Wardrobe: Wedding Bell Blues

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The September 1998 merger of Asprey London with Garrard had all the markings of a regal marriage made in heaven. Asprey, the royal jeweler, seemed like the perfect suitor for Garrard, employer of the Crown Jeweller, the individual who maintains the crown jewels. The union was announced with wedding invitations, a lavish cake, and a star-studded reception. In April, however, the nuptials will be annulled by Silas Chou and Lawrence Stroll, the financial backers of Tommy Hilfiger, which bought Asprey & Garrard for a reported $100 million in July 2000.

Chou and Stroll believe that each brand is a formidable force that can be marketed individually, with Garrard dedicated to silver and contemporary jewelry, and Asprey transformed into a lifestyle brand incorporating home accessories and fashion. The separation is the first phase in the development of a $1 billion lux-ury goods group in the same vein as Tiffany & Co. and Bulgari.

The fashion quotient is speculative, though this is not the first time fashion has made its way into the Asprey mix. “In the 1920s, we used to sell ladies’ clothing in the showroom,” recalls Edward Asprey, a company director whose ancestors founded the business in 1781. “But after careful consideration and few sales, the notion was dismissed.”

Chou and Stroll, determined to broaden Asprey’s profile, have turned to fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, known for his minimalist yet not-always-commercial sportswear, to serve as creative director. The first Asprey fashion line, comprising a few limited edition pieces, is scheduled to hit the stores in spring 2003.

Garrard will also have its classic image dusted off and repackaged as an avant-garde jewelry house headed by designer Jade Jagger, daughter of Mick Jagger. Jagger brings a modern vision that will build on the classic foundations of the company’s illustrious jewelry legacy, which includes producing the suite of diamonds and pearls commissioned by the Prince of Wales in 1863 as a wedding gift for his bride, Princess Alexandra, and the sapphire and diamond engagement ring given to Lady Diana Spencer by a subsequent Prince of Wales.

In addition to the new range of products, Asprey and Garrard plan to dramatically improve access to their wares. Over the next five years, 20 freestanding Asprey stores and 10 Garrard shops are scheduled to open around the world, with 50 additional Asprey stores planned over the next decade. The global expansion will be directed by Gianluca Brozzetti, former head of LVMH’s Louis Vuitton luggage division. LVMH’s 10 percent stake in the companies further enhances international growth potential.

Can two relatively obscure British jewelry houses transform themselves into global brands? “De Beers has been developing brand awareness for years, and I think that whether a customer shops at Wal-Mart or Bergdorf Goodman, they recognize the name. But I don’t know that that is true of Asprey,” says Harry Bernard, partner and chief marketing officer of Colton Bernard, a San Francisco fashion industry strategist and consultant. “To be successful, they are going to have to spend an enormous amount of money on developing brand awareness and desirability before the first piece of merchandise hits the floor.”

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