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April 17, 2009updated Feb 06, 2014

Daniel Lalonde

By Chris Boyle

Daniel Lalonde

President and CEO
Louis Vuitton North America

Your decades-old Louis Vuitton luggage may continue to accompany you beautifully on jaunts around the world—its craftsmen planned it that way. But there are many reasons to acquire a new piece or two of Louis Vuitton today. This spring, Daniel Lalonde, president and CEO of Louis Vuitton North America, met with Elite Traveler Editorial Director Laura Hughes at the magazine’s New York headquarters to talk about new collections coming to the 155-year-old French luxury brand. And clients who seek out truly exclusive or customized designs are going to love what he’s got in store. Bespoke timepieces and fine jewelry incorporating Louis Vuitton’s own cut of diamonds are among the new arrivals. And a reinvigorated in-store experience, commitment to a price/value equation, and an incomparable brand heritage are several more reasons Lalonde is well-positioned to serve today’s most demanding customers.

ET: As you take a look at your career thus far, what have been the high points and most significant moments?

Daniel Lalonde: One was attending business school in Paris, which opened a lot of doors both from a business point of view and to work internationally. It was the catalyst for embarking on an international career. Another was having the opportunity to build great brands, both from infancy and at more established points. I was with Nespresso from its infancy, and now I am with Louis Vuitton—an international brand that has been around since 1854. So the companies have been at very different stages of growth, but the brands are all iconic.

ET: Is luxury at a turning point, with a new definition emerging?

Daniel Lalonde: I think for us, it’s an interesting time. Brands that continue to do things consistently, and have a true heritage and DNA, represent value for consumers. It is more brand specific than industry specific. Brands that innovate, design, surprise their customers—brands with those traits will perform well in this market.

ET: Is Louis Vuitton seeing demand ebb or flow for products that display logos in a prominent way?

Daniel Lalonde: For us, when you talk about a logo, or the Damier pattern, or the monogram that dates back to 1898, they were not just recently invented. These symbols were born on our trunks. For us, these are a big part of our heritage that we reinterpret classically, and also through collaborations with artists like Richard Prince or Takashi Murakami to rejuvenate as a work of art as much as fashion. This makes them very relevant today. And, that is just one side of Louis Vuitton products. On many bags, ready-to-wear and other products, you will find only a very subtle logo. And the Mahina bag is so subtle—you cannot even see the logo—and it performs very well. We will continue to innovate and design for both domains.

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ET: Louis Vuitton has had a fine jewelry collection for several years. What innovations are coming to that category?

Daniel Lalonde: There is a lot of excitement around our high jewelry collection. We are working now with Lorenz Baumer, the Paris-based jewelry designer, who is reinterpreting our Les Ardentes collection. Les Ardentes means yearning, or a burning desire for something. And these styles, which include necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings, have at the center our own LV-cut diamonds. There are two unique cuts, and they are modeled on our flower motifs. There is only one person in the world who can cut them! The LV diamonds are more brilliant than other diamonds because they have up to 77 facets. Les Ardents pieces range from solitaires, in the mid- $30,000s, to $1.4 million for a necklace that features a four-carat diamond as its centerpiece. That necklace is fabulous. The 14 pieces are all one-of-a-kind, but we may remake some in a way that ensures no two are exactly the same. Viewing of these pieces is by appointment only. It really is very exciting, and it foreshadows the first full collection that Lorenz will do for Louis Vuitton, in the fall. That will be based more on his own inspirations. For the brand, the high jewelry is great because it is very exclusive, especially since the diamond cut is unique to us. Jessica Biel recently wore earrings and bracelets from Les Ardents to the Oscars.

ET: Is Louis Vuitton expanding its watch collection too?

Daniel Lalonde: Yes, the Tambour Mysterieuse is very unique as well. Its movement seems to float, since you don’t know where it is attached to the watch. And, it is custom tailored to every client. It features an eight-day power reserve, and will cost around $260,000. There will be very few of the timepieces made, and it will take 12 months from the time the order is placed until the watch is delivered to the client. Like Les Ardents, the Tambour Mysterieuse is very high end and not for everyone.

ET: In addition to beautiful products, how is a visit to a Louis Vuitton boutique a luxury experience today?

Daniel Lalonde: We are trying to elevate the customer experience constantly. Our customers want to be recognized, and for us to engage with them on an ongoing basis. We know who they are, and will try to match the products that come into the stores with what these customers like. We are also designing our stores more organically, into “universes.” So a men’s area is merchandised by mood, or according to various styles, rather than having all products displayed separately. A man walking into a store today compared to a couple of years ago is very different. So for him, eyewear, shoes, belts and accessories will be merchandised together in an area, in a way that shows how they can be put together. All of this starts with our employees. They display the best etiquette, and are the main ones delivering the great service. So now on top of this our stores are inviting, more residential feeling with couches in a lounge area, so our customers feel more at home and welcome.

ET: Through collaborations on collections, and even with special gallery exhibits, Louis Vuitton has been closely associated with artists. How do artists add to the retail experience in the U.S. stores?

Daniel Lalonde: There is not a standard for the stores. But the Fifth Avenue boutique often has different windows for art displays. Now they hold “Precious Cargo,” which includes Louis Vuitton products displayed in crates, and that ties back to our travel heritage. In Soho we had an artist collaboration with Stephen Sprouse. There is no rule of thumb, except that it all ties to our heritage. You’ll see these often at the 57th Street and 5th Avenue boutique, which is the most iconic location in the world.

ET: In this economy in particular, many luxury brands have turned to discounting. But Louis Vuitton famously never goes on sale. What is the philosophy behind the no-discount policy?

Daniel Lalonde: It means there has never been a better time to buy Louis Vuitton than today. We produce everything we sell—and we own all of the stores our products are sold in. We believe the craftsmanship behind every product we make is beyond compromise, from leather goods to eyewear. And so is the quality of our materials. So our policy not to discount is connected to the quality of our products. It’s important for customers to realize that when they buy a product from Louis Vuitton it will look good in five, 10 and 15 years. The value is transmitted to customers when they recognize the price-to-product value equation. It’s dangerous in the luxury space when a customer learns that a week later they could have purchased the same item at 70 percent off. It creates an issue in the customer’s mind of the value equation. Louis Vuitton represents timeless value.

ET: Have you taken any personal trips recently that left a great impression on you?

Daniel Lalonde: Last year, I went to Vietnam and Laos with my family. It was a two-week trip from Saigon, through the north, middle and south of Vietnam, followed by six days in Laos where we rode elephants into the jungle and went to extremely local events. Laos was particularly surprising because tourism is a recent development there, so it was so pristine and untouched, phenomenal. The part that stands out the most was spending six days with local people.

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