Feted Then Banned: the Latest for Louis Vuitton London

Days after opening a grand, multi-level London flagship store on New Bond Street (the London equivalent to Rodeo Drive or 5th Avenue) with a private shopping area for VIP guests, the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency banned Louis Vuitton from using two of their ads on Wednesday. The agency, which investigates reports from the public, said the images mislead consumers to believe the label’s products are handmade, though the bags, wallets and other accessories LV is famous for are crafted by machine. {The Cut}

Louis Vuitton Savoir Faire ads

Louis Vuitton's "Savoire Faire" campaign showed a woman handcrafting folds in a wallet (L), a man painting the sole of a shoe (center) and a woman with needle, thread and beeswax who appears to be hand stitching the handle of a handbag.

Louis Vuitton has a reputation for superior quality, with handbags regularly selling for thousands of dollars, but the photos depict craftsmen hand-stitching leather even though that is not how accessories are made in the French design house. Text in the ads reads, “The seamstress with linen thread and beeswax.”{DailyMail}

Guests at the opening of Louis Vuitton's New Bond Street London flagship included Elle MacPherson, Thandie Newton and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The ASA said Louis Vuitton failed to prove the products were handmade though the label produced evidence that “hand-crafting techniques” were used to create bags and wallets.

Louis Vuitton responded by saying the ads were simply meant to pay “homage to the craftsmanship” of its employees, not depict an exact account of its manufacturing process. The design house admitted to using sewing machines but said handbag production is “not automated,” with over 100 stages in the process of manufacturing one bag.

Three people alerted the ASA of the situation, complaining that they believed the handbags were made by machine. In Japan, the world’s second largest luxury market and a country where 60% of the households own an authentic Louis Vuitton, research found that consumers were willing to spend 50 times the price of a counterfeit bag for the real deal – even if the bags looked identical. {Guardian} The allure of authenticity, which is often intertwined with higher quality craftsmanship, among other things is something that Louis Vuitton and many other luxury brands like Gucci have tried to tap into during the economic downturn.

But modern technology – including efficient manufacturing that automates parts of the process is actually a part of Louis Vuitton posts such healthy operating margins. While hand stitched and folded wallets may seem charming and a mark of quality, it’s not a production method that would scale for a brand as big as Louis Vuitton. Even as far back as December 2009, when the ads were first released, some wondered if the ads went too far in trying to elicit an emotional attachment to heritage. {BusinessWeek} In the UK, it seems that they did.

New York Magazine says the slipup is unlikely to stop people from purchasing Louis Vuitton bags and hopes the ASA will continue its effort to ban misleading ads by forbidding the use of photos featuring unrealistic body types. On both counts, we could not agree more.

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