“Soft landing” and luxury’s “normalisation” are buzzwords for the fashion industry’s outlook in 2024. What people are really saying with those terms is that, in a market that could charitably be described as “challenging,” strong brands will float, and the rest will sink.
Some of fashion and beauty’s biggest companies report quarterly and full year results this week. The stories they tell should set the pace for the coming months. Here are the key results to watch out for:
Kering: Is the bottom in sight?
The French luxury conglomerate had a rough 2023, with both Gucci and Balenciaga experiencing a slump in sales, and even the once-reliable Saint Laurent slowing down. Sales fell 3 percent on a comparable basis in the first nine months of the year. The fourth quarter results (set to be announced Thursday) cut off just before Sabato De Sarno-era Gucci product hit stores, but executives will surely face questions about how the whole project is going. It’s an open question whether the mixed reception among fashion insiders and critics will be shared by ordinary shoppers, or if shoppers with less-adventurous taste will welcome the break from Alessandro Michele’s quirky vision. Balenciaga, too, is positioning itself for a comeback, with Exhibit A being the Kim Kardashian-fronted campaign unveiled last month. Kering’s timing for its big turnaround projects is less than ideal, as consumers are much more selective about luxury purchases than they were even six months ago. Investors will be looking for reassurance that Gucci and Balenciaga can still make the cut with choosy shoppers.
Want to know more about the state of the luxury consumer? Hermès, which has had an easier time managing luxury’s normalisation, also reports results this week. Between Hermès, Kering, Richemont and LVMH (who reported figures in January), we will have a more or less complete picture of how the space is performing.
Estée Lauder: What’s the recovery plan?
The American beauty giant has appeared rudderless for much of the last couple years, with sales declining in five consecutive quarters. The company’s problems boil down to selling the wrong product in the wrong places: travel retail and prestige beauty aren’t the booming categories they once were. Chief executive Fabrizio Freda indicated in November that recovery will be a long-term project. But another bad quarter could fuel speculation that his days in the top job are numbered.
Want to know more about who’s up and who’s down in the beauty market? Most of Estée Lauder’s biggest rivals also report this week, including L’Oréal, Coty and Shiseido. So does E.l.f. Beauty, the low-priced upstart that’s been running circles around its established competition.
Tapestry: Are American consumers still spending?
The US consumer is being watched with intense interest, as policy makers seek to pull off a soft landing from strong growth and high inflation. The sort of upper-middle-class customers targeted by accessible luxury brands are under even greater scrutiny, as many have cut back on nonessential spending due to inflation. A brand like Coach, with its range of price points, product and distribution channels, is therefore an excellent indicator of who’s still shopping, and where. Owner Tapestry has pulled off the seemingly impossible and made Coach a little bit cool again, allowing it to charge higher prices even as rivals fall back into old discounting habits. The company is in the process of buying one of those rivals, Michael Kors-owner Capri, in a deal expected to close later this year.
Want to know more about how accessible luxury is performing? Ralph Lauren, another brand dealing with many of the same challenges as Tapestry and Capri, also reports this week.
VF Corp.: Keeping the activist investors at bay
The clock is ticking on the Vans turnaround. VF Corp. was a model of brand management for many years, building The North Face, Vans and Timberland into global names in their respective categories. But the heat has cooled on much of the Denver-based company’s portfolio in recent years, especially at Vans, where consumers seem tired of the product. Executives say they’re moving fast to right the ship, but two activist investors are pushing for bigger, bolder changes. That said, management and activists could converge, as both sides say they are keen to cut costs and dump non-core brands. With another weak quarter expected and VF’s stock trading near a 15-year low, something has to change.
What to check in on another brand in never-ending turnaround? Under Armour has also been trying for years to recapture the magic it had in the early 2010s. Analysts aren’t expecting any miracles this quarter, however.
What Else to Watch for This Week
The Grammy Awards are held in Los Angeles
Estée Lauder reports results
Nykaa, VF Corp. and E.l.f. report results
Pandora, Coty report results
Kering, Under Armour, Tapestry, Ralph Lauren, L’Oréal and Capri report results
New York Fashion Week begins: Helmut Lang, Collina Strada, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Prabal Gurung, Willy Chavarria, Kim Shui, Tommy Hilfiger, Bach Mai
Shiseido and Hermès report results
Lunar New Year begins
NYFW: Badgley Mischka, Proenza Schouler, Eckhaus Latta, Anna Sui, Khaite, Fforme
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