Marco Probst, the big boss at luxury label Delvaux, is a fun-loving guy with the rare ability to laugh at himself. Probst’s task is a challenging one: to take this Belgian institution to the next level and ensure global success. The luxury CEO took time out to discuss his new role, his plans for Delvaux and the targets he has set for himself.
What’s the biggest challenge for you at Delvaux?
I’ve only been here for 3 months and there are challenges everywhere. I’m focusing on understanding the company and trying to improve on deliveries and production. It’s about restructuring things and making sure there is more and more communication between departments. We’re also working on a detailed calendar to improve our organisation. I felt this dimension was missing slightly and it’s an important one to deal with.
Why were you attracted to the brand?
Delvaux has great history and a mysterious appeal, which I’m very sensitive to. The brand has a rich heritage. This is an important notion in the luxury segment. Handicraft is key for the company and one of its strongest features. You need these elements to succeed as an international brand.
What makes the brand undeniably Belgian?
It’s about paradox and this contradiction reflects Belgium, as well as the company itself. We’re in a country where you can find established artists, as well as exciting new talents. There is respect for tradition as well as a taste for the avant-garde. The balance between these contradictions makes the country creative. I’d say the same applies to Delvaux. You just have to make sure that the paradoxes are being handled the way they should.
Delvaux is the oldest startup company in the world.
Are you trying to shake things up or be diplomatic?
I like to do a bit of both. Delvaux is the oldest startup company in the world. I’m very open when it comes to listening to people and understanding their jobs, but sometimes you have to stop discussions if they are going nowhere.
Do Belgians talk a lot?
The French who work for us always talk the most (laughs). Actually, I would say the Belgians don’t speak enough. They’re a bit shy and I sometimes feel that they lack self-esteem.
Sometimes I get the feeling that Belgians don’t always know how to sell what they create.
True. I’ve noticed that, too.
Perhaps. I think it’s a good moment for us. Customers are no longer looking for the obvious. I travel on a regular basis and have seen a shift in China lately, where it is no longer about being conspicuous. We’re not a house that does in-your-face bags and I like it that way.
If you look at Céline for instance, they had a ready-to-wear line before launching accessories. Is it a disadvantage not to produce clothes?
I don’t think so. With Delvaux, the product speaks for itself. You don’t need anything else to back it up.
Is that why you stopped doing advertising campaigns?
We want to get things right and take the time to do these campaigns well. Right now, advertising is not our main priority. My objective is to increase international sales significantly over the next five years. We are currently depending on the Belgian market, because 90% of all sales are here. By 2018, I would like the company’s global sales to account for half of its turnover.
What makes a brand successful for you?
A brand is successful when it focuses on its core business and what it does best. You have to be faithful to your essence and where you come from.
What were the reactions to the collection you presented last October?
We doubled our international sales. The response from the press has been very positive, too. We’ve evolved from being an outsider to an insider’s secret. People have expectations when it comes to our brand. When I’m in Moscow, Hong Kong or Seoul, I feel that there’s a space for us. You can be distinctive carrying a Delvaux bag, but we don’t need to be everywhere. That’s not the point.
You had designers and artistic directors in the past. Why did you stop this kind of collaboration?
We don’t need a star designer. Our product is the star. We also have to be selective when it comes to celebrities and who endorses the brand.
I guess you’re not big on fashion divas then.
Not really. I worked for years at Hugo Boss and we didn’t have that designer culture. When I arrived in Paris, there were a lot of egos involved and it creates a tense atmosphere. I don’t believe in egos. I believe in team work.