COVID-19 forced the closure of all of Delvaux’s stores in Europe and North America and kept the company’s staff all in lockdown in Brussels, but this house has nonetheless been very busy. Since this Friday, Belgium’s oldest luxury marque will launch its own e-commerce business.
Remarkably for a label that has enjoyed such rapid growth in the past half-decade, Delvaux was practically non-existent when it came to online business. It did e-tail a few handbags in the USA with Barneys, but that ended with the demise of the famed department store. Plus, there is a recent arrangement with JD.com to retail a few items in China.
But the digital reticence ends on April 17 when Delvaux begins its online roll-out of a selection of new handbags and miniatures, mini handbags dedicated to cities where Delvaux has built a flagship. With the latest being Dolce Vita for Italy.
The move into e-commerce marks the return as CEO of Marco Probst. In between quitting Delvaux for an “18-month sabbatical” he took a course at Columbia Business School on digital marketing.
“When I rejoined Delvaux last December after a year and a half away we were arrogant that we were only bricks and mortar along with very good service. I also realized that I use my iPhone to buy high value electric guitars and so Delvaux needed to open up and create a task force, not so much for e-commerce, more for digitalization,” explained the 54-year-old CEO in a call from Delvaux’s Brussels-headquarters.
He sees this next stage about using “the big resource of today, data” along with creating visibility and awareness. Especially since in Probst’s view, 80% of all sales today are at least influenced by online.
“Before, we had an institutional home page, but no product information. The next step is about analyzing clicks and customers and who and where they come from,” he stressed. Right now, Delvaux.com doesn’t even list any prices; and the brand makes some of the most expensive handbags in luxury.
Under his predecessor, Jean-Marc Loubier, Delvaux’s growth was fueled by opening tasteful flagships in hyper central high-end shopping locations – like its Manhattan flagship overlooking the Plaza Hotel and Central Park. But due to Covid-19 the house closed all its stores in Europe and NYC on March 16.
Immediately after showing in Paris during the ready-wear season in early March both Probst and artistic director Christina Zeller went into a 15-day confinement on returning to Brussels. That has extended to nearly seven weeks at this stage.
However, Probst has taken coronavirus as an opportunity to accelerate the new digital direction.
“Delvaux was launched some 190 years ago, so this is quite a change in paradigm. In this respect, the situation is actually quiet helpful in a real transition project,” he argued.
Businesswise, like everyone, he is bracing for an extremely difficult year. Last year, Delvaux recorded annual turnover north 100 million euros. “Well, north is gone this year. The key is to try to do everything we can to protect that. As a small company we have to be managed like the good father of a family.”
Delvaux’s Paris flagship bears a building sign announcing upcoming renovations but these have obviously been put on hold. Though it is planning an opening in Shanghai end of year; and looking at Korea for next year. Delvaux stores have traditionally been classy yet eclectic, with blends of local furniture, design and art installations all part of the mix. The look is never really replicated. Which, leads to the question, how did they brief the site’s designers?
“We wanted Belgitude; surrealism and transparency for our clients,” Probst responds.
Founded in Brussels in 1829, Delvaux is the oldest fine leather luxury goods house in the world and the inventor of the modern handbag, having filed the first ever handbag patent in 1908.
On Friday, creative director Christina Zeller gets to reveal the latest miniature bag, which last year took in New York, with stars-and-stripes versions or others in NYC checkered taxi colors.
“We made them for each country where we opened a boutique. First for Belgium; then in the UK with Tim Walker, before New York, Hong Kong and now Italy, with three ideas – The Duomo, Arlecchino and the Motoretta,” explained Zeller.
Most consumers actually attach the miniatures to larger handbags like the classy Brillant group, or the ergonomic Cool Box choices. With her fertile imagination Zeller has developed a whole series of ideas that will roll out in drops this year. Like the next eye-catcher, a limited edition bag of just 1,000 examples.
Ten percent of the revenue from the sales will go to support the World Health Organization’s Solidarity Response Fund to Covid-19.
“We wanted to show the solidarity with those countries and to send a message of love and support with all these small pieces of art, that contain the craftsmanship and fantasy of Delvaux,” Zeller added.