Targeting Korea’s emerging luxury marketWhen the French delegation of Comitie Colbert recently visited Korea to discuss the luxury market here, the Korean press jumped the gun by asking them how the French companies would punish makers of Korean copycat products.
The three senior members ― Olivier Mellerio, the president of Comitie Colbert; Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, the delegation general, and Daniel Mayran, the president of Comitie Colbert Korea ― had other priorities. Yes, a fight against made-in-Korea “Louis Vuitton” and “Chanel” pouches was somewhere on their agenda; Ms. Ponsolle des Portes, who joined Comitie Colbert in January, plans to dedicate her expertise to protecting intellectual property.
“When someone copies a book or an artwork, it’s theft. In stealing someone else’s property, there can be no good or bad copies ― it’s like asking if there can be ‘good’ heroin,” Ms. Ponsolle explained.
Even so, the Comitie Colbert board members insisted that the headline-crazy Korean journalists largely missed the point.
Mr. Mellerio told the IHT-JoongAng Daily: “We’re aware of the situation regarding the counterfeit industry in Korea and in other countries, but that’s not the primary reason why we established the world’s third Comitie Colbert in Korea; handling counterfeit products depends on each member’s brand strategy. We’re an association of French brands that seeks synergy in promoting French creativity and luxury.”
Comitie Colbert was established in 1954 in France to promote a “French way of life” in the ever-expanding luxury goods market. The objective of the group was to represent a unified body of French luxury brands and to preserve excellence in various industrial sectors. Today, the group represents 69 French brands associated with luxury in fields including clothing, jewelry, liquor and travel.
Pointing out that Comitie Colbert Korea was the third to be founded outside France (following the United States and Japan), Mr. Mayran said he was behind the decision to establish a Korean branch.
Formerly the vice president of Air France and the Asia-Pacific head of the Meridian Hotel chain, he had become a frequent traveler in Asia. After more than a decade’s worth of visits to Korea, he began to realize that Koreans had gradually developed an awareness of luxury and were seeking a new lifestyle. “Korea was like America or Japan 30 years ago, ready for a fully developed market.” Mr. Mayran said.
He went back to Paris and met with Comitie Colbert’s board members and suggested the idea of establishing a presence in Korea. “My feeling wasn’t enough to convince them, so I prepared thorough market research on the Korean luxury market,” he said.
He submitted research data that included a list of Korean companies that developed luxury goods targeting high-end consumers; the price range of the products; their annual turnovers, and the rate of growth, as well as the importance of the Korean market in the world.
Back in France, the plan was unanimously agreed to. By January 2002, four representatives of French brands, including Mr. Mayran himself, who currently heads Bluebell Korea, gathered to start Comitie Colbert Korea. Two months later in March, Comitie Colbert Hong Kong was set up. Today, Comitie Colbert Korea represents 18 French brands in Korea.
Both Ms. Ponsolle des Portes and Mr. Mayran acknowledge that the idea of luxury is not limited to French brands. They noted that the presence of influential, talented Koreans working abroad helped create public awareness of luxury brands made by Koreans.
“Koreans regard imported French products as the only luxury brands, but they are not aware of the fact that a number of Korean products are known as luxury brands in France,” Mr. Mayran said. “Samsung mobile phones, for example, are very expensive, much-coveted items in France. I went to see the fashion show staged by a Korean haute couture designer, Jihaye, in Paris, and there were many important VIPs there.”
He believes that Korean companies aiming for excellence should form their own committee in Korea so that there can be better communication and collaboration between two major world markets.
To promote understanding of luxury goods, Comitie Colbert has organized, since 1987, a design competition among aspiring students. Ms. Ponsolle des Portes said prototypes of the winners from around the world will be on display in the new Galleria Lafayette department store in Paris in March 2004.
In Comitie Colbert Korea’s bimonthly meetings, members have been reviewing a program to offer internships and possibly permanent positions in French luxury companies to young professionals in Korea.
by Ines Cho