The Effects of the Economic Crisis on the Luxury Brand Market

Marketing Strategies for Luxury Goods "Made in Italy"

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2014

44 Pages




1.1 The concept of luxury
1.2 The supply and demand of luxury goods
1.3 Luxury and Made in Italy

2.1 The market of luxury goods during the crisis years
2.2 The trend of Italian companies in the luxury goods industry
2.3 Beyond the crisis: new markets and new strategies

3.1 The areas of business: a changing environment
3.2 The kickbacks of the international financial crisis
3.3 Getting past the crisis: creativity, cost containment and the LVMH factor




Articles and Papers


In the past few years, specifically after the outbreak of the financial crisis of 2008, the luxury industry has been at the center of interest for not only economists, but also mass media that dedicate a lot of attention to a category of companies that apparently do not have to face the crisis and keep expanding in terms of profit and the breaking into new markets in emerging countries. This interest is particularly vibrant in Italy, because starting in 2010 the country was hit in a very violent way by the financial and economic global crisis, while the companies in its luxury industry seemed to record a trend opposite to the rest of the world.

The primary interest of this project starts from here, from the apparent virtues that seem to distinguish Italian luxury brands. I wanted, first of all, to understand until which point this commonplace actually has to do with the matter of fact and I chose the Bvlgari brand for my research case study, a brand that is the recent victim of an absorption operation by the French tycoon LVMH. Basically, I found that the Bvlgari matter is characterized by two apparently contradicting aspects: the economic expansion during the crisis, except a small negative window that lasted a few months between 2009 and 2010 and the externalization of property. This is at the core of the questions raised by the research: What are the characteristics of the Bvlgari group expansion? How solid was this growth and what were the critical aspects? The answer to these questions does not only help us to understand the last chapter in the history of the famous jewelry producers from Rome, which is the LVMH absorption, but also until which point does luxury represent an industry sector able to prosper even when all other product categories are going through a serious crisis.

The research obviously had to start with the correct understanding of the concept of luxury goods and the fundamental characteristics of the demand and the offer in this product category. The research then focused on the Italian market, clarifying what role the luxury sector plays in the national economy and until what point the concepts of luxury and made in Italy coincide. The second chapter analyzes the backlash of the global financial crisis on the luxury industry, with particular attention given to companies present in the stock exchange market. The comparison between the general trend of companies that produce luxury goods and that of Italian companies has allowed us to measure the economic impact caused by the peculiar Italian model in the luxury industry, quite different from the French. Then highlighted were the main strategies implemented by the most famous global brands to combat the crisis, emphasizing those that proved successful and those that were penalized by the market. The last chapter focuses on the Bvlgari case, summarizing the history of the brand, with particular attention to the decades in which the company implemented a determined internationalization and diversification process. The characteristics of the Bvlgari groupâ€s expansion and the companyâ€s trend in the crucial period between 2008 and 2010 makes up the focus of the last part of the research. In this part, you can find the explanation provided by CEO Francesco Trapani following the sale of the brand, closing a very important chapter in the glorious history of Bvlgari.

For my research, I made use of different sources: from the papers of influential sociologists and economists that worked on the concept of luxury and the characteristics of the demand and the supply for products in this category, to reports published by the Altagamma group, with the help of the Bocconi University in Milan, on the trend of luxury companies present in the stock exchange market, to the financial statements made available online by Bvlgari. Extremely valuable were newspapers, like Il Sole 24 Ore, that give the opportunity to freely examine their digital archives; this source allowed me to at least partly understand the debate among experts, surrounding the characteristics of the luxury market, but also the industryâ€s trend in these times of crisis, the specific Italian case and the meaning that can be given to the phenomenon of externalization of property that most famous Italian brands have experienced in recent years.


1.1 The concept of luxury

Throughout time, strongly inconsistent judgments, almost diametrically conflicting, have been built around the concept of luxury. This term, in fact, refers to both, the idea of exclusivity and the much less positive concept of excess. For some consumers, luxury goods are strongly desirable, as well as complicated or impossible to obtain, while for others they represent the symbol of squandering, in a society already thought to give much value to what is ephemeral and superfluous[1].

Said discrepancies in judgment, however, go hand in hand with largely convergent views when it comes to defining the characteristics of luxury goods. Ever since ancient and medieval times, when a strongly symbolic and mystical place, such as the East, was associated to this category of goods and products such as spices and silk and gold, luxury goods were considered to be objects characterized by a high price and quality, which only a limited part of the population can benefit from.

With the rise of mass societies, starting at the end of the eighteen hundreds in the Anglo-Saxon world, or during the first half of the following century in continental Europe, the quality-price binomial is no more enough to accurately narrow the category of luxury products. The definitions of luxury have then multiplied and ramified, involving different disciplines of knowledge, such as sociology, psychology, and obviously economy. Some scholars decided to condense the definitions provided by experts in these different disciplines, and so a definition of the category of luxury products has emerged that has the merit of being synthetic, exhaustive and sufficiently agreed on by the scholars, all at the same time: besides possessing excellent quality and a high price, luxury goods can be distinguished by their aesthetic characteristics in terms of design and creativity, their rarity and reference to a tradition of exclusivity as well[2].

If these are the principal characteristics of luxury articles, then it becomes clear that the emotional element plays a primary role in the motivation to buy the products. As far back as 1899, the American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen believed that the purchase of luxury products was motivated first and foremost by the desire of the leisure class, a term which he used to define a class that was essentially unproductive, in contrast to that of technicians and manufacturers who had the merit of taking society forward, by dedicating their resources to the production of necessary or at least useful goods for the community, of flaunting their wealth, status and power[3]. From this perspective, luxury articles are a particular category of goods known as Veblen, which have the distinguishing feature that they become more desirable as their price goes up.

Approximately half a century later, in 1950, American economist Harvey Leibenstein identified a triple motivation for the purchase of goods of superior category: the Veblen effect, linked to the need for flaunting oneâ€s wealth; the snob effect, that is to say the will to own something that is extremely rare to differentiate from the masses; and finally the bandwagon effect, according to which a consumer is pushed to the purchase of a specific product due to the desire of being accepted by a certain social group[4].

These considerations obviously do not completely cover the whole set of motivations that can bring a consumer to buy a luxury good; if anything, we must keep focusing on “those theories related to hedonistic consumerism, according to which the purchase of luxury goods is not motivated by extrinsic factors, but rather by intrinsic reasons”[5]. Anyway, the forms of luxury consumption intended for ostentation prominently highlight the fact that there is a set of very diversified products at the heart of the matter. In fact, it is evident that an article so rare that it can be considered as one of a kind, cannot be bought under the bandwagon effect.

Today a distinction in three parts of the category of luxury articles is in fact commonly accepted, based on some key parameters such as price, rarity, and quality. In the first place we have unique goods, almost comparable to a work of art as they are the result of an artisan work process; as for the astronomical cost that characterizes them, they represent inaccessible luxury. There are then limited products, built through precise craft techniques and with top quality material; they represent intermediate luxury. A fitting example of this category is a Ferrari, different from unique goods because it is produced in bulk, even though it can be customized to meet the buyerâ€s specifications. Finally, we have accessible luxury, which includes a whole group of products produced in bulk, set apart from similar articles not classifiable under “luxury because of their high quality and price”[6]. This last category of products, precisely because it is relatively accessible, is characterized by a much less rigid demand in respect to the demand associated with unique or limited articles; and therefore offers the biggest possibility of development for the luxury industry.

1.2 The supply and demand of luxury goods

Luxury goods, as known, make up a group of goods with very rigid demand. Traditionally, this rigidness is related to the factor of income, according to a very simple bipolar scheme for which rich people have access to this world of products while the poor do not. It is true that at the end of the eighteen hundreds already, when the economist Veblen was publishing, the process of industrialization taking place in continental Europe and in the Anglo-Saxon world was broadening the range of people that could access luxury, which was once limited to the nobles and the higher clergy. Nevertheless, the dichotomy of those included or excluded in the world of luxury remained practically unaltered until the last decades of the previous century, when a phenomenon on a large scale started to make its way into the middle class, to which the name of “democratization of luxury”[7] was assigned.

With this expression, we indicate a process of expansion of the consumption of luxury goods, which began to occur in the most developed countries during the eighties, and continued uninterruptedly at least until the beginning of the economic and financial global crisis of 2008. Little data is needed to prove the proportions of this phenomenon: In 1977, the Louis Vuitton brand was tied to a family business which boasted a turnover of approximately ten million dollars, while twenty years later it has become an immense empire with sales ranging around two billion dollars[8].

At this point, it is natural to ask ourselves which factors played a part in this boom. The democratization of luxury cannot be explained with the spread of larger wealth in the middle class of industrialized countries, a process which started two decades after the Second World War, and therefore too far back in time; at the base of this phenomenon, instead, are changes of a cultural nature, or at least that is what sociologist Giampaolo Fabris has observed. In essence, luxury at one point begins to lose those negative connotations, related to the idea of squandering and superficiality, which it was attributed by an ethic that was strongly influenced by Marxism and Christianity. The purchase of luxury goods then begins to be considered by wide parts of the middle class as a “reward one can give himself every once in a while, as a prize for the efforts sustained in everyday life”[9].

Another motivation that must not be overlooked in order to understand the diffusion of luxury in an ever-larger segment of the population is related to the transformations the social structure has experienced in the Western world: Both, celibates and childless couples in which both adults have a job have grown, reason for which more people can afford to splurge in luxury goods.

The factor of income, obviously, still influences the behavior of consumers, because there still is a group of goods completely inaccessible to common people; some articles however, the ones that constitute the category of accessible luxury, are beginning to be purchased by the so-called luxury excursionists, people that for income reasons cannot afford to live in luxury, but who still occasionally allow themselves this kind of purchase[10]. Among excursionists we can notice a relatively younger clientele in respect to the average age of habitual luxury consumers. These consumers are less loyal to a specific brand than others and in order to allow themselves the trading up towards luxury products, they must often compromise trading down towards low prices and offers for a wide range of articles[11].

It is, at least partly, to these luxury excursionists that we must attribute the impressive growth in profits filed by companies in this product market. According to some observers, said “tendency is distorting the whole industry, betraying its history and vocation”[12]. In reality, the strategic management of brand in luxury companies follows a series of rules in order to avoid that the product lose its characteristic of good desirable by many but accessible to few. Exclusivity, brand identity, reputation, high quality and customer loyalty are main features that go hand in hand with luxury brands. High quality articles, accessible to the average client, offer important paths of development for luxury companies, which however carry out strategic management tactics “oscillating around a balance point that stabilizes the economic and financial growth without distorting the brandâ€s identity”[13]. Among these strategies, for example, appears the retention by luxury brands of at least a part of artisanal production, with articles inaccessible to the average consumer. Luxury companies also avoid the brand stretching tied to the granting of an excessive number of licenses for sale points, aiming to find the “correct point of balance between diffusion of the brand and excessive overexposure”[14].

Besides the democratization of luxury, the process of globalization has helped to increase and segment the demand for goods in this industry over the last two decades. The fall of the Soviet Union and the opening to the market economy for millions of people that once lived under a regime of planned economy; the great Asian economic development, which has increased the continentâ€s purchasing power; the overpowering growth of some countries in Latin America: all these elements, together with the computer revolution, have led to an opening of an enormous market for luxury goods. Until the seventies, consumers of these articles were almost exclusively from the Western world, with the relevant exception of Arab oil tycoons. Today the nouveau riche from countries such as China, Russia, India and Brazil look with ever-growing interest to Western luxury brands and it is this increase in international demand that has had a crucial role in mitigating the backlash on this industry during the financial crisis that started in 2008[15]. Moreover, it is expected that the international demand continue to grow in the short to medium term, for the simple reason that the number of nouveau riche is expected to grow; two hundred million more between 2012-2017, according to the estimations published by a study in 2011, by the Confindustria-Prometeia Study Center[16].

The internationalization of the demand for luxury goods has led not only to new opportunities, but also to new challenges for the main brands in the industry, which have replied by implementing ad hoc strategic decisions, such as going public, which was already done by some during the nineties. The opening of new markets, far from the luxury brands†country of origin, has determined the need to attract new assets and new clients. Going public has turned out to be a tremendous opportunity for luxury companies, which have had the opportunity to finance their own development by accessing the capital market and, above all, making the companyâ€s brand much better known and saving advertising money. Going public, furthermore, has encouraged luxury companies†management, often still influenced, until a little time ago, by personal or family-style management, to set themselves business goals to reach and confront themselves with the industryâ€s main competitors, in a context marked by an ever-growing competitiveness. It is not a coincidence, then, if the luxury companies that have gone public have been able to invest in so-called brand stores even in the streets of the new luxury capitals in emerging countries, besides traditional centers in New York, Paris, and Milan. Going public, finally, is a step that has favored merger and acquisition operations, almost necessary for an industry characterized by small or medium companies, especially in the Italian case, in order to achieve a more effective penetration of the markets in emerging countries[17].

It must be noted, however, that in the luxury industry and especially between fashion maisons there is a certain resistance to the entrance into the financial world. Some companies feel like they are sufficiently strong from a patrimonial point of view to avoid going public, or they prefer letting an investment fund enter their capital. Well known is the controversy started by Giorgio Armani in 2011, after a fashion show, when he commented on Prada going public in Hong Kong that he depends on nobody, only on his job and on his partnersâ€. He has no debts, so heâ€s not going public.

1.3 Luxury and Made in Italy

Armani and Prada are just two of the numerous companies in the luxury industry that have made Made in Italy famous all around the world, a brand that indicates the Italian origin of the manufactured articles destined for the international market, with the exception of those coming from heavy industry. The manufacturing of machines and machinery, wood and furnishing, textile production and clothing, the agricultural sector, leather goods and footwear, eyewear and, lastly, gold and jewelry are sectors which Made in Italy has traditionally governed. Therefore, it represents an extremely wide range of articles. This range is divisible not only by product types, but also by parameters related to cost, quality, and the originality of the produced articles. Next to consumer goods, destined to fight the foreign competition by calling to those areas, design above all, that have led Made in Italy to its status in the world, such as the so-called BBF, an abbreviation for good looking and well made goods, belli e ben fatti in Italian, (which rank in an ideal intermediate position between products destined for mass consumption and those accessible to few) and, finally, luxury articles[18].

It is however an understatement to define Made in Italy as a simple brand. Rather, it is a synthetic term that effectively includes an extremely varied and complex productive reality, part of a fairly homogeneous growth path. As a well-known phenomenon around the world, Made in Italy exploded between the seventies and eighties of the past century, following the crisis of the great public and private industry that had led to the Italian economic miracle in the engineering, steel and chemical industries. From this point of view, the industrial structure above which is a direct result of the Made in Italy concept is at the antipodes from that which characterized and continues to characterize the biggest companies on the peninsula: these have been witnesses of a continuous process of property concentration, while in some industrial districts at the same time a widespread dissemination process of small properties was taking place, with a number of workers not above a few dozens[19].

In truth, the diffusion of the small and medium companies has always been a main characteristic of the Italian industrial development: even at the peak of the economic boom, in 1963, the number of workers in companies with less than ten employees was 33.8% of the total, while big industry with over 500 employees only covered 11.2% of the population employed in the secondary sector[20]. It is reasonable to wonder, then, why in Italy the number of small and medium companies has always been so high. The answer to this question also helps understand a peculiar aspect of Made in Italy, that is, the corporate specialization that has very ancient origins in some regions, dating back to the communal age. What we know as the Made in Italy expression, in short, is a phenomenon with two faces: on one side it is the result of a long and fertile cooperation and cross fertilization between culture, art, craftsmanship, manufacturing ability, territory, historical memories; and on the other side a face belonging to the last fifty years, developed by a series of fortuitous coincidences, the low cost of labor, the emergence of a new entrepreneurial class, the flourishing of some stylists and designers, and the desire for redemption of the Italian population after the sorrows of the war.[21]

Even the growth path of the main companies related to Made in Italy, especially those operating in the luxury industry, has been somewhat homogenous, even if sometimes differentiated under the temporal point of view. The most famous luxury brands, in fact, all started with the specialization of production, which favored the assertion of a brand identity associated to the idea of a unique and unmistakable style; only at a later time was the path of differentiation pursued, thanks to the achieved notoriety, which allowed the companies to widen their productive range and, in recent times, under the push of internationalization, the path of acquisition became an option. In the Made in Italy luxury, however, next to the companies that have long since catapulted themselves in the territory of global competition, diversifying production and implementing brand extension politics, there are numerous artisan micro-companies that have historically aimed at the creation of a loyal and traditional client base and that only in the last few years “have opened themselves to the international market, in a context that is heavily marked by a very serious financial and economic crisis”[22].

This is the main difference between Italy and France, the worldâ€s two main producers of luxury goods that have competed for this supremacy in the industry for the last thirty years. While Italy presents a very ramified business structure, in France the entire sector is dominated by a handful of companies that, for reasons of dimensions and profit, stand out against the Italian competitors as real tycoons of the market. Cases of acquisitions of famous Italian luxury brands have succeeded each other in the last few years, especially by transalpine companies such as LVMH and Kering. Even if there have been examples of the contrary (French luxury going Italian)[23], acquisitions carried out by the Bernard Arnault groups, leader of the LVMH holding and the richest man in France and by Francois-Henri Pinault have found and are still finding large resonance in the peninsula.

Both tycoons have launched a new trend according to which complete autonomy is left to the Italian producers, “this way acknowledging the quality of the local craftsmanship”[24]. Therefore, at a business level the sale of Italian luxury brands to foreign groups shouldnâ€t have any particular repercussions. Actually, according to the economist Claudia Dâ€Arpizio, “often the entrance into one of the large groups brings the access to remarkable financial resources able to support the growth and global expansion of these brands. It is definitely positive that these made-in-Italy representatives be able to generate such interest from foreign investors in a time of severe national crisis. On the other hand it is a pity that we still havenâ€t been able to create an Italian system able to stimulate and grow these companies while maintaining them as Italian properties”[25].

It is not a matter of national pride, or even bigot parochialism. If it is true that large companies such as LVMH guarantee the growth of the Italian brands they have bought, because they have the interest to do so, that does not preclude that the sale of large brands has drained Italy of a number around ten billion euros, according to Coldirettiâ€s estimation, only in the period between 2008-2013.[26]

To these criticisms or challenges that burden Italian luxury, another one must be added that involves, in general, the whole Made in Italy sector: counterfeiting, with all the other systems of unfair competition to it associated. According to an estimation carried out by OCSE in 2005, the international market of counterfeited goods covers a share equal to 10% of global commerce and the financial and economic crisis that burst in 2008 has not significantly influenced this phenomenon[27]. The repercussions of counterfeiting on economic systems are quite serious; suffice it to recall, between the various implications of this phenomenon, the strengthening of organized crime, the lowering of countries†tax revenue, the damage to the health of both consumers and the environment, since counterfeited products are often made without respecting a series of norms that cover raw materials that should not be used.


[1] Gaetano Aiello e Raffaele Donvito, “Lâ€evoluzione del concetto di lusso e la gestione strategica della marca. Unâ€analisi qualitativa delle percezioni sul concetto, sulla marca e su un prodotto di lusso”, In

[2] Bernard Dubois, Gilles Laurent, Sandor Czellar, “Consumer Rapport to Luxury: Analyzing Complex and Ambivalent Attitudes”, 2001, pp. 8-17.

[3] Cfr. Thorstein B. Veblen, La teoria della classe agiata. Studio economico sulle istituzioni, Torino, Einaudi, 2007, pp. 32-40.

[4] Harvey Leibenstein, “Bandwagon, Snob, and Veblen Effects in the Theory of Consumers†Demand”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1950, vol. 64, n. 2, pp. 183-207.

[5] G. Aiello and R. Donvito, p. 4.

[6] Danielle Allérès, Luxe: Stratégies, Marketing, Paris, Economica, 2005, pp. 169-207 and Jean-Noel Kapferer, Strategic Brand Management: Advanced Insights and Strategic Thinking, New York, Simon Schuster, 1992, pp.29-30.

[7] Giampaolo Fabris, Il nuovo consumatore verso il postmoderno, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2003, p. 176.

[8] B. Dubois, G. Laurent, S. Czellar, pp. 8-17

[9] G. Fabris Giampaolo, Il nuovo consumatore verso il postmoderno, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2003, p. 176.

[10] G. Aiello and R. Convito, Gaetano Aiello e Raffaele Donvito, “Lâ€evoluzione del concetto di lusso e la gestione strategica della marca. Unâ€analisi qualitativa delle percezioni sul concetto, sulla marca e su un prodotto di lusso”, relazione presentata al Congresso Internazionale “Le Tendenze del Marketing”, tenutosi presso lâ€Università Ca†Foscari di Venezia il 20 e 21 gennaio 2006, p. 1. In

[11] Gaetano Aiello et al., “Le percezioni del concetto di lusso nei giovani. Unâ€analisi comparata a livello internazionale”, International Congress “Le Tendenze del Marketing”, lâ€Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris ESCP-EAP il 26 e 27 gennaio 2007. In

[12] Dana Thomas, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre, New York, Penguin, 2007. pp. 25-33

[13] G. Aiello and R. Convito, p. 6.

[14] G. Aiello and R. Convito, p. 12.

[15] Irene Armaro, “Cina, Russia, Medio Oriente: i nuovi ricchi e il mercato del lusso. Intervista a Edoardo Carloni sul grande successo estero degli alti brand italiani”, “Lâ€Indro” on line newspaper edition, article published on February the 20th, 2013. Online Archive of February 2013.

[16] Barbara Weisz, “Made in Italy e PMI: Export nei Paesi emergenti”. Online Newspaper Edition of, Online Archive of November 2013.

[17] Carlo Pambianco, “Moda e Lusso, ecco le 50 aziende giuste per la Borsa”, on line edition, published on Novembre the 24th 2011, in . Online Archive of Novermber 2011.

[18] For further insight: Confindustria – Prometeia, Esportare la dolce vita. Il bello e ben fatto italiano nei nuovi mercati: ostacoli, punti di forza e focus Cina, Roma, Sipi, 2013.

[19] Giulio Sapelli, Storia economica dellâ€Italia contemporanea, Milano, Bruno Mondatori, 1997, pp. 100-101.

[20].Sapelli, p. 35.

[21] Marco Vitale, “Lâ€economia italiana e le origini del made in Italy”, 9 novembre 2005, in

[22] Stefano Micelli ed Enzo Rullani, “Idee motrici, intelligenza personale, spazio metropolitano: tre proposte per il nuovo made in Italy nell'economia globale di oggi”, Sinergie, n. 84, 2011, pp. 128.

[23] Simone Filippetti, “La rivincita del Made in Italy: Tamburi compra il re francese del lusso Roche Bobois”, Il sole 24 ore, 3 aprile 2013. In

[24] Anais Ginori, “Arnault-Pinault, si gioca in Italia il torneo del lusso”, La Repubblica, on line edition, November the 18th 2013; “Lvmh e Kering, i colossi di Parigi che comprano il mercato del lusso italiano”, Il fatto quotidiano, Online Newspaper Edition, Online Archive of July the 8th 2013.

[25] Raffella Ulgheri, “Ai francesi piace il lusso italiano”, Lâ€Indro Online Newspaper Edition, Online Archive of July the 9th 2013.

[26] Ibidem.

[27] Istituto Nazionale per il Commercio Estero, “Il fenomeno della contraffazione e il suo impatto sul Made in Italy”, 2012, p. 2.

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The Effects of the Economic Crisis on the Luxury Brand Market
Marketing Strategies for Luxury Goods "Made in Italy"
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luxury goods, market analysis, bulgari, marketing strategy, economic crisis, angela alunni, angela eva alunni
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Angela Eva Alunni (Author), 2014, The Effects of the Economic Crisis on the Luxury Brand Market, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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