Vuitton CEO Pietro Beccari on managing talent, briefing Pharrell, and what’s next at LV
Pietro Beccari's fifth-floor office overlooks Pont Neuf, which is where we met the Louis Vuitton CEO shortly before Pharrell Williams’ debut show to consider picking and managing talent, briefing the Grammy winner, needing a thick skin and what’s next for luxury’s biggest marque.
As we speak, groups of staffers – chosen by lot – have gathered outside on the office balconies of Pietro and the house’s women’s wear designer Nicolas Ghesquière to view the mega show. Below the famed bridge is painted gold, Lang Lang is ready to perform with an orchestra of 50, and gospel choir of 80, with scores of stars arriving.
It’s an emotional moment for Beccari, a hard-charging exec who has already headed up LVMH’s two other biggest fashion brands – Fendi and Dior. He’s taken a mega, but calculated, bet that Williams, a global music star and brilliant producer but a relative design neophyte unschooled in fashion, is the right man to helm the men’s department of Vuitton, the central strategic equation in LVMH. It also marks a return for Beccari – seeing as he held senior positions at Vuitton from 2006 and 2012.
Beccari remains a curious blend of supreme self-assurance and restless Italian intensity, blessed with a remarkable track record. He is probably the most successful executive in luxury in the past two decades – in terms of revenue growth, brand building, global expansion and talent management.
So, dressed in his classic uniform of trim black suit and light cashmere sweater, Beccari sat down with FashionNetwork.com for an open discussion on his first 100 days at Vuitton.
FashionNetwork.com: Why did you chose Pharrell?
Pietro Beccari: Why not? After Virgil (Abloh, his predecessor) and his incredible departure, I don’t think I could have chosen a traditional designer. I needed someone who was more connected to the arts, who could touch the hearts of people through music and fashion but also collaborations. It’s the first time someone has had the courage to pick a real worldwide star to helm a house. He has 13 Grammys and Oscar nominations. Whatever Pharrell touches becomes gold. So, as a creative director, it’s an experiment but not a risky one. To be honest, when I was still at Dior, in my mind the designer Vuitton should hire was already Pharrell.
You know, I wrote my first text message on December 22, spoke to Pharrell on the 23rd, and on February 14 we had signed the contract. Since then, he has never left Paris. He is here in the office at 9.30AM and rarely leaves before 9PM. And loving what he does. I think you will see a fantastic collection. You judge for yourselves. I am very proud of it.
On one side we have Nicolas Ghesquière who is probably one of the most incredible designers of today. On the other, someone who has not trained in the school of design. A guy who goes by instinct. He didn’t go to music school either, but he won 13 Grammys. So, if you apply the same mathematics, we are in good shape!
These two facets - a real designer and someone coming from a different origin - are a perfect mix for a brand that has to cover 72 countries and 450 stores creating beautiful products but also telling beautiful stories.
FN: What did you think when you first met Pharrel back in 2008?
PB: I saw especially a great human being to be honest. I think he saw in me – maybe not a great human being - but someone who came from a small town, and both of us found ourselves with similar stories. Tonight, is an emotional moment for us both. Pharrell is an authentic man, a rather humble man, with not a great ego, but a great instinct and a huge creative mind.
Vuitton has always put on great shows, so it’s a continuity. People expect Vuitton to speak to many different clients. The idea is that we appeal to some people who never thought that Vuitton had anything for them. Tonight will not be forgotten anytime soon.
FN: How do you manage a star, who is 50 and on top of his game?
PB: I am also 55 and on top of my game! (chuckles) There is really a balance that you must find. I have managed talent before. I have had the chance to work with legends – Karl Lagerfeld, Silvia Fendi and Marc Jacobs, before Maria Grazia Chiuri and Kim Jones at Dior.
Now I come to Pharrell, and I also have thick skin. It’s a game between each wanting to do our own job. At the end of the day, you must lose some battles, and make some compromises to get to the point where you set the direction. This part is full of difficulties, but it is what builds relationships. With all the people I mentioned before I always emerged stronger.
FN: Vuitton is so big how do you make it even bigger?
PB: That is the challenge. I inherited a fantastically managed brand and now I have to take it higher. It has set records and it’s no secret that we are at €20 billon. When I accepted the challenge of coming here, I was fully aware of the importance of Vuitton for the family and the LVMH stock. I accepted because it has a huge potential.
FN: You have a reputation of giving quite a lot of creative freedom to the designers with whom you worked. What brief did you give Pharrell?
FB: My brief was that we are in the period after Covid where people dress up a bit more. So, maybe instill the idea that Vuitton has also the mastery of tailoring - a dandy man who is somewhat more elegant and a silhouette that is less large and closer to your body. But that was not difficult, because that is him. I didn’t need a big brief. He feels the responsibility of carrying a commercial weight – we are here to deliver results. Victory is not an option, but a must.
FN: Despite some brilliant shows and storytelling, ready-to-wear at Vuitton has never grown to be as large a business proportionally as at other runway brands. Not taking up so much real estate in your stores. Do you expect to change that with Pharrell?
PB: I think ready-to-wear is already very important. I won’t say figures, but if you look in our stores – the average size is 1,500 to 2,000 meters – and ready-to-wear has plenty of space to express incredible ideas. Anyway, you have to present a wardrobe to clients. And advertising is also incarnated by a ready-to-wear silhouette.
FN: At Fendi and Dior you always spoke of harnessing brand power, like with multiple pop-ups. What can we expect at Vuitton?
PB: Listen, I came four months ago from Dior. And since then, we have done three shows in four months – Paris, Korea and now Pont Neuf. I think my strategy is quite clear. We are going to be loud and present in the great cities of the world. That says a lot. I like to put intensity on an organization and a lot of ideas. It’s been a very busy 100 days. But yes, Vuitton’s brand power allows it a certain fantasy that others probably cannot imagine.
FN: Does Pharrell live in Paris?
PB: Yes, and he loves Paris and has found here great creativity in music which surprised him. Paris inspires him, we will see that for sure in his next album. About 90% of it has been composed right here in Paris from this same view! Pharrell has his fitting and recording studio right beside each other. He goes back and forth between the two!
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