At this year’s MARC Conference, undergrads heard from Wharton alum and Christian Lacroix CEO Nicolas Topiol on how he helped revive the luxury fashion house post-bankruptcy.

On November 5, undergraduate students gathered in the Perry World House for the annual Marketing, Advertising, and Retail Conference co-hosted by MUSE and Wharton Retail Club (WRC). For a day, they learned about international marketing, advertising, and retail strategies from high-profile speakers, and attended a networking lunch and career fair. 

Keynote speaker Nicolas Topiol, WG’91, CEO of Christian Lacroix, shared the four strategies he used to raise the luxury fashion house out of bankruptcy and back to success.

1. Changing the Company Structure

Topiol joined Lacroix in 2005. After noting several issues — ranging from HR to work culture to liquidity problems — Topiol decided to drastically alter the company’s structure in hopes to end its downward spiral. The company transitioned from a fully integrated entity to a licensing model, allowing other companies to borrow Lacroix designs in exchange for a percentage of revenue. 

This new structure provided many benefits. Because the company was no longer a single entity, operation costs were spread out and the licensees created a large footprint for the brand. One common licensing pitfall is brand dilution, but Lacroix maintained its brand identity by making sure licensees adhered to a comprehensive brand book and strict style guide. The transition saved the company. 

2. Pursuing Fresh Collaborations

In 2016, Lacroix revisited a decade-old collaboration with water bottle brand Evian, customizing the packaging with the staple Lacroix designs. Although Lacroix faced criticism in the brand’s home country of France when the collaboration was first released, Topiol knew from his time abroad that Evian would help Lacroix establish a presence in new markets.

“Put a brand where people don’t expect it,” Topiol advised. 

Designing custom labels for Evian gave “a piece of the dream” to people who had never experienced the luxury brand before. The collaboration was the first of its kind, and its success spurred similar luxury collaborations. 

3. Owning Consumer Experiences

Unlike their competitors, Lacroix doesn’t have a large budget to invest in advertising. Topiol takes a different approach, focusing on ways the brand can touch consumers’ lives. 

“We try to think about and engage in other strategies instead of traditional advertising and marketing. That’s one way of keeping ourselves relevant,” he said. “Experiences are becoming more and more relevant, so how can we play into this as a brand?”

For example, after the Evian collaboration, Lacroix designed holiday packaging for Valrhona chocolates, as well as ornaments for Neiman Marcus Christmas tree displays. “That’s really how I build the brand,” Topiol said. “I want to be there at every stage of your life.” 

4. Constant Innovation

Topiol approved the release of Lacroix’s home and lifestyle goods with the belief that the brand’s strong DNA and designs would be able to transcend product lines. Topiol said he was thinking of opportunities for expansion. “Because we have all those products, how do we go into more hotel work, restaurant work, and contract work like interior design?”

Innovation was the driving factor behind every strategic decision in his keynote. “I always try to think about what’s next and never take anything for granted. Business is moving so fast now and you need to make sure that you don’t stand still and not think about the future.”

— Erin Lomboy, W’21

Posted: January 8, 2020

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