FlyTitle: Luxury cast-offs

Luxury groups ponder ways to get rid of their unsold inventory


EVERY FROCK sold by the likes of Gucci or Givenchy is billed as a must-have that season. But, it turns out, some are more must-have than others. For all the hype they generate, even leading fashion brands struggle to shift much more than half their wares at full price. Whom to sell to once fickle fashionistas have moved on to the next trend? The luxury world is desperately searching for new ways to find a worthy closet for this unwanted inventory.


Dealing with “end-of-season” merchandise is a particularly thorny problem for luxury brands. Offering discounts to offload ageing wares is a time-tested trick among retailers. But cutting prices to clear the shelves is a bad look for labels whose raison d’être is to exude exclusivity.


Chic brands used to bin last year’s garb quietly rather than sell them cheap. That changed after July 2018, when Burberry, a British purveyor of upscale macs, faced a furore as it disclosed having destroyed $38m of bling (it claimed incinerating them was a way of generating energy). France will ban the practice entirely by 2023.


Luxury groups are loth to reduce production, given that goods can be sold for ten times what they cost to make. But putting up “Sale!!!” signs is considered uncouth. Plus, says Luca Solca of Bernstein, a broker, “you have to weigh cash made from discounted sales with the damage done to the value of the brand.” Prada, a posh Italian label, said last year it would end all in-store discounts.

奢侈品的售价可能会是生产成本的十倍,所以奢侈品集团不愿减产。但是张贴“特价!!!”标识会被认为很粗俗。此外,经纪公司盛博的卢卡·索尔卡(Luca Solca)说,“打折销售能赚到些钱,但也会损害品牌价值,你必须在两者间做权衡。”意大利奢侈品牌普拉达去年表示将终止所有门店折扣活动。

Some brands’ offerings are so timeless—a Hermès handbag, say—that seasonality is not an issue. Others manage to get rid of old stuff by offering discreet “sample sales” to staff and their friends. Many of the duds used to end up on the internet, sold cheaply on sites like Yoox and (though labels now see more potential to sell online at full price).


None of this will be enough to get rid of an outmoded collection—or diminish the pile of unsold items that analysts expect as a result of the coronavirus, which will force Chinese travellers to cancel shopping trips. To really shift stocks, brands now look to outdoor malls that group together “factory outlets”. The likes of Bicester Village, an hour’s ride from central London, resemble what a Chinese tourist thinks a quaint European village ought to look like, crossed with an airport shopping concourse. The shops are full of the stuff famous brands could not sell at full price elsewhere. Goods typically sell for 70% of high-street prices.

这些都不足以清空过时商品。此外,分析师预计中国游客会因为新冠病毒被迫取消购物游,由此产生的大量积压商品也很难靠这些手段消化掉。为了能真正出清库存,各大品牌现在把目光投向集中了多家“工厂直销店”的户外购物中心。比斯特购物村(Bicester Village)离伦敦市中心只有一个小时的车程,与它类似的购物村既像中国游客心目中的古雅的欧洲村庄,也像机场购物中心。店铺里摆满了那些著名品牌无法在别处以正价销售的东西。售价通常为传统商业街的70%。

The concept is booming. Out of an estimated €281bn in personal-luxury sales last year, €37bn were in such physical off-price stores, according to Bain, a consultancy. The figure has shot up by 85% in five years. But using the outlets for anything beyond liquidating inventory—for example by stocking them with cheaper, second-tier collections—is a way to dent a brand’s cachet permanently, warns Mr Solca. Best to keep only the most questionable styles and weirdest sizes in stock, and to push a brand’s real aficionados to Regent Street or Avenue Montaigne.


Two things may come to the rescue of exasperated inventory liquidators. The first is the rise of second-hand-clothes sales online: expect to see many “used” frocks on offer that are in fact brand new. The second is “up-cycling”, when an unsold dress gets trimmed, combined and dyed into a new fabulous outfit. For luxury brands, these two trends are unmissable.■