Louis Vuitton CEO says retailer, city good fit


Daniel Lalonde, president and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton North America, was in town Wednesday at the Louis Vuitton store in the Shops at Charleston Place for a benefit for the Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital.

He took the time before the fundraiser to answer a few questions for The Post and Courier.

Q: Why did the company choose Charleston for its first store in South Carolina?

A: Charleston is a thriving city with both sophisticated residents and a strong tourism business. Downtown Charleston is home to historic monuments and homes, museums, antique shops and other cultural sites. There is a strong parallel between Charleston, a city rich with history and tradition, and the classic values of Louis Vuitton.

We tried to respect the essence of the city by creating a store design that channels our core values and resembles a historic home through rich finishes and a residential layout. For the first time, the typical modern, open layout was replaced by quaint rooms separated by passage archways.

There are separate men's and women's salons with silk curtains and Venetian molding. The store is decorated with specially selected Louis Vuitton trunks and antique mirrors and furniture purchased from local Charleston dealers. As a result the store resembles a private home and appropriately compliments the history and distinctiveness of Charleston. This store represents not only a new presence for Louis Vuitton in South Carolina, but also a new experience for the Louis Vuitton customer.

Q: What products sell better in Charleston than in other markets?

A: Our Charleston store does extremely well with our iconic bags. The Speedy, Keepall, Noe, Alma and Lockit are the traditional pieces that have been in the collection since the early days of the company. These pieces are part of the Louis Vuitton history, and it is no surprise the Charleston clientele is drawn to them.

Q: Is your clientele more local or tourists?

A: We have a mixed clientele of both residents and tourists. We had existing customers in Charleston and the surrounding areas before we opened and this number has grown since then. We also have visitors who are exploring King Street and the town of Charleston.

Q: How is the store performing? And how does its performance compare with your shops elsewhere?

A: The store is performing well. It is comparable to other stores of similar size and product offering.

Q: What is it like being a luxury retailer in this challenging economic environment?

A: Louis Vuitton has 155 years of history and tradition. In difficult times like these we focus on our roots and look to the long-term success of our brand. The craftsmanship and quality of our products have sustained the test of time.

Q: What is the outlook for the future of the high-end retail industry?

A: We look at our business long term; and even in challenging cycles, we continue to nourish the brand with innovative collaborations, fresh product offerings and new stores.

We are constantly aiming to elevate our customers' experience by creating additional services and enhancing existing ones. In times like these, brands that have rich heritage, innovative products and superior craftsmanship seem to perform relatively well.