Christian Dior’s $57 Handbags Have a Hidden Cost: Reputational Risk - Kanebridge News
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Christian Dior’s $57 Handbags Have a Hidden Cost: Reputational Risk

An Italian investigation is shining a harsh light on the supply chain of luxury brands

Wed, Jul 10, 2024 9:20amGrey Clock 3 min

Christian Dior struck gold when it found a supplier willing to assemble a €2,600 handbag, equivalent to around $2,816, for just €53 a piece—or did it? Cleaning up the reputational damage may not come cheap.

A Milan court named LVMH -owned Dior and Giorgio Armani as two brands whose products were made in sweatshop-like conditions in Italy. Images of an unkempt facility where designer handbags were produced, which was raided as part of an investigation into Italy’s fashion supply chain , are worlds apart from those the luxury industry likes to show its customers.

To keep up with the strong demand for their goods, some high-end brands rely on independent workshops to supplement their in-house factories. Sales at LVMH’s leather goods division have almost doubled since 2019.

While more outsourced manufacturing is understandable in a boom, brands may also have taken cost-saving measures too far in a push to juice profits. Some of Dior’s production was contracted out directly to a Chinese-run factory in Italy, where workers assembled the bags in unsafe conditions, according to a translated court order. In other instances, Dior’s suppliers subcontracted work out to low-cost factories that also used irregular labour.

Nipping the problem in the bud would require hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investment in new facilities to bring more manufacturing in-house. The alternative is for Dior to pay its suppliers more and keep them on a tighter leash. Either way, the result seems likely to be lower profits than shareholders have grown accustomed to.

Top luxury brands such as Christian Dior can have very high margins because consumers are willing to pay steep prices for goods they see as status symbols. They also can spread high fixed costs, such as expensive advertising campaigns over a large volume of sales.

For the LVMH group overall, the cost of making the products it sells—everything from Champagne to watches to cosmetics—amounted to 31% of sales in 2023. But the margins on big-brand handbags are probably at the high end of the spectrum.

Bernstein analyst Luca Solca estimates that a €10 billion luxury fashion label, roughly Dior’s size, may spend just 23% of its sales on the raw materials and labour that go into its products. This implies a €2,600 Dior purse would cost €598 to make, equivalent to $647 for a roughly $2,800 product at current exchange rates.

In reality, the cost may be even lower, based on the results of the Italian investigation. The €53-a-piece assembly price it cited, equivalent to around $57, didn’t include the cost of the leather and hardware, but that would add only another €150 or so, according to one Italian supplier.

Advertising fees are a further €156 per handbag, according to Bernstein’s analysis, and depreciation of the company’s assets is €156. Running the brand’s stores—including paying the rent on some of the most exclusive shopping streets in the world—and head-office costs come to an additional €390. This leaves €1,300 of pure operating profit for Dior, or a 50% margin.

“This is the reality of the business,” says Solca. “The retail price for the goods of major luxury brands is typically between eight and 12 times the cost of making the product.”

LVMH hasn’t commented on the investigation, which first made headlines nearly a month ago. Meanwhile, a public-relations storm is brewing. Luxury influencers on social media are asking what exactly people are paying for when they shell out for a fancy purse. Recent price increases also make the cheap manufacturing costs hard to stomach. A mini Lady Dior bag that cost $3,500 in 2019 will set shoppers back $5,500 today, a 57% increase.

A dozen other luxury labels that remain unnamed are under investigation for similar issues in their Italian supply chains, so this may be a much wider problem.

Profits will take a hit if the industry decides to clean up its act. But the cost of doing nothing might be higher. Luxury brands that charge customers thousands of dollars and rely on a reputation for quality can’t afford to be cheap.


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The S&P 500 index has been crushing private-equity returns in the past year, and Blackstone ’s second-quarter results illustrate that trend.

As part of its earnings release early Thursday Blackstone said its corporate private-equity returns in the year ending in June were 11.3%. That compares with a 24.5% total return for the S&P 500.

In the prior year ending in June 2023, the S&P 500 topped Blackstone with a 19.4% return against 9.7% for the firm’s corporate private-equity business, which has $145 billion of assets and remains one of its most important areas along with real estate.

Blackstone is the leading alternatives firm with over $1 trillion in assets under management and has the largest market value of any public investment firm at more than $160 billion.

Driven by Nvidia , Microsoft , Apple , Amazon and other big technology stocks, the S&P 500 has handily topped most asset classes in the past several years.

Another sign of more difficult times for private equity came earlier this week from Calpers, the $503 billion California pension fund, when it reported it s preliminary returns for its fiscal year ending in June . Calpers is one of the first major endowments or pension funds to report results for the June fiscal year. undefined The pension fund, a major player in private equity, said its private-equity investments gained 10.9% net of fees—although that figure is lagged one quarter. Calpers’ public-equity investments were up 17.5% in the year ended June—its strongest asset class. Private equity remains a favorite of many pension funds and leading university endowments like those of Harvard and Yale. Their view is that private equity can beat public-market returns over the long term.

But the private-equity business has gotten tougher in recent years due to keen competition for deals, higher interest rates and a less receptive IPO market, which has made exits tougher.

And private-equity portfolios of firms like Blackstone look nothing like the S&P 500, given their investments in small to midsize companies.

Blackstone, for instance, bought a majority stake in Emerson’s climate technologies business last year and more recently purchased Tropical Smoothie, a franchiser of fast-casual cafes. It also holds a stake in Bumble, the publicly traded online dating site, and it’s an investor in actress Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. Blackstone’s corporate private-equity business runs $145 billion and has 82 investments, according to the firm’s website.

Blackstone’s private-equity business has strong long-term returns including a gain of over 50% in the year ended in June 2021 when it handily topped the S&P 500 index.

But the S&P 500 index has become difficult to beat more recently and it’s dominated by some of the best companies in the world. It carries less risk than private equity, given the cash-rich balance sheets of its leading companies like Apple , Microsoft and Alphabet .

Private-equity firms, by contrast, often use considerable leverage to boost returns. Investors can get exposure to the S&P 500 through index funds that charge 0.1% or less in annual fees and with immediate liquidity.

A key risk with the S&P 500 is its vulnerability to a selloff in the leading tech firms that now make up over 40% of the index. The recent rotation into smaller companies illustrates that.

Blackstone shares gained 1.1% to $136.31 Thursday in the wake of its earnings news as investors focused on rising investment deployments and positive management comments on the firm’s outlook.

The firm’s nearly $40 billion of inflows and $34 billion of capital deployment during the second quarter marked “the highest level of investment activity in two years,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement.

Citi analyst Christopher Allen wrote in a note to clients on Thursday that while Blackstone’s overall performance was mixed, the outlook appears to be improving given fund-raising and deployment trends.

Investors also were heartened by Blackstone President Jon Gray’s comments about a bottoming in commercial real estate and strong capital deployment in that area.

But ultimately, the game for Blackstone and its alternatives peers is about performance—particularly beating low-fee public investments like the S&P 500. That seems to be getting more difficult.