Reflections from the 6th Annual HBS Retail & Luxury Goods Conference (Featuring Christian Siriano!!!!)

Thank you to Christina for sharing her papparazi-style photos!

Before I can write coherently, I need to get this out of my system: I met Christian Siriano!!!! Yes, the Project Runway winner himself has officially graced the HBS campus with all of his fierceness and I'm in love. Now, if I'm being totally honest, I did actually root for his competitor, Ramy, the whole season he was on PR, but totally admit that Christian (and his designs) deserved the win. And he is so fabulous in person! Ahhh, I'm starstruck! Hahaha...

Ok, now for real:
I was pleasantly surprised by this year's Luxury Goods conference and would actually rank it as my second favorite of the year (with Marketing & CPG first, but then again, I did help organize that one so I'm entirely biased). I actually stayed for the entire conference (shocking since I normally leave after lunch) and found both panels and both keynotes to be very interesting and insightful.

In summary, the first keynote was Terry Lundgren, the CEO of Macy's (and P-S, he looks like a movie star) who talked mostly about the growth in their department stores and their new model of customer-centric thinking. Some highlights:
  • There are currently 810 Macy's and 40 Bloomingdale's in the US, and last year, the company opened their first international store -- a Bloomie's in Dubai.
  • The company earned $23.5 billion in revenues last year, with 70% of transactions from women (no surprise there).
  • The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is the third most watched television show in the US (next to the Superbowl and the Oscars).
  • In Feb. 2010, Macy's stock price was up 21.7% as compared to just 8.1% for Saks and 5.7% for Nordstrom.

So basically, they're doing well and hoping to continue that streak by playing to the individuality of consumers (through the My Macy's initiative) at multiple price points.

From there, I attended the "E-Commerce: Creating Compelling Online Shopping Experiences" panel that featured Rachel Shechtman, the Founder of Cube Ventures, Maria Renz, the VP of, Darcy Penick, the Divisional Merchandising Managing at and Mark Weinberg, the SVP of Strategic Planning at The conversation focused mostly on the concept of "flash sales" (with Gilt and RueLaLa as examples) and how competitive shopping is transforming the design landscape. One fact that I found interesting was that even among men's products, women are still the primary purchaser. We also talked a lot about the difference between "low prices" and "great values" in the industry.

The second panel that I attended was called "Luxury for the Masses" and featured the one and only Christian Siriano, plus Luann Via, the President & CEO of Payless Shoes, Adrian Gill, the VP of International Footwear at Puma, Rob Deeming, the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Gilt Groupe and Daria Burke, the Manager of Consumer Insights and Customer Experience at Rent the Runway.

To be totally frank, I think I only fully listened when Christian was talking. I was too consumed by staring at him fuss with his hair, glasses or magenta blouse the rest of the time. My bad. But, alas, a few interesting tidbits about his new line at Payless!

  • It's currently selling in 400-500 of Payless' 4,000 stores (so only a 10% penetration, not sure why...) and a customer can purchase the entire collection of shoes and accessories for $400.
  • His inspiration to do the line was to reach a larger portion of his fan base who want a piece of his brand but can't afford his high-end couture designs.
  • Payless will soon be adding beauty products to their line (unrelated to Christian, but still interesting).

Finally, the day concluded with a very inspirational speech by the CEO of Gucci, Patrizio di Marco. Patrizio called the luxury goods industry "a world of selling dreams," and stated that when he first got into business, "I really couldn't stand all the math." Patrizio also recounted the story of his life and the intermingling of his career progression from moving to Japan at age 19, where he had to learn both Japanese and English, to rebuilding the Bottega Veneta brand in 2001 to now leading the largest and most recognized luxury brand in the world (Gucci). Apparently, the company amassed $900 million in profits last year (on $4.6 billion in revenues) and continue to debut seven new collections every year (a new collection approximately every 1.5 months).

Overall, I enjoyed myself, and although I'm not pursuing a career in the luxury goods/fashion industry, I appreciated the panelists' wisdom (and LOVED the goodie bag, which included four full-size perfumes, a Gucci coin purse, a Macy's gift card, a free subscription to Harper's Bazaar and more!).

Now it's time to prepare for tonight's EMC Oscar Party! See you later!

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