PARIS – In September 2019, Au Départ held a presentation here to mark its relaunch, after the historic French brand, which had been dormant since the 1970s, had new backers and hired Gianfranco Maccarrone as managing director.
The revamp began with a series of itinerant retail experiences across Europe and the US, but COVID-19 soon led Maccarrone to alter the strategy he had in mind for the luxury trunk maker. .
“We focused more on the product and on positioning work,” the CEO said on Saturday, when the brand returned to the physical presentation format with a showcase in the majestic halls of the Hôtel de Crillon.
Regarding products, Maccarrone stressed that “our mission is not to create new styles, but rather to let our collections evolve and mature, with the aim of having pieces that can remain in the assortment for always.… We want to bring our archives to life, but little by little, and with an extremely contemporary approach, which for us goes through color.
Hence the series of collaborations the luxury luggage maker has inked over the past few months, each culminating in a new shade enriching the brand’s classic hue palette. A merger with the luxury hotel Byblos in Saint-Tropez offered a mandarin version of the brand’s monogrammed accessories, while the one with the mythical Orient Express train gave rise to a midnight blue capsule collection. Complementary operations, such as the development of a collection of pets for the Hôtel de Crillon, further contributed to increasing brand awareness, which ultimately benefited overall sales performance.
“And now we’re planning a new journey, with our next collaboration and a new color,” Maccarrone teased, without divulging any further details.
Meanwhile, red has already been ticked off the brand’s roster via the Fall 2022 collection, which was rendered in this hue to “telegraph a message of love and passion,” Maccarrone said.
The main styles in the range included tote bags in various sizes and made from the brand’s signature coated cotton canvas. “Travel has been interrupted, but not travel. There is always this frenetic life and our goal is to make products as light as possible. This is what women keep asking us,” the executive said.
Other signature designs included the functional and reversible Bercy tote; mini pouches in rectangular and hexagonal shapes, a nod to the brand’s trunk know-how and to the Dauphine model, a bucket style now rendered in a smaller format, winking at a younger consumer.
Reaching a new generation of customers and expanding audience demographics has been a key priority for Maccarrone. In addition to product versatility, the CEO stressed the importance of having more competitive prices against competitors in the market – which include Goyard, Moynat and Louis Vuitton – to appeal to a wider community. For example, mini bags have entry-level prices starting at $490, while the more expensive handbag options sell for around $5,000.
Still, Maccarrone sees great potential even at the other end of the spectrum, where big spenders can fulfill all their coffer fantasies with whimsical projects that lean into lifestyle and interior design concepts.
“We started with trunks, and that’s what we do. But we want to distinguish ourselves from what you can find elsewhere,” he said, explaining that these special pieces can carry classic products like wines, cigars and table games or more contemporary items, like DJ decks and video game consoles.
A collaboration with Bang & Olufsen for a series of these tech-conscious luxury products resulted in a trunk lined with a premium vinyl case and retailing for, say, 110,000 euros. Other options included a “desert theatre” trunk with foldable screen and projector or a more urban alternative, including a 43-inch Samsung TV, Apple TV, Sky TV and a playbar of Sonos speakers, which is sold fitted at 28,000 euros or can be personalized with or without the device at the request of the customer.
Custom product renderings are completed in just 48 hours, with final items delivered in 90-120 days, depending on the design. In addition to the original monogrammed coated cotton, which dates from the 1920s, the boxers can be made in a new jacquard fabric including reflective threads.
The bespoke part of the business – which attracts international clients, ranging from Dubai and Saudi Arabia to France and Hong Kong – is where Maccarrone pays aAll the skills he has acquired throughout his career, particularly in his previous role as CEO of Dsquared2.
“The attention to detail was manic at Dsquared2 and that’s something that’s definitely here too. Overall the approach I continue to use here is to work on 360 degree quality so no only in terms of products and distribution, but also focusing on the quality of people and collaborations. Projects like these are designed to improve the quality of life for customers, after all,” said Maccarrone.
Going forward, the company’s strategy is to further strengthen its business-to-consumer presence and resume exploring retail opportunities. Before the pandemic, the brand was looking to open a flagship store in Paris, but Maccarrone said he was also considering stores in South Korea and Japan, markets that have responded particularly well to the brand’s offering. The executive also cited the United States as the top market for online sales, along with the Middle East, Hong Kong and China as the top performers overall.