Perrin Paris doesn't need celebrities to sell its leather accessories
Family-owned French leather accessories brand prefers to take a low-key approach and let its products speak for themselves
There is much about Perrin Paris that goes against the grain of a luxury brand. The 122-year-old French leather accessories label isn't interested in being in every shopping mall in the world, and prefers to keep a low profile. It has no visible branding or monogram, eschews celebrity endorsements and high-profile advertising campaigns, and doesn't have a supermodel as its "face".
"We are about the overall product and range so our adverts showcase that," says Michel Perrin, the CEO of Perrin Paris and a fourth-generation representative of the family-owned company. "We don't use models or Hollywood stars."
Perrin is in Hong Kong this week with his wife Sally for the opening today of the brand's first boutique in the city, at IFC Mall. Fashion enthusiasts will get to see its coveted range of glove-cum-clutch hybrids (seen on the manicured hands of Beyoncé, Fergie and Paula Patton, among others), along with a range of designer gloves (Rihanna wore a pair to the Met Ball in 2013).
In its early years the house was known mostly for its stylish gloves, and for launching new techniques and styles which made them fashionable around the world. "In the 1930s we were supplying to San Francisco, New York, Sydney and even Hong Kong and China. The business was really international before going global was the norm for European brands."
Over the years, it has provided raw materials to haute couture houses and created bespoke pieces for them.
"Apart from the fashion houses, we were doing gloves for the French army and the officers until my father retired in the 1980s," says Perrin.
Then came a slump. The business was hit hard as gloves declined in popularity and were no longer considered a key accessory in the wardrobes of every distinguished lady and gentleman.
"In 1941 and '42, the tannery [which we owned] was supporting the manufacturing and the company was doing great business as all elegant women around the world wore gloves for occasions of every kind," says Perrin.
"Around the 1960s, however, this had all but disappeared. No one was wearing gloves any more." The label's problems were compounded by the fact markets around the world started making their own ranges of gloves, he says.
So the house started making handbags and other accessories - often with delicate imprints and designs of gloves as a motif, as a nod to its heritage.
Initially, Perrin, who eventually joined the family company in 2006, was more interested in working in the field of technology.
"I was in Hong Kong in the 1980s, working at Microsoft. I worked and lived on Kowloon side and had a wonderful time in Asia."
So why did the seemingly reluctant son return to the fold?
"First you put your finger in the business, then wrist, arm … before you know it, you are completely swallowed," says Perrin, laughing.
"My DNA is attracted to leather products," says Perrin, whose brother Henri, wife Sally and daughters Chloé and Emma are also involved in the company.
"It was surprisingly easy to switch over. I leveraged what I learned from the technology business to fashion."
This also meant, while reviving and expanding the company, carefully selecting a few places to open signature stores.
"There are plans to grow within Asia, but we will not be opening hundreds of stores here and there."
Only a handful of stores and boutiques exist: in Beverly Hills, California; Madison Avenue, New York, at the historic Carlyle Hotel; and the flagship store in Paris, located a few steps away from Place Vendôme. The shop at Two IFC (designed by Paris-based interior designer Chahan Minassian) joins this select list.
It offers a cohesive selection of handbags and accessories.
"It is hard for a businessman to perceive what a woman would like and want," says Perrin. "My wife has been in the business for a long time and she's very chic and elegant with a great perception of the market."
Indeed, Sally Perrin runs French Finds, a boutique that sources antiques for American buyers and is known for her exquisitely decorated homes and interior design.
"She is in the creative section, not the designer per se in our company, but overseeing all the artistic and creative elements of the brand," Perrin says.
"We worked with outside designers first and they brought us knowledge of the industry. Now, we have in-house designers who create a line."
His glamorous daughters also have a role to play.
"My daughters went to design school in Paris and are deeply involved in the fashion world. They bring in the youth market. For presence in the media, you need to cater to a younger audience. Since my daughters have been involved, there's a great bridge to that bracket."
However, Perrin adds that the true buying power is with older women.
"They are very fashionable and aware of their own style. Ladies who are 35 and above, in their 40s, are just superb."