Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Luxury: myth or reality...
The day before yesterday I was thrilled to listen at a conference to someone who would talk in Bucharest about luxury and actually know what they were saying. You've guessed it, it was someone who had gained his experience abroad,...and a broad experience that must be if you are CEO of very famous fashion brand which is then turned to a luxury house. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't believe that Romania has no qualified people to talk about and represent this industry with a great know-how and a specific understanding (look at me, I'm trying to do this daily), but there is a certain lack of culture which is missing, and there are historic reasons for that. Hence the guests on Monday....mainly from a fashion background, but my deepest question was "what fashion?". Journalism and fashion, they seem to go well together, but there was a slight disappointment to be felt in the aiur when someone asked what the difference between pret-a-porter and haute couture would be in the luxury industry... (speechles!!!)
But let me tell you what it was all about!
We (us, the participants and you, the readers) can all thank L'Institut Francais du Bucarest for having this great initiative of calling Mr. Daniel Potard to have this "lecture"(because I am sure many had something to learn from his experiences and tellings) to Bucharest. It is strange that this initiative was taken by a cultural institute, nevertheless it is highly appreciated and I come to think that it fits well with the "Luxury is creativity" theme of the conference. But, seen that the guest stated that the nr.1 industry in France and the nr.2 exporting industry from France is the luxury industry, it looked like the normal branch to promote from that country.
Mr. Daniel Potard begins his "career" around 1976 when he joins his friend Jean-Paul Gautier in building the fashion house with the same name, later transforming it into a luxury house. He also becomes CEO of companies such as Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Emanuel Ungaro, and today he is the "Agent de Luxe", representing more than 100 fashion designers, people from the beauty industry, designers and luxury people/companies. Told like this, it all seems very impressive and intimidating, and then HE showed up, carrying a monogram handbag and wearing a very warm smile, talking to us with so much passion,...I felt he was such a down-to-earth person and so "normal", just like what I had seen in my mentor in Monaco while I was doing my Master of Science in Luxury Goods and Services.
I was very thrilled that, from what all he talked about, most of the things were common sense (for people with the know-how in the industry) and he reassured me that I have the correct understanding and knowledge on the difficult topic of what we call now "the luxury industry".
It was a bit of a shocking comparison, but I found his beggining of the speech very interesting as theory: "Luxury is a bit like God - noone knows for sure what He is, but everyone talks about Him", a theory which would be repeated relating to the way people nowadays buy luxury: they go to temples and worship certain values a brand stands for, they use rituals as they buy and use their products etc.
Another main idea was that luxury consists...or should consist in the first place of CREATIVITY and the savoir-faire of the craftsmen, because only like this luxury products can "talk alone" about themselves. An interesting point he made here was that artists would work better in times of crisis, when they are under more pressure and stress.
Why creativity and not "quarterly report culture", as Daniel Potard mentioned it? Because the second damages the luxury companies and, interesting enough, 80% of our choices we take when we go shopping are completely irrational. As an example he mentioned here the IPad story, a product which on the first place is being liked, excuse me, loved (note all the queues around the globe) before people noticing its utility. This is how creators nowadays are sociologues and marketers...
The second part of this conference was mainly on "the ten qualities of luxury", or better said, characteristics. I'm not going to go into much detail, but imagine how happy I was when the first thing on this list was the service. I have specialized in luxury services and I still remain to my opinion that luxury products are almost nothing if not being offered with and through the proper service. Being asked to work on a Luxury Portfolio during my Master Studies, I considered that the meaning of luxury for me can be only related to the five senses, to an experience which is yours and yours only (hint at the religious part mentioned before).
Here are some of the characteristics of luxury: service, pleasure, emotion, sacred, ceremony, rarity, power, price etc.
The third part and also the one to end this beautiful encounter was a Q&A round which left me rather disappointed. The audience was not what I expected it to be, nor do I think now that they could have gathered the right people. Only my friend Ioana understood what I mean. She lives for fashion, I live more for luxury, but she had the knowledge and understanding to take the message from the conference and separate it from Daniel Potard's past in the fashion industry. When I asked a question and started by saying that I have studied luxury and would work in this industry, people turned their head, as if I would be doing something that is great to talk and hear about,...but tabu otherwise.
I still hope that one day the mentality would change, the open fronteers to the Western world would bring enough culture and education in this domain that it will be regarded other than new-money-occupation and bling-bling-Dorobanti-people (note to foreigners: Dorobanti is a street in Bucharest with a lot of IT-coffee shops where young, beautiful women go to look for rich men and rich men go to look for armcandies and a good parking lot to show-off with the newest car acquisition). Yes, luxury is manipulation,....didn't your grandmother or -father try to manipulate you when you were a kid and she/he was reading you a story?! This is what luxury is in fact: a rational (but politically incorrect), beautiful story, which creates and satisfies your wishes while still surprizing you in a way you never expected it to, a proof of the power others have over you to direct you to a place of mistery, but your power of will to choose and to be free...or better said,....the unlimited freedom to choose...