Robb Interview: Hiromi Yu, Founder & CEO Marais Australia
Post-pandemic plans with the fashion-forward, multi-brand retail boss.
To sketch a rather obvious phrase – retailers across the country have experienced incredible difficulties the past few months.
And that same sense of pain has been fiercely magnified in Melbourne – lockdowns leaving outfitters across the Victorian capital hamstrung and scrambling; luxury retail perched in a genuinely precarious position.
Despite all, Hiromi Yu – founder of multi-brand luxury boutique Marais (think Givenchy, Off-White, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Balmain, Loewe, more) maintains a firm sense of optimism.
We recently caught up with Yu, to better understand her journey to here, and, more so, to engage her visions for luxury retail’s ‘new normal’.
Robb Report: What sparked Marais – and why target brands such as Givenchy and Off White, among others?
Hiromi Yu: I’d always loved fashion, and organically I started getting involved around the age of 22 before opening Marais. We discovered Off White during the first season and we became one of the four main stockists worldwide.
Off White relates to communities more than one can imagine, whilst Givenchy stays true to its roots being the luxury fashion house it has always been. Each creative director, from Riccardo Tisci, Clare Waight Keller to the new and upcoming Matthew M. Williams bring with them a different aesthetic to the brand.
I like the diversity of our portfolio and tapping into different kinds of markets and audiences and speaking to the public using the power of these voices.
RR: To talk about the obvious and COVID – how has luxury retail coped during these extreme stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne? And how do you ever come back from what’s a complete lockout?
HY: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I think we have to be digitally savvy in these times – we’re taking the opportunity of being closed and re-directing our operations mainly to training and brainstorming new ideas, to be marketable once we return and to work.
RR: You’ve previously shied away from e-commerce, has that now changed?
HY: For me, luxury is to have a customer service experience instead of just shipped goods. I’m not completely closed off to e-commerce – yeah, watch this space – but I want to ensure that there’s an element of humanity involved, where customers can have private services which sit outside of our usual offer. I’d like to think that we can integrate exceptional services [to e-commerce] and to think outside the box to give customers better service.
RR: Ultimately, luxury retail must be more than a transaction?
HY: Luxury shopping is all about the human interaction and building rapport with customers; luxury customers love to be pampered.
RR: Where do you foresee luxury retail landing post-pandemic?
HY: I think socially distant shopping will soar, and I love it because I like to have after-sales services. Undoubtedly, customers passionate about service will be able to enjoy one-on-one experiences with boutiques. I can see a lot of one-on-one direct interaction forming a critical factor in ensuring customers’ satisfaction while showcasing the exceptional service of the luxury retail industry.
RR: Do you think there will be a spate of ‘revenge buying’ in Australia once life resembles what was once normal?
HY: There’ll be a mix of ‘revenge buying’ and ‘impulse buying’ due to the frustration of being in lockdown and not knowing when it could happen again. I think February 2021 could start to look ‘normal’, but the spending won’t resemble normalcy because many have lost jobs and those who haven’t won’t be spending as before.