Posted : 2010-05-04 17:41
Updated : 2010-05-04 17:41

Fading foreign brands recycled

A Louis Quatorze flagship shop in Cheongdam-dong. / Korea Times

Some of them being exported to countries of origin

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Staff reporter

In the 1980s, brands like MCM and Louis Quatorze were everywhere, but soon faded into obscurity in the global market. Both brands practically follow the same story, as they thrived as licensed brands in Korea before being acquired by Korean companies.

After a rebirth, MCM and Louis Quatorze are currently, undeniably the top handbag and fashion accessories brands in department stores in Korea, and now they are making a bid to comeback in the global market.

High-profile businesswoman Kim Sung-joo acquired MCM, originally a German brand that stood for Michael Cromer Munich, in 2005. Kim was the license holder for MCM in Korea for many years. After acquiring MCM, she breathed new life into the stodgy brand, making it hip and trendy for a younger generation.

Renamed as Mode Creation Munich, MCM is expanding to Asia, Europe and the U.S., with global sales in 2009 reaching $250 million.

MCM handbags, which are quite popular among Korean college students and working women, range from around 400,000 won ($350) to as much as 13 million won for a rare crocodile skin bag. It is being positioned as a functional luxury brand, priced between Burberry and Louis Vuitton.

``MCM is newly launched as a modern luxury, which means it is targeted more for the career women, not just the `bling bling' buyers, but functional, value-driven buyers,'' Kim said, during an appearance on CNBC's Power Lunch last month.

In the U.S., MCM handbags are now being sold in Bloomingdale's and Fred Segal, at a stand-alone boutique at the Plaza Hotel and have even been featured on popular TV show ``Gossip Girl.'' Its New York collection was designed by Joy Gryson, a former accessories design director at Marc Jacobs.

If MCM is focusing on New York, Louis Quatorze is trying to regain a foothold in France. The fashion accessories brand, named after Louis XVI, traces its roots in Versailles and has been around for 30 years.

Taejin International CEO and president Jeon Yong-jun told The Korea Times that his goal is to build the brand from scratch in France. ``We are the only fashion company in the world to acquire a French brand and start again in Paris,'' he said.

Louis Quatorze opened a flagship store in the fashionable Marais district in Paris, and is hoping to be sold in department stores in European cities soon. ``Once we have established a reputation there, we can enter other Asian markets and North American market. It all depends on the success in the French and European markets,'' Y.S. Kwon, Taejin's chief operating officer, told The Korea Times.

Like MCM, Taejin held the Louis Quatorze license for Korea since 1990, but in 2005, Jeon decided to buy the brand. ``As a licensee, we couldn't make a proper investment to raise brand awareness because after we invest in all the marketing, what if the licensor takes the brand back? But now it is our own brand so we can invest in it freely in the local market,'' Kwon said.

The company's investment has paid off, as Louis Quatorze has been experiencing significant growth this year. In the first four months of the year, same store sales have grown 50 percent compared to last year, attributed to the company's branding efforts and effective marketing.

The old Louis Quatorze designs were very conservative, but the new designs are trendy, colorful and target fashionable young women in their 20s and 30s.

``We value customer loyalty more than anything. We want to provide our customers with maximum value by providing high quality products, and the best designs at affordable prices... A lot of European luxury brands have astronomical prices, which is not right for the majority of customers. We shouldn't overcharge,'' Kwon said.

Louis Quatorze handbags start at 300,000 won and can run up to a million won, especially for the exclusive Paris Collection. ``We provide a product with the same quality as a Louis Vuitton or other European luxury brands at half the price or less than half the price,'' Kwon added.

Louis Quatorze is still playing catch-up with MCM and DAKS, who are the top two brands in department stores. But Taejin officials are confident Louis Quatorze will overtake DAKS and become No. 2 by the end of the year.

``The DAKS label has been around for 40 years and they fail to refresh the brand. It was much bigger than us in the past, but we have narrowed the gap. By the end of the year, our sales will be larger than DAKS. Now, we're ready to be No. 2. We'd rather be a safe No. 2 than a shaky No. 1,'' Kwon said.
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