexandre Arnault as its co-chief executive. The youngest scion of magnate Bernard Arnault, Alexandre has proceeded to transform the suitcase company by blending heritage and exclusivity with modern design elements, as well as collaborations with high-profile brands like Supreme, Off-White, and Fendi. Young, cool customers were soon Rimowa aficionados, which helped propel the company to new heights and built them a cult following. Today, Alexandre is seen as the force behind the Rimowa’s resurrection. Jing Daily spoke with him about what’s next for the brand, including Rimowa’s retail plan for China and much more.

How does Rimowa balance their core business with new collaborations that help create excitement?

We view collaborations as a platform for us to express ourselves, and for our partners (brands, celebrities, artists) to use our suitcases to tell the world their perception of travel. It is a very important part of our core business, not only to create a buzz, but also as a revenue driver. And obviously, it increases the awareness of the brand, which drives more traffic to stores and general interest.

Rimowa’s collaborations with Supreme and Off-White were beloved by younger consumers in China, but how can you expand your business to also reach “mature” consumers?

We have never made initiatives only with the goal of targeting specific demographics. While younger consumers applauded some of our collaborations, we believe different consumers were also attracted. Moreover, in everything we do with our core range, we try to focus as much as we can on the superior functionality of our products.

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Your Fendi x Rimowa collaboration was a big hit in China because of social media campaigns like the one you did on WeChat, but do you think there’s a risk of overexposure when employing social media channels?

There is always a risk of overexposure. However, I think in the world we live in today, an online presence is key in order to stay relevant in the eyes and minds of all types of customers. Inclusivity is key in the stories of many brands today, not only in fashion but also in lifestyle, technology, etc. That inclusivity exists thanks to social media, which have given us an unprecedented tool to communicate to our customers.

Photo: Courtesy of Rimowa

China is a country that has seen a huge surge in tourism activities, and luxury travel bags are in high demand. But there’s also competition from less pricey direct-to-consumer luggage startups like Away and Roam. What’s your strategy to pull ahead of competitors?

I find it exciting that these companies exist as they shine a light on our space [in the market]. A few years ago, nothing was exciting about buying luggage. Now it is slowly becoming appealing! At Rimowa, we feel that by continuing to invest in our factories where we manufacture all our products and in the engineering of our luggage, the market will recognize our quality, thus allowing us to remain leaders in the space.

In 2016, the court in Zhongshan, China acknowledged that the “groove design” was a unique feature of the Rimowa suitcase and therefore falls under protection from counterfeiters. Yet despite its protectable status, new companies constantly infringe on the design law and produce copycats. How do you combat the online purchase of counterfeit products?

It is a very tricky topic, and the entire LVMH Group is very active in combating counterfeit products. We work in conjunction with governments and Internet platforms in order to avoid it as much as possible.

Rimowa will focus on key locations for the luxury market in tier 1 and tier 2 cities in China, as well as online distribution. Photo: Courtesy of Rimowa

You said that you’d like Rimowa to be a “culturally relevant brand in the space of travel, hopefully not only selling suitcases but other travel-related products.” What other products and services have you envisioned for Rimowa?

The first category of products to arrive is bags (backpacks, weekend bags, etc.), which make complete sense for Rimowa as travel gear. We are also playing around with the ideas of developing interesting services linked to hotels, flights, etc., but haven’t cracked the equation just yet.

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What are your plans for China in the near future?

We took over 55 stores back from our local partners just a few weeks ago. The immediate plans are to correctly size the distribution and expand the company in areas that are more in line with our current positioning so our brand can appear in locations that are more aligned with our strategy. We will focus on key locations for the luxury market in tier 1 and tier 2 cities, as well as online distribution. We are also investing significantly online.

Is Rimowa doing any Chinese-specific products?

We are not planning to do so for the moment. As we are a global brand, we try to be inclusive of every country, and our strategy is balanced across the world.

Is the heritage of Rimowa important to Chinese consumers?

Yes, it is key. Heritage, craftsmanship, and general quality of our products are, I believe, what makes our brand successful with Chinese customers.

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