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Luxury brands of Italy trim orders due to the spread of coronavirus

Brands were forced to shut shops, shelve new openings and postpone advertising spending there

Reuters Milan Published 10.03.20, 08:06 PM
People wear masks as they walks inside Vittorio Emanuele II gallery, in Milan

People wear masks as they walks inside Vittorio Emanuele II gallery, in Milan (AP)

Global luxury brands, including Gucci and Louis Vuitton, are scaling back orders with Italian suppliers, as the spread of the coronavirus from key market China to major manufacturing hub Italy hits business across the sector, industry sources said.

Italy, home to scores of specialist manufacturers of high-end goods from shoes and leather goods to menswear, has seen the biggest epidemic of the virus outside China, prompting Rome to impose a virtual lockdown over much of its wealthy north.


Reuters spoke to a dozen textile and leather goods suppliers in the region of Veneto, which is affected by the quarantine, and nearby Tuscany. Many said that even before the unprecedented restrictions were put in place on Sunday, brands had been cutting orders from late January, as demand plunged in China.

“We were producing 800-1,000 handbags a month for Gucci. In February we made 450 and we have no orders for March,” said the owner of a small supplier for Kering’s top brand employing eight people in Scandicci, a district outside Florence that is the hub of leather goods production in Italy.

“We don’t have orders for April or May either. The company has been brought to a standstill and we are having to put our workers on temporary redundancy schemes,” he said.

Like most of the suppliers who spoke to Reuters, he declined to be named for fear of losing future contracts.

The $320-billion per year global luxury goods sector, already reeling from months of protests in the shopping hub of Hong Kong, was dealt a hammer blow earlier this year by the coronavirus outbreak in mainland China.

As authorities battled to contain the emergency in a country that is home to more than a third of global luxury shoppers, brands were forced to shut shops, shelve new openings and postpone advertising spending there.

The spread of the virus across the world, and to Italy in particular, has compounded the pain, with countries including Britain and the US warning against non-essential travel to Italy, slowing tourism to a trickle.

That is set to translate into a major sales hit for the country’s 90 billion euros fashion and textile industry.

It also has implications for the luxury industry worldwide due to Italy’s importance as a supplier, said Flavio Cereda, an industry analyst at Jefferies, who on Monday cut his 2020 sales forecast for the sector for a second time this year.

He now expects a sales decline of 3 per cent at current exchange rates, compared with his previous forecast for 1 per cent growth.

“Prolonged disruption of economic activity may well result in supply chain issues for most brands,” he said, adding, however, that he had no evidence of that happening yet.

Though Tuscany is not part of the lockdown, its Scandicci manufacturing hub —which had been booming in recent years as luxury giants from LVMH to Kering and Prada expanded their production sites and snapped up workshops — is suffering.

Massimiliano Guerrini, whose family owns Almax, a Scandicci-based producer which makes bags for 10 brands including Kering’s Saint Laurent, Gucci and Balenciaga as well as LVMH labels, said he had seen a decline in orders “of a few percentage points” because of the coronavirus emergency in China.

“I thought things were not too bad given the circumstances, but now this new alarm in Italy risks making more casualties among businesses than among people and disrupting the supply chain for the orders that are still in the pipeline,” he said.

“We have 270 employees and have diversified our customers, so we managed to mitigate the impact so far. But some of the smaller suppliers are not going to make it.”

A leather goods and handbag supplier in Veneto reported a 30 per cent plunge in orders from LVMH’s Louis Vuitton, while others said Prada and Ferragamo were also cutting back orders.

Ferragamo said it could not comment as it is due to publish 2019 results. Prada said it was also not commenting as it is due to release its results on March 18. Kering and LVMH had no immediate comment.

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