Stephane Barraque (pictured) wants to make the France the new Italy.
The former LVMH and Richemont executive is behind Timeless Distributions, a Miami-based company that aims to bring upscale French jewelry brands to the U.S market.
The year-old company is now distributing eight French brands as well as Brazilian brand Brumani, and is targeting high-end independents and department stores.
“The U.S. market is dominated by three things,” says Barraque. “You have big companies that are mostly in boutiques. Then you have the generic jewelry business that is 30 percent of the market. Then you have the Italian brands that have been in the market forever.”
What makes the moment right for French brands, he feels, is the brands know how to tell a story.
“With French jewelry, the story is in its DNA,” he says. “French jewelry is all about stories—it’s about heritage, it’s about extreme quality and not compromising on that quality. I felt with the capacity of the consumers to learn about the brand, to learn about the stories, there was an opening for French jewelry.”
For some of the brands, it’s a step they have never taken before.
“The Italian brands have been supersmart,” he says. “They understand the U.S. market. The French mentality is more rigid and cautious. They didn’t have someone who understood the U.S. market but also understood what it is to be a French brand. We felt there was an opportunity for them to take that risk.”
In some cases, the brands had to be prodded into doing things they never did before, like sell online.
“When you talk to French brands, they have always been resistant to e-commerce,” he says. “But today you can’t be either total brick-and-mortar or e-commerce. And they understand that e-commerce is an obligation. So they are on our retailer’s websites, which offer a good environment for a jewelry brand.”
And while older consumers—and older jewelers—may have a longtime loyalty to Italian brands, he’s hoping his portfolio will attract younger consumers.
“There is the opportunity to introduce them to something new, that is different,” Barraque says “There is an element of conversation with learning the stories that are linked to this brand. I think that will resonate with the consumers here. They want to be part of something.”
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