For Isabel Marant, the new year brings with it a new look.
On Monday, the French label will unveil a new brand identity, complete with a new logo and updated packaging designed by New York-based British art director Peter Miles, who has worked with brands ranging from Marc Jacobs and Celine to Proenza Schouler. .
The changes to the logo’s font are relatively subtle – not an “earthquake,” as Marant says, but rather an evolution that signals the next chapter of the brand that began in 1994.
“It was to explain the new era we’re entering,” she told BoF in an interview.
Bigger changes are happening behind the scenes. With just under €300 million ($323 million) in annual sales last year, Marant, which has been majority-owned by Paris-based private equity firm Montefiore since 2016, is no longer the brand sometimes barely sought after by fashion insiders. capturing the nonchalant Parisian style.
The brand is on track to reach 500 million euros in revenue within four years, said CEO Anouck Duranteau-Loeper, who joined the company from Paco Rabanne in 2016 after leading the leather goods business at Céline and working on strategy at LVMH company. In recent years, Marant has opened dozens of stores and, on the product side, launched men’s clothing and expanded the range of accessories to include glasses, jewelry and leather bags.
Marant has had successes, most recently its £695 Oskan Moon bag, which has become a popular new hero style since its debut in December. However, it stumbled early in the pandemic, struggling as a small brand in a market dominated by several giants to overcome the turbulence that came with the onset of Covid-19. Montefiore tried to sell the brand a year ago. (Now the firm says it is flexible about leaving).
Marant and the brand’s CEO Anouck Duranteau-Loeper say the brand has reached a new level of maturity in the past five years, after bringing on Paris-based private equity firm Montefiore as a majority investor in an effort to accelerate growth in 2016.
Now it wants to signal to its customers and the industry that the brand is ready to play at a higher level. New products, new stores, and yes, a new logo are all part of this grand plan.
“With all the changes we’ve made, it makes sense to change the logo as well,” said artistic director Kim Bekker, a longtime collaborator of Marant’s who returned to the company in 2021 after a brief stint at Saint Laurent. “It really validates all the growth the company has gone through over the last two years.”
However, realizing the next stage of growth will not be easy. The brand’s recent success has come during an almost unprecedented boom in luxury spending. It will have to execute its next phase as the industry enters a period of uncertainty. Positioned at the affordable end of the luxury segment, Isabel Marant remains relatively small, with revenues in the billions generated by the biggest luxury players. This makes it more vulnerable if an economic downturn causes middle-class consumers to cut back on their spending.
Still, the business performed better than expected in 2022, both in terms of revenue and earnings growth, said Guillaume Leglise, vice president and chief analyst at ratings and research firm Moody’s Investor Service. In January last year, Moody’s raised the brand’s credit rating to B2 with a stable outlook. That’s still below investment grade, but it suggests that Marant’s financial prospects are better than they were two or three years ago.
“The brand position is well oriented, it resonates very well with customers despite all the current challenges,” said Leglise. “The numbers show that the brand is very successful.”
Isabel Marant carved a niche for herself with fashionable yet wearable designs that embodied the cool French girl aesthetic. In the 2000s and early 2010s, the elevated look of sweaters, wedge sneakers and bohemian dresses with rock became widely popular among consumers and fueled the independent brand’s rapid growth. Many retailers stocked the brand’s flagship line and its sister label Isabel Marant Etoile at the current price. The collaboration with H&M in 2013 was a blockbuster.
“There has always been a consistent vision for the brand that reflects Isabel’s personal style,” said Rickie de Sole, director of women’s fashion and editorial director at Nordstrom. “The collection often radiates a joyful and optimistic embrace of life, our customers can easily see themselves in it.”
For years, Marant was content to fly somewhat under the radar (in the early days, part of the brand’s appeal to insiders was that it wasn’t so easy to find outside of its home market). But soon the space occupied by Marant became more crowded. Fast-fashion players imitated the French girl aesthetic, cheaper French names like Sandro and Zadig and Voltaire expanded beyond their home market, and direct-to-consumer brands like Sezane and Rouje appeared on the scene.
It is a strong brand in terms of consumer love. It’s a lover’s brand, so it’s a brand that can create very strong loyalty without being a pure luxury player.
In 2016, Marant sold a 51 percent stake in its company to Montefiore, receiving a cash injection as well as a strategic partner with expertise to help grow the business.
Even then, it wasn’t easy sailing. The Covid-19 pandemic briefly derailed growth plans, with sales down 13 percent in 2020. Last year, Montefiore explored leaving the company after five years. But despite “strong interest from various parties,” it put the plans on hold because of an uncertain market following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Montefiore President Eric Bismuth said. (The firm is “very flexible about the timing” of a future exit, Bismuth said.) But the brand has bounced back faster than expected.
“It’s impressive because it’s not a high-end luxury brand, so it doesn’t have that irrational sentiment to buy it,” said Celia Friedman, managing director of the luxury division at strategy consultancy Publicis Sapient. “But it’s a strong brand in terms of consumer love. It’s a lover’s brand, so it’s a brand that can create a very strong one [loyalty] without being a pure luxury player.”
Part of Isabel Marant’s success lies in the fact that the brand is well diversified for a brand of its size, both product-wise and geographically, Friedman said. A well-balanced distribution strategy also helped, she added. The brand has grown from nine stores in 2016 to 73 today, although it continues to use wholesale. Together, the two channels provide decent global exposure while “still remaining very curated,” according to Duranteau-Loeper.
On the product side, the addition of leather goods to the offering and the build-out of additional accessories contributed to the growth, with the category now accounting for 30 percent of sales. Marant and her team repositioned the Etoile line to complement rather than cannibalize core sales.
Initially, Etoile was a proposition in its own right, offering buyers a path to the brand at a lower price, Marant explained. It is now presented as a more casual offering aimed at holiday and weekend dressing.
“There’s a difference in the price tag because there’s a difference in the nature of the product,” Duranteau-Loeper said. “You’d buy your denim from Etoile and you’d buy your luxe, glittery dress or leather from Isabel Marant.”
In the future, we will focus on taking care of men’s clothing, which was renamed Marant as part of the rebranding. The plan is to expand its footprint of menswear stores by opening branches in key cities around the world, adding to the two stand-alone stores currently in Paris. The ambition is to grow menswear to drive 10 to 15 percent of sales, up from 5 percent now, Duranteau-Loeper said.
Internal forecasts suggest the brand is on track to reach the €500 million mark within the next four years. Competition for consumers’ attention will only intensify if a recession hits. While luxury shoppers are more insulated from economic turbulence, they still tend to be pickier in times of economic uncertainty, gravitating toward high-end, big-name brands that can be seen as a better investment.
Meanwhile, Isabel Marant remains a niche brand in a fragmented industry, Moody’s Leglise said. Brands that follow ready-to-wear rooted in a very specific aesthetic are finding it increasingly difficult to stay relevant.
“For this kind of brand … you really need to have the right collection at the right time, have the right product to maintain the appeal of the brand,” he said. “If you start to miss him [the mark on] collection, things can go wrong quickly.’
Still, Marant’s typical French style je ne sais quoi still has a strong appeal. The global appetite for French luxury shows no signs of slowing, Publicis Sapient’s Friedman said, while Marant’s DNA is more rooted in culture and female empowerment rather than a specific look that gives the brand’s codes longevity.
“‘French-girl cool’ is more about style and energy than a specific look,” said Nordstrom’s De Sole. “Trends are constantly evolving, but the desire to feel confident and carefree with a halo of shine will always be relevant.”