The news of the death of Yves Carcelle, the irrepressible architect of Louis Vuitton as a cool, must-have brand, brought back many memories.
There was Yves back at the turn of the millennium, with his silver bob, showing me a bag with a pattern by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, traced over the famous LV Monogram canvas.
Yves Carcelle, the boat lover, had a fountain of stories from the ocean, as he followed the Louis Vuitton Cup, joshing with Patrizio Bertelli of Prada and his Luna Rossa sailboat.
Strictly off the record, he would recount the latest madcap adventures of Marc Jacobs, the designer that Bernard Arnault, who had created the LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) merger in 1987, had put in place as artistic director in 1997. By hiring Jacobs to produce Vuitton’s first ready-to-wear clothing, Carcelle created a template for other accessories brands such as Gucci and Prada.
In the early Nineties – soon after Yves was appointed Chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton – I would hear stories about the first Chinese LV store in 1992 that morphed into so many more.
A rival of his, who has asked not to be identified, would tell me how when he and Yves would arrive in some distant town in greater China, the marketing genius would produce beautifully wrapped small leather goods as gifts for the city’s mayor and every member of his family.
My favourite Yves Carcelle story – one he liked to tell with a glass of champagne in hand, perhaps at a private party at home in front of a bold Gilbert & George painting, with his then wife Rebecca at his side and with his boys listening in – was about his early days as a fledgling travelling salesman.
Taking to the road with a girlfriend, the young Yves would send her into a hardware store asking with a flirtatious enthusiasm for a new product he was hoping to sell. Ten minutes later, he would be knocking on the same store door, offering to supply the goods. The success was instant.
Perhaps it was that mix of conviviality and hard-nosed understanding of product that helped him push Louis Vuitton into the enviable position of number 10 on the famous Forbes list, with a brand value of $28.4 billion. Behind Apple, Coca-Cola, Google and McDonalds, but ahead of BMW, Disney, Mercedes and Nike, Louis Vuitton was elevated to be among the world’s most valuable brands.
In the 21 years since his first appointment in 1990 – that swiftly morphed into chairman and CEO – and his stepping down with the on-set of cancer as chairman and chief executive in 2012, Carcelle had helped to turn the historic trunk maker into a dynamic brand with approaching 500 stores worldwide.
In 2012, at age 63, he became president of the Louis Vuitton Foundation, the Frank Gehry designed museum that will open in Paris in October.
Bernard Arnault, in what he described as with “sadness and emotion”, described Yves Carcelle as an indefatigable voyager, a pioneer, curious, passionate and inspiring.
Yves Carcelle marked fashion history, working with LVMH to make luxury aspirational to a global mass market.
But I shall remember him for his warmth, generosity and enthusiasm – that silver hair like a helmet of a medieval musketeer as he charged forward with his luxury-branded sword.