Gilbert Maria, co-founder and CEO of Jitrois, the French luxury fashion maison, an iconic leatherwear specialist, has shared in an exclusive interview with CPP-LUXURY.COM his company’s vision while maitaining independence and banking future success on staying true to craftsmanship and quality of finishes and materials, without any compromise.
How has your company performed in 2013 and what are your expectations for 2014?
2013 was a significant year for the company. It marked the 30th anniversary of the Jitrois brand, and it was also a year of transition and restructuring. We made a significant investment in bringing the entire Paris-based team and workshop into new headquarters, which has strengthened internal efficiency. In London, our Sloane Street boutique was completely refurbished, and we signed another 15 year lease. In the US, we worked on expanding our retail and export network, while in China we finalized the plans for opening boutiques: sales are growing year on year in both these zones.
In 2014 we are looking forward to seeing these investments come to fruition. In fact, the first American Jitrois boutique opened in Aspen at beginning of this year, and we are working on a location for a New York City boutique. Following the January pre-collections, we have already observed a 20% increase in orders, and we are anticipating a 30% increase in sales in London this year. By the end of 2014 Jitrois boutiques will be open in Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai.
Which are the strongest markets for Jitrois in terms of sales? Which are the markets you are considering for further expansion for mono-brand boutiques?
France has been remarkably resistant throughout the recession and remains our largest market, where we have three directly-operated boutiques: Paris, Cannes, and Courchevel. Germany, Austria, Switzerland and England follow close behind for sales. China and the United States represent our biggest growth opportunities for mono-brand boutiques.
What is your view on retail development – franchise versus directly operated stores?
We at Jitrois pride ourselves on our intimate and loyal relationships with our customers, who are utterly dedicated to our products as we feel dedicated to them. Exclusivity is at the heart of the Jitrois experience – we know that our clients do not want to see our stores everywhere. Yet we need to maintain a mixture of both DOS and franchises to guarantee development. In the luxury sector, the franchise model can only work when there is deep personal investment on the part of the investee. We do not perceive our ‘franchise’ boutiques as such, but as our own, as part of the Jitrois family. It takes time to develop these relations so each new opening is very significant.
Your company has remained independently-owned, with a close control of all aspects related to manufacturing. Which are the biggest rewards and the biggest challenges?
The rewards are obvious. Jean Claude Jitrois and I as creative director and CEO respectively, have directed the company for over 30 years under our own values, and have generated immense value in the Jitrois name, which we have enjoyed the benefits of. The total freedom over creation, communication, and commercial strategy is rewarding at every level, and our employees tend to stay a very long time. The principal challenge of remaining independent and self-financed is the slower speed of development.
From the manufacturing point of view, maintaining absolute control and transparency in our supply chain is imperative . Real luxury can never be outsourced. All Jitrois products are 100% made in France: we have used some workshops for a very long time and simultaneously we always have an ear to the ground looking for new talents and technologies.
How important is your French heritage and identity? Do you consider it part of the DNA of your brand?
Absolutely. The French aesthetic, taste and heritage, not to mention the craftsmanship, are embedded in the DNA of Jitrois. All of our products are exclusively made in France because this is where the best technically-skilled talent is; the attention to detail here is world-class. Implementing and emphasising the richness of the French luxury tradition in our marketing has an incredible powerful effect across the globe.
Have you considered selling a partial or integral stake in your company to finance future development?
We have never considered or felt the need to sell in the last 30 years. However the luxury industry has dramatically transformed in the last few decades, and retail space has become astronomically expensive. Now we feel the time has come to open up, and we are ready to see investment as the way forward. We have received interest in investment in return for a stake in the company from current partners, which will help us to think bigger, increase production and develop organically yet still respect our original values.
What is the profile of your most loyal customer? How would you define the Jitrois man / Jitrois woman?
Stretch leather is such a remarkable material, because the experience of wearing it is so intimate in the way it contours to the body like a second skin, and yet it simultaneously protects the wearer like an armour. Our typical customer is a man or woman with a great sense of humour, an endearing curiosity and a taste for the pleasures of life.
How does your brand, if in any way, relate to luxury lifestyle?
Quintessentially our product is luxury because of the quality and durability of the materials, and our innovation and savoir-faire in leather techniques. But luxury means many things for us. For one, the psychological effect of wearing a Jitrois garment is at the heart of our philosophy and our products are designed to enable better possibilities to enjoy life. Real luxury should also mean never having to sacrifice comfort for style: Jitrois garments are designed to be worn every day, like our 5-pocket stretch leather jeans that can be washed at 30 degrees C and even ironed.
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