October 28, 2022

A store is a ballet stage: LVMH Japan head

Leuret says Japanese increasingly seek fewer but better products

Louise George Kittaka
Contributing writer

  • Name: Norbert Leuret
  • Title: President and Representative Director of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton Japan K.K.
  • URL: https://www.lvmh.co.jp/
  • Hometown: Bergerac, France
  • Years in Japan: 41

Norbert Leuret’s passion for elevating the luxury brand retail experience is palpable. Every aspect of a store is an integral part of the total package, from the window display and products to the music and temperature. “A store is like a ballet stage, a place where people perform, and I tell my salespeople they are like dancers. They should be seen in a beautiful way and move with grace,” he said.

Founded in 1987, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is a French holding multinational corporation representing 75 leading luxury brands. Leuret took the helm at the Japanese operation in 2016, and he is constantly impressed by the well-informed Japanese customers who visit the stores. “The relationship between the client and the sales personnel is a lot like a consultation. It is a high-level relationship, characterized by intellect and passion.”

In the right place

A native of France, Leuret’s first encounter with Japan was attending summer school at Sophia University as a business student. “The trip over took 27 hours, including the stopovers, and I didn’t speak a word of Japanese,” he recalled. “But there was a kind of instant admiration [for me]. It was 1981, and the beginning of the bubble era. Everyone was full of ideas and optimism wherever you went.”

Leuret came of age at a time when France still required mandatory military service from young men, but with an option to work for 18 months for the French foreign service in lieu. Leuret’s first choice was to work in Japan upon graduation, but he was more than happy to be offered Australia. His plans, however, changed abruptly just a week before his departure for Sydney.

“The French Industrial Development Agency decided to open an office in Osaka to attract Japanese investments in France. I was lucky enough that the minister in charge had just visited Japan, and then he asked for a young person to go to the Osaka General Consulate,” he explained. The role was an ideal fit for Leuret, who spent a total of three years in the consulate’s economic section, honing both his business acumen and his language skills in the process.

Norbert Leuret | Haruo Motohashi

Playing it forward

In the ensuing years Leuret married and started a family while building a career in sales and exports in the private sector. Attending a dinner in Tokyo in 1996, he met a fellow French national whom he credits with changing his life. “He asked me if he could call the next day, and he did — at 8:01 a.m. He said, ‘I’m a polite guy; I don’t call people before 8’! He wanted to know if I was interested in joining the fashion business,” Leuret said, smiling at the memory.

The “fashion business” turned out to be the role of president of Kenzo Japan. The revered Japanese designer Kenzo Takada was still designing for the international firm at the time. Kenzo was part of the LVMH group, and Leuret enjoyed having the opportunity to delve into the luxury brand market and work with associates from Kenzo’s stablemates at LVMH, including Dior, Louis Vuitton, CELINE and Givenchy.

He subsequently became president of the Japanese publisher Fujingaho after it was taken over by the French company Hachette in 2003, serving concurrently as the first non-Japanese board member of the Japan Magazine Association. A return to retail followed when he joined Zara, expanding the number of Japan stores from five to 148 during his decade leading the apparel brand.

Having benefited from mentoring in his own career, Leuret has played this forward by seeking ideal matches to replace him whenever he has moved on. He is pleased to report they have gone on to make significant contributions of their own. “It’s not actually about your success. You are successful only if you know the people who come after you are successful,” he noted.

Haruo Motohashi

Norbert Leuret’s motto is “be optimistic and motivate young people. He often gives talks at universities. | Haruo Motohashi

When less is more

Since coming back to the LVMH group in 2016, Leuret has observed the enduring support for luxury brands from Japanese customers, along with a heightened awareness of sustainability that manifests in choosing quality over quantity. “I think more Japanese want to buy something they are going to keep for the rest of their lives, which they can pass to the next generation. Fewer products, but better products,” he said.

This is particularly evident among the younger members of the senior cohort, made up of people between 65 and 80. “They were probably in their 30s during the bubble time, and they know what luxury is. They have become epicureans who want to enjoy life, and this translates into a different shopping attitude — less but better,” Leuret explained.

At the other end of the market, he sees a growing interest in expressing individuality among young people in Japan. “It’s what I call ‘dis-uniformized,’ breaking the mold in a good sense. It’s not about ignoring or dissing the trends, but fitting them to your own personality and style and preferences.”

Leuret hopes to continue to be a bridge between Japan and Europe through retail and fashion. “I love living in big cities, so it’s important for me keep contributing to the beauty of these cities. When we do a flagship store at LVMH, we try contribute to the aesthetic of the city, placing importance on the architecture and the facade. It has to be a place where people would like to visit, and it has to be lasting,” he said with conviction.

Haruo Motohashi

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