Europe’s main luxury goods trade bodies will meet next week to sound the alarm over the erosion of skills in the industry, one of the few in which the region is a world leader.
At the same time, leading industry figures have warned that specialist skills – highly valued by dressmakers, perfumiers and watchmakers – are in danger of being weakened as suppliers source more production from Asia.
European brands account for 75 per cent of the €170bn ($229bn) global luxury market, according to figures from Boston Consulting Group.
In spite of rising demand from Asian buyers for expensive European fashion, the highly-fragmented sector is in danger of being weakened unless it is nurtured, say the industry bodies of France, the UK, Italy and Spain – the Comité Colbert, Walpole, Fondazione Altagamma and Foro del Lujo Español.
Guy Salter, deputy chairman of Walpole and spokesman for the alliance, said the loss of craftsmanship and skills in Europe was a major concern.
“All young people want to be designers and very few, makers. We want to try to change that by promoting craftsmanship in the luxury sector,” he said.
High labour costs and the recent strength of the euro have pushed luxury goods companies increasingly to source production from manufacturers in Asia and eastern Europe, even though the imprimatur of an established luxury producer in France or Italy is seen as essential to the high price tags.
Mr Salter said the UK had only a “handful” of small factories making bags and other leather accessories, compared to more than 100 factories 50 years ago.
In France, the designer Agnès Troublé, known as Agnès B, said French savoir-faire was at stake in specialist dressmaking and luxury manufacturing.
Ms Troublé told Les Echos newspaper that half the French manufacturers she had worked with in her 30 years as a designer had disappeared because of high costs and outsourcing. She admitted that half her collections were made outside France in Romania, Morocco, Tunisia and China.
Some companies have been unhappy with the results of outsourcing. Céline, the fashion house owned by Paris-based LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury goods company, moved back production of its prêt à porter from China to France last year.
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