(Corrects 12th paragraph to say Hermes event already visited Shanghai and Munich)
* Luxury groups invite public behind the scenes
* Promoting craftsmanship to justify top prices
* Consumers increasingly concerned with origin, manufacture
By Astrid Wendlandt
PARIS, June 14 (Reuters) - LVMH will throw open the doors of its Louis Vuitton workshops and Hennessy cognac cellars at the weekend in the latest salvo of an advertising war among luxury groups to show off the craftsmanship behind their brands.
Starting on Saturday, the world’s top luxury group by sales and market value will also offer behind-the-scenes tours of Christian Dior’s salons, Guerlain’s perfume plant outside Paris and Fendi leather shoe and handbag workshops in Italy.
The initiative, running for the second time after attracting more than 100,000 visitors in 2011, is the brainchild of Antoine Arnault, head of luxury shoe brand Berluti and the son of Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s chief executive and founder.
Purveyors of luxury goods have been stepping up their efforts in recent years to portray their goods as “hand-made” in an attempt to justify their high prices and address consumers’ growing interest in the origins of the products they buy.
Analysts say the sourcing and manufacture of goods have increasingly become a concern for customers, following a scandal over mislabelled horse meat in Europe and the deaths of more than 1,100 people in April in the collapse of a Bangladeshi textile factory that supplied some Western retailers.
“Sophisticated consumers from emerging markets pay more and more attention to where things are made and how they are made because they want products which are really exclusive and with a level of quality and craftsmanship which justify their high pricing,” said Mario Ortelli, luxury goods analyst at Bernstein.
Western brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci have long exploited that trend, with ad campaigns typically featuring sepia-toned photographs of artisans lovingly stitching bags or shoes.
Now they are going a step further by inviting customers to watch the craftsmen at work.
Gucci last week held an ‘artisan corner’ at Bloomingdale’s department store in New York where customers could see craftsmen hand-stitch bags, assemble bamboo handles and hand-emboss buyers’ initials. The brand says it has held over 100 similar events around the world since 2009.
“Brands seek to reassure consumers on the origins of their products and on the way in which they are made,” said Thomas Chauvet, European luxury goods analyst at Citi Research.
Hermes is conducting a worldwide tour of its artisans to present their “savoir faire” in silk scarf printing, handbag stitching or crafting of fine jewellery. Under the name “Festival of crafts,” it started such events in 2011 in malls, public places, galleries and museums.
Its show, which has already visited Plaza 66 shopping mall in Shanghai and Haus der Kunst museum in Munich, attracted 40,000 visitors at the Saatchi Gallery in London in May and is due to travel to Toronto’s Design Exchange museum in October.
The battle of artisans is part of a rivalry that sharpened in 2010 when LVMH revealed it had taken a stake in Hermes.
Months later, in 2011, Hermes chose “contemporary artisan” as the annual theme for its collection - part of a campaign to portray itself as a house of craftsmen while presenting LVMH as a powerful industrial group.
Hermes is involved in several legal battles against LVMH, which has built up a 22.6 percent stake in the maker of 500-euro printed scarves and 30,000-euro python Birkin bags. Last month, the French stockmarket regulator AMF called for the maximum fine to be imposed on LVMH for failing to disclose the manoeuvring involved in accumulating its holding. (Editing by Mark Trevelyan)