When the opportunity arises to spend a week delving into the inner workings of some of the world’s most notable brands, that opportunity must be grabbed with both hands. With our sights set on understanding the “savoir faire” of each brand’s maison, 19 HEC Paris MBA students and myself headed to some of the most glamorous addresses in Paris for the MBA Retail and Luxury Club’s annual trek. Our excursions included behind-the-scenes store visits, a wealth of cultural events, and Q&A’s with executives about each brand’s strategy for the future.
“Paris is always a good idea” –Audrey Hepburn
When dreaming of Luxury, Paris always comes to mind. For many of the maisons, Paris is their birthplace, and the City of Lights continues to have an undeniable mystique for people around the world. What better location to explore these brands? Of those students hoping to transition into the luxury sector post MBA, many of us want to live and work in Paris.
Company Visit Highlights
Naturally, the trek started on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, arguably the world’s most fashionable street. Gathered outside Hermès, we were anticipating a storybook experience. The visit didn’t disappoint. The centre of the store has remained unchanged since 1880, when Charles-Emile Hermès relocated his workshop to the heart of Paris.
Our guided tour took us on a journey through the ages of Hermès, giving us an intimate look at the traditional and modern aspects of the iconic brand.
A visit to Saint Laurent Rive Droit brought a complete change in atmosphere. The sleek, contemporary flagship store holds true to the essence of Saint Laurent, plus it includes a Lifestyle section not found anywhere else. We toured the store’s “Appartement Parisien,” reserved for those clients who want privacy while shopping. We also visited their exclusive underground level where the elite gather for private club events.
A visit to MAD Network, a beautiful, well-lit workspace in the 2nd arrondissement, brought a unique view on the Luxury industry. Specialising in strategic consulting, talent recruitment and employee education within the sector, the brightest minds at MAD shared with us their insights into the challenges currently faced by brands. Their views sparked many lively discussions after our visit.
Day two: Another crisp autumn morning in the 1st arrondissement found us gathered outside Shiseido. Jerome, EMEA Talent Acquisition Director, took us though the company’s performance and strategic goals, sharing with us Shiseido’s culture of inclusiveness and drive. After this enlightening presentation, we took a guided visit of Serge Lutens (Rue Saint-Honoré) which included a brief history about the life of Lutens and how he began designing parfumes. Everyone had fun admiring the brand’s distinct flaçons and choosing a signature scent.
Chloé was, for many, a dream come true. Café Chloe is the new wellness space located in their Parisian headquarters. It truly embodies the Chloé values: conviviality, joyfulness and free-spiritedness. These values were embodied by the Chloé team who generously hosted us for the afternoon. We toured the Chloé workshop, where we were able to watch the coming-to-life of some of their latest pieces.
Initially, many club members had not considered Pernod Ricard to fall within the luxury sector. However, the visit to their HQ transformed our opinions. They shared their portfolio of brands that compete in the luxury spirits sector and described how these brands are positioned in the market. The visit included a fun and relaxed Apéro with the Pernod Ricard team.
A smaller group had the opportunity to visit the Chanel store at Place Vêndome. The essence of the store represents the ying and yang so treasured by Gabrielle Chanel. We were guided through the jewellery store, where we admired the diamonds and gemstones crafted into one-of-a-kind pieces.
Luxurynsight specialize in “making luxury dataful”. Many luxury companies have access to a host of information that is not being fully leveraged. Luxurynsight aims to change that. The team introduced us to the working they are doing with businesses in both France and China. We gained a new perspective on the luxury industry and how data can best be used to identify business opportunities.
The cultural side to Paris
In addition to exploring the luxury sector through our exciting company visits, the Retail & Luxury Club also took in some Parisian culture. Most notably, we visited the Musée de Yves Saint Laurent and toured the Palais Garnier.
The YSL Museum took us on a journey through time, exploring the life of the designer and the history of the brand. After having visited the Saint Laurent store earlier in the week, this visit really allowed us to better understand the maison and its vision.
Palais Garnier, home to the Opéra, was built over a period of 4 years and completed in 1875. The palace, known for its opulence and grandeur, truly embodies the historical spirit of luxury. It’s easy to understand why this stunning marble opera house is revered as a masterpiece of its time.
And what a luxurious week it was
I, like all who attended this event, had high expectations of what the week would entail, and I am so pleased with how the week turned out. We learnt from some of the brightest minds in industry, and were challenged in our way of thinking about Luxury. We started building our networks, we ate good food and, most importantly, enjoyed the time spent together.
Text by Kendal Devine
Kendal Devine (MBA ’21) graduated with an Honours Degree in Finance and Accounting from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in 2013. She started a 3-year training contract with Ernst & Young on her path to qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, which she achieved in 2016. She worked at an Investec Bank in Johannesburg for 2 years. There she played a vital role in transforming the behavioral stigma towards the measuring of credit risk before embarking on a new journey in Paris. She decided to pursue an MBA at HEC Paris to broaden her global business knowledge, explore new industries and sectors, and to share her knowledge and learn from others.