MBA Luxury Brand Management

MBA Luxury Brand Management
Class of 2016-2017

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Day at Maison Lesage

 By Anne-Claire Gillig, MBA in International Luxury Brand Management 2013-2014, France

A few weeks ago our class visited the renowned Maison Lesage in Paris. If it needs any introduction, the Maison Lesage is an embroidery house purchased in 1924 by Albert and Marie-Louise Lesage from Monsieur Michonet, an already well-established craftsman. Later, their son, François Lesage, took over the family business, which he sold to Chanel in 2002. When François passed away in 2011 the “petites mains” (literally “small hands”) – as the embroiders who work in the shadows are called – lost a father, but their know-how continues to be passed on through the “Ecole Lesage” located in the 9th district of Paris. 

This is where another day started for us MBA in International Luxury Brand Management students. At Lesage, we were walked through an overlapping history of fashion and Maison Lesage that gave us a taste of the close, life-long partnership between craftsmen and the glamorous fashion scene. I appreciated that the presentation was so well crafted that it appealed to all of us, whether we already had extensive knowledge of fashion history or whether we were newbies in the field.

Learning about all the passion and work behind my favourite fashion shows, particularly the one where Yves Saint Laurent revisited the work of Van Gogh, was extremely compelling. “For this collection, Yves Saint-Laurent wanted to have volume. He wanted to give the impression of actual grapes growing on the shoulders of the model. We had to be creative and come up with a solution,” explained Cécile from Lesage. Another photo from a fashion show portrayed a model in an outfit with about a dozen fans sewn on it. Cécile shared its story with us : “That day, two hours before the show, the designer said ‘I want fans’. Two embroiders from Lesage were instantly dispatched to the show’s premises. They worked until the very last second when the model stepped onto the catwalk, most likely with a needle still attached to her dress!” After hearing these anecdotes, I figured that the people at Lesage are not only super-skilled craftsmen, they also have to be creative, humble, flexible and must possess an acute sense of service.

We then took a bus to Lesage’s workshops in Pantin. There, we took a tour of the atelier and were
introduced to some of Lesage’s embroiderers. Our visit took place right after the end of fashion week and everyone was rather quiet; most of them seemed tired, but all I could see were passionate people whose faces lit up as soon as they started speaking about their job. “During fashion week we often work until one or two in the morning and sometimes we need to stay all night long,” said a senior embroiderer. “It takes 3 years of apprenticeship to learn the trade and 5 years to be able to complete a job autonomously. But this is a beautiful job.” He concluded, “It requires a lot of focus and passion. Time flies and we don’t even notice.” We were then introduced to a lady who specialized in weaving with a few samples of Chanel’s signature tweed behind her. “We always try new things. This is a sample of woven zippers. I’d always wanted to try it, so I did and then we showed it to Chanel.” Although Lesage belongs to Chanel, their employees are strongly encouraged to work for other fashion houses. This enables the embroiderers to stay creative and constantly research new materials. No wonder Chanel is so keen on protecting their craftsmen; it really is a partnership.

The most impressive room in the workshop was most certainly the archives; the entire history of Lesage in 60,000 pieces, all wrapped up and labelled in boxes. It was impressive to see and touch pieces, some more than 100 years old, intact and in vibrant colours. Each sample is unique and can only be proposed to a single fashion house. Even if the designer eventually turns it down, the samples remain exclusive and cannot be shown to another house. “Trust is the basis of our business,” explained our guide. “A couture house wouldn’t like to see samples that were initially designed for them in the collection of another maison. And you never know, they might change their mind about a sample they turned down at first.”

Back at Lesage’s school after lunch, we were treated to an actual embroidery class, a first for me.  Although I was tremendously excited by this activity, I very soon started to feel pain in my neck and discomfort in my back. I inquired about how the daily job affects the embroiderers’ health.  “Of course it’s a painful job. It’s terrible for your neck and your eyes. But it’s a beautiful job and I love it. I wouldn’t change it in the world,” said our embroidery teacher, herself an embroiderer for 30 years. After 3 hours of work, I left the room with a delightful feeling of achievement and the ability to say, “I made this.” Beyond the thrill and pride of seeing the result of a few hours of work, I feel I have a better understanding of Lesage’s craftsmanship, the “petites mains,” and how much value they create for the business of luxury fashion. This ancestral know-how requires time, patience, passion, expertise and attention to detail. Hundreds of hours of handmade work are necessary to achieve what is called “couture.” One thing is sure: if tomorrow I have to sell a 200 000€ couture dress and have to explain how the price of a garment can be so high, I will have an answer.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Visit to Louis Vuitton's Workshop

By Paulina Adriana Riquelme Nino, MBA in International Luxury Brand Management 2013-2014, Mexico

On September 23, the MBA in Luxury Management had the opportunity to visit the workshop of Luis Vuitton located just northwest of central Paris in a charming area of Asnières-sur-Seine.

The site welcomes visitors with a nice, small garden, along with the old house where Vuitton’s family lived until some years ago. We could enjoy part of the heritage and craftsmanship captured through the objects displayed throughout the house, though the images and pictures on the walls, and through the elaborate Art Nouveau decoration. All this created an atmosphere of exclusivity.

The second floor of the house served as a small museum to share the history of the brand. There you can enjoy examining the first luggage and bags decorated with the patterns that Louis Vuitton developed. Then we headed to the workshop, where we could appreciate the ‘savoir faire’ and the exceptional craftsmanship embodied in all products. This where leather goods and other special products, including trunks, are created on site.

Overall, this visit gave the class a sense of curiosity about the brand’s history and a greater awareness of the importance of story-telling for creating a link between a brand and a customer. This is extremely important for luxury brands, where heritage plays a key role in defining the brand and its relationship with the customer.



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Visit to Shang Xia: Rebranding “Made in China”

By Zhao Baudot, MBA in International Luxury Brand Management 2013-2014, France

We visited Shang Xia, the Chinese crafts brand supported by Hermès, in Paris on September 23rd. The exhibit space was designed of thin ceramic panels partitioned into three areas: art of living, jewelry and clothing. Everything was about storing-telling, craftsmanship, materials, bringing the past to the future (the meaning of “Shang Xia”) and lifestyle. It included a tea set covered by bamboo fibers just millimeters thick, large porcelain bowls made of ultra-thin porcelain that have their own vibrating hum, seamless coats made from Nepalese cashmere, a necklace crafted out of a single piece of jade, a super comfortable chair crafted from leather and walnut, etc. Two artisans working in-house demonstrated weaving bamboo for the covered tea set and seamless clothing-making.

We also attended a hot tea ceremony, a cold tea ceremony, and an incense ceremony. The hot tea ceremony took place in a room with walls made from bricks of tea; very interesting! I really appreciated how they explained the traditions to us and served us with flair and exacting attention to detail. Shang Xia is not a typical luxury brand; its mission is to rebrand the “Made in China” label. I was very happy to have the occasion to visit the boutique; I wish Shang Xia a bright future.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Company Trek: Visit to Kering

By Pawel Zawisza, MBA in International Luxury Brand Management student 2013-2014, Poland

What a great way to start the MBA in International Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC, if not to visit the offices of one of the major players in the industry? On September 11, all of us were priviledged enough to visit the offices of Kering in Paris, where we got a sample of how the luxury goods business operates.

Kering, formerly PPR, is one of the world's largest luxury goods holdings. It includes such well-established brands as Gucci, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, as well as lifestyle & sport brands like Puma. Over the course of the afternoon we were able to interact with top managers in the company, and to learn more about the challenges and opportunities when it comes to selling luxury products.

After the short introduction, our first session was with the Head of Merchandising at Balenciaga. We learned about each step in the process of how to design a collection for the following year. Yes, the preliminary planning for Fall 2013 started in the summer of 2012! We were told about different steps involved in the planning process – deciding what the collection will include, prototype evaluation, etc.

The second session dealt with the emergence of digital trends in the luxury goods industry. Nowadays more and more companies are noticing and utilizing the digital sphere, including social media, to communicate faster and better with their customers. At the same time it poses a challenge, as the fast-changing digital landscape can make it difficult to properly convey the meaning of 'luxury'.

Our last session for the day concerned the process of mergers and acquisitions in the luxury goods industry, what factors go into putting a price tag on different companies, how the M&A process is structured, etc. For obvious reasons I cannot go into details, since everything was TOP SECRET :-)

Personally, I found each and every session very interesting and, in some areas, illuminating. The visit allowed me to understand the luxury industry much better, and I came out from the meeting with much appreciation to all the people working hard at Kering!