Two Hearts Beat As One

Donald Trump wants to create jobs, Bernard Arnault is willing to employ. Which other two high-profile men are a better match?


The men Oct 2019Donald Trump, Louis Vuitton’s CEO Michael Burke, and Bernard Arnault. Photo: Jonathon Ernst/Reuters

In Texas, US president Donald Trump and LVMH’s chief executive Bernard Arnault recently met. We don’t know if this was a frequent occurrence, but this time, as it turns out, it’s a pairing made in deal makers’ heaven. The two came together to open Louis Vuitton’s latest factory, a reported USD50-million initial investment, according to BOF, sited in cattle-grazing Alvarado of rural Texas. Both men, interestingly, were accompanied by their favourite adult child.

This is a curious time to so publicly announce a business move and a pairing between one of France’s most storied brands and the United States’ most divisive president. Consumers, luxury and mass, are becoming more willing to know the political standing of brands or pointedly ask, “Whose side are you on?”. We are still fresh from the Tweets of an NBA general manager, whose support of the on-going Hong Kong political protests have upset Chinese sports fans and the general audience alike, as well as the unceasing inability of fashion brands to get the status of Hong Kong and Taiwan in relation to mainland China (Dior, the latest with a supposed faux pas) right. If optics matter these days, is there really a need for the world to see the “the divider-in-chief” and “the wolf in cashmere coat” in action or aligned?

AlvaradoThe star marks where Alvarado is in the state of Texas. Illustration:

Even more curious is the need to make such a major announcement in what is arguably Trumpian turf. The media quoted Mr Arnault saying in his opening remarks that “this shows two commitments: One, the commitment of LVMH to the American market (which is said to be 25% of its entire business, or USD10 billion annually), and two, the commitment of President Trump to the American worker”. While that is possibly all true and a strategically prudent move on the part of LVMH, it is not yet clear what the association with this particular part of the US, known for very little, will bring to LV. Even the agricultural and industrial base of this 12.5km² of a city have been variously described as “modest”.

Apart from tax breaks and opportunity to meet Donald Trump (and “beautiful” Ivanka Trump), what branding benefits can Alvarado bring to the maker of the Speedy? We’re told that all products—namely leather goods from imported than local hide-will be stitched with the Made in U.S.A. label. This may augment the appeal of Kate Spade, which, FYI, is mostly made in many countries outside the United States, but for a French brand that prides in its French heritage, the advantage is not yet clear, even when the 100,000-square-foot factory goes by the French-sounding Rochambeau Ranch (renamed from the grassroots-Texan Rockin’ Z). Interestingly, Rochambeau is a fashion label, based in New York. Sure, some LV bags are already made in the US. The company has, in fact, two other facilities there and, according to The New York Times, have been producing, in the last 30 years, about half the bags sold in the US, such as the Métis and the Noé. But are these fashion goods as coveted as the Hermès Birkin?

LV NeonoeAn iteration of the ‘classic’ LV Noé bag. Photo: Louis Vuitton

In the media reports that followed the Alvarado contact, photos of the three key men showed Mr Trump holding up what appeared to be the LV Néonoé monogram canvas bag (priced at S$2,190). It is based on what the brand calls “a true House classic”—the bucket-style Noé (or Noah in French; hence, Néonoé is the new Noah) that first appeared in 1932, when a champagne house (we don’t know if it was Moët et Chandon, or simply Moët, and the ‘M’ in LVMH) reached out to the luggage/bag maker to create a carrier that would be able to hold champagne bottles. The rest, as it can be said, is history. However, despite its impressive backstory, we are not certain that the Néonoé is a bag that emanates fashion cred, such as that inherent in the Twist or Dauphine. Or, will there be a KOL-effect: more people will find it appealing because the Donald has held one?

Like the Neverfull, the Néonoé strains when considered as the height of chic; its omnipresence hampers the ‘classic’ tag, too. But perhaps Rochambeau Ranch is not concerned with the making of bags only a few would purchase. They are in America to produce for a largely American audience, which likely prefers bags as challenging as Michael Kors’. How that can underscore LV’s European craft traditions and, as a result, justify its retail price is, at the moment, anyone’s guess. Try as we shall, it won’t be easy to imagine LV products coming out of their newest American factory in Alvarado more appealing than those emerging from their newest French facility in Beaulieu-sur-Layon. Snob appeal is really not the Lone Star State.