MBA Luxury Brand Management

MBA Luxury Brand Management
Class of 2016-2017

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Breguet Museum Visit

Keli Chew, International Luxury Brand Management 2015-2016, Singapore

To conclude the Managing a Watch Brand elective, we were rewarded with a visit to the Breguet boutique and museum located at Place Vendome. This was a special arrangement, kindly made possible by our professor Jerome Auzanneau

We were warmly greeted upon arrival and were encouraged to browse around and to ask questions regarding the collections. The boutique was spacious and ornately decorated; each showcase featured collections, each more stunning that the other.     

We then proceeded to the museum located above the boutique. There, we had the pleasure to meet M. Emmanuel Breguet, Vice President and Head of Patrimony and Strategic Development. He welcomed us and took us through the illustrious history of the brand, which included distinguished clientele such as King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the Turkish ottomans. After which, we had the opportunity to view some of these beautifully crafted vintage pieces on display. My personal favourite is a tactile pocket watch made for Empress Josephine; it is in blue enamel and features a letter “H” in diamonds on the reverse.

M. Breguet also kindly presented original ledgers from the vault, showing records of orders from Emperor Napoleon and other clients. Every record was handwritten and some even included detailed drawings, we watched in awe at the detailed descriptions as he leafed gently through the pages. We discovered amongst the archives, records of the first ever wristwatch invented, giving evidence that Breguet was indeed the inventor of wristwatches.

We were also shown a guilloche machine from 1815 and explained the technicalities and difficulties involved in guillochage. We have a newfound respect for the craft and manufacture, known for the use of up to 4 different guilloche patterns on a single dial.

The visit has been extremely enriching in helping us understand further the art of fine watchmaking as well as this innovative French watchmaking house known for inventing the tourbillion. Thank you M. Breguet and your team for this opportunity to visit!   

Our visit to Audemars Piguet

Keli Chew, International Luxury Brand Management 2015-2016, Singapore

To understand more about the world of watchmaking, the class visited Audemars Piguet at Le Brassus, Switzerland. It was definitely a memorable trip as it is the first time visiting a manufacture for most of the class and it was snowing in the middle of April in the valley!

We were welcomed by CEO, Francois-Henry Bennahmias and given VIP treatment starting with a visit of the museum located at the former Audemars family home. My group was guided by Veronique who used to work at the Audemars Piguet Academy. She is extremely knowledgeable and explained in details about the history of watchmaking, how a movement functions and the different complications. We were awed by the vintage watch collection as well as the beautiful grand complication pieces made by the manufacture. The highlight of our morning was visiting the watchmaker working on restorations whereby we saw him fabricating parts to restore antique pieces.

After lunch, we proceeded to visit the manufacture to understand the complexity and processes involved in fine watchmaking. We were required to put on protective gowns and shoe covers to prevent dust before given a tour around the manufacture. We marveled at the patience and skills of the watchmakers having seen with our own eyes how small and delicate the parts are.

The day ended with a conference with Mr Bennahmias whom answered all our questions without any hesitation.  After which, was time for us to bid farewell to the manufacture and head back to Paris.  Though the trip was short, I am certain that we all left Le Brassus with better understanding of timepieces and a new found appreciation for high watchmaking.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Food for thought: Luxury Beyond Product – A report from The New York Times International Luxury Conference Day 2

By Sara Lau and Johannes Ader, MBA in International Luxury Brand Management 2015-2016

As a short change of scene from our field trip to Milan and Florence (more about this soon), we had the chance to represent ESSEC at the second day of The New York Times International Luxury Conference, held at Versailles, Paris. This year’s subject was “Luxury Beyond Product.” The conference brought together a diverse range of leaders in their respective fields and an audience of industry professionals to discuss and share their take on the matter. Thanks to the extraordinary group of speakers, it was an exciting conference that inspired us to think deeply about the most critical challenges and opportunities in luxury today.

The subject of “luxury beyond product” is not unheard of in the luxury industry. Customers today, and perhaps more importantly, customers of tomorrow do not simply want to purchase a product. Rather, they demand to buy into a brand or culture that connects with them across channels and shares a sense of identification. Emotional, authentic relationships are key to customers, going beyond the product.

In one of the sessions, titled “Connecting to the Edge,” Laurent Potdevin, C.E.O. of Lululemon Athletica, Inc., explained how his company introduces “Effortless loyalty,” a contemporary strategy to engage with customers beyond products without introducing a traditional loyalty concept, such as rewards, membership, etc.

Each Lululemon store cooperates with partners such as community centers and local yoga studios to offer classes and activities, linking customers to the brand through curated experiences. Potdevin described how most of these co-operations are not necessarily contractually fixed, but rather, based on trust between brand and partners. Within Lululemon, managers are asked to spend only 3 days per week at the store and during the rest of the time, to go out and establish or extend relationships with local like-minded spaces where customers go. Given the hype around the brand and the dedicated followers of Lululemon, the strategy seems to be working. Potdevin was supported by Liam Casey, founder & C.E.O. of PCH, who described the journey of customers in three steps, which starts from interest, to purchase, to experience. Through innovative concepts, such as Lululemon’s community engagement, the experience component (the most crucial) converts customers’ interest to loyalty and generates turnover by continuous purchasing of dedicated followers.

Introducing his take on “Luxury beyond product”, John Demsey, executive group president of The Estée Lauder Companies, Inc., shared some interesting insight into the strategic positioning of make-up leader MAC Cosmetics. Through the brand’s continuous engagement with diverse subcultures, MAC has nurtured its distinctive character over years and through its consistency in DNA, fostered a sense of authenticity amongst its customers and fans. Again, beyond its products, MAC stands for something that the consumers believe in and aim to be part of, by buying into it.

Throughout all sessions that day, various speakers shared their take on the matter with us. Maureen Mullen, co-founder & head of research of L2 Inc., introduced us to the strategy of Anastasia Beverly Hills, a vastly engaging cosmetic brand that is still unknown to some in the luxury industry, but one to learn from.  This remarkable cosmetics brand is the unchallenged No.1 leader amongst beauty-accounts on Instagram in terms of numbers of followers. The brand does not necessarily outdo its competitors with a particular extraordinary approaches, but rather through its frequency of posts and dedication to its audience. The brand fosters personal relationships with followers through user-generated content, including re-gramming and tagging followers.

In her closing remarks, Vanessa Friedman, fashion director of The New York Times and conference host, encouraged the audience to be brave and to be passionate about what they do. We felt that her remarks were spot on and a great conclusion of what has been shared throughout the day. Brands need to create emotional relationships with their customers and followers. Besides traditional push-content, audiences want to be part of their brands. Relationships are based on emotions and authenticity. Going beyond product excellence, if brands can create emotion and authenticity through engaging messages, platforms and experiences, they will be set for the future – ahead of many competitors.

Monday, May 2, 2016

International New York Times Luxury Conference Day 1 - Afternoon Sessions

By Joshua Tierney, MBA in International Luxury Brand Management 2015-2016, United States

Versailles, France – The New York Times International Luxury Conference at the Trianon Palace Hotel was a veritable royal court of the global luxury business. 

Lunchtime roundtable discussions were hosted in the ballroom, bringing executives from different sectors and functions together to discuss key challenges facing luxury businesses today.  I was seated at a table with Simon Nyeck, Academic Director of both the MBA in International Luxury Brand Management and the ESSEC Center of Excellence in Luxury, Art, and Culture.   Simon challenged participants with a discussion focused around the topic of how luxury brands can communicate around traditional savoir-faire with a new generation of consumers — the omnipresent Millennials — as well as how companies can blend traditional craftsmanship with technological innovation.   The participants at the roundtable discussion, executives from luxury beauty, fashion, wine, jewelry, and watch brands discussed the challenges of connecting with Generations Y and Z, who have changed the paradigm of top-down communication with luxury brands.  The new generations require an open dialogue with brands, a result of the ongoing digital revolution.  

As the discussion progressed, Simon shared that real innovation comes from the confrontation of different points of view — technology and innovation; craftsmanship and technology; old and new.  It became clear that to have maximum understanding of markets, luxury managers must always have their finger on the pulse of the dominant, receding, and emerging generations of consumers to remain relevant.  

After lunch, thought leaders and industry experts continued panel discussions on the importance of sustainable leadership, the necessity of sustainable business practices for people and the environment, and corporate social responsibility as a core value (and expectation) of the Millennial generation.  In a particularly lively discussion featuring Brunello Cucinelli, chairman and CEO of the namesake Italian luxury brand.  Mr. Cucinelli explained his holistic philosophy of sustainability, which touches all aspects of the company, from supply chain management, to human touch points including employee quality of life and compensation issues.   The business model of the company is built on a foundation of sustainability.

The afternoon culminated in a discussion around patronage of art and culture in the luxury sector, as luxury brands increasingly underwrite cultural institutions, and in extreme cases, open their own museums.  This all led up to the keynote speech, delivered by artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, provocatively entitled, “Art is Not Luxury”. The artist’s work has been commissioned by Chanel and other luxury brands to create one-of-a-kind site-specific works for their retail shops.   Whether or not art is luxury or not is up for debate – a visit to the websites of Sotheby’s or Christie’s might suggest differently than Mr. Othoniel’s argument.  The afternoon concluded with a private visit to the gardens of the Château de Versailles to view a permanent installation of Mr. Othoniels’s work. 

Nevertheless, discussions at the conference highlighted a central concept of luxury brand management.  While the challenges of brand managers are constantly changing, they remain the same – to respect brand heritage, DNA and codes while remaining relevant and modern.