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9 Mar, 2009 08:33

Downturn takes the lustre off expensive lingerie for Russian women

Russian luxury retailers – including those who sell designer lingerie – were planning to buck the economic downturn. But, they are finding they’re not immune.

For a decade, Aleksander Fyodorov, the owner of a top-end lingerie retailer Wild Orchid, watched his business blossom. Today the mounting debt and financing difficulties are threatening to bring his lacy empire to its knees.

“We don't see a lot of sources of finance. We have accounts payable past due, I think we can handle it. We're not going to surrender, we're going to prevail.”

And prevailing will require re-financing outstanding debt that hovers around $90 million. Abandoning luxury brands may also help.

Before the crisis, Russian women, in love with glitz and glamour, were aspirational luxury buyers. Ivan Kotov, analyst at A.T. Kearney, says now the economic reality brought them down to the brands that match their incomes.

“People are cutting their spending on durables, moving towards more of a 2005-2006 spending habits and we would reforecast that the luxury market in Moscow would fall in the near term.”

Typically, premium retailers do better in crises as truly wealthy people defy downturns. But this crisis showed women everywhere are economizing. In the West, they dump sexy brands like Victoria Secret for simpler basics – like Hanes. In Russia, low-end underwear – including Wild Orchid’s junior line, Defile – is also gaining market share, according to Fyodorov.

“We meet the basic demand of the market with a Defile. Of course the Defile is very young, it didn't have enough time to develop before the crisis. But I think it will have a very good advantage. I think if we solve the financial issues we will have a very bright future.”

The Wild Orchid’s strategy – and its bright future relies on Russian women understanding that sexy doesn’t automatically mean expensive.