The Coolture interviewed Thibaut de la Rivière, Director of one of the top luxury MBA of the world: Sup de Luxe. Every year, the Institut Supérieur de Marketing du Luxe (ISML), located in the Parisian district of La Defense, opens its doors from September to July to a group of students coming from all over the world to do a Luxury Brand Marketing and International Management program. The students – with an average age of 27 years- combine evening courses during the week and on Saturday morning with internships or jobs in luxury companies.
The program is complemented with visits to workshops, fairs (like the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, in Geneva, created the same year than Sup de Luxe) and studies travels (to Deauville, for example), a unique opportunity to see how this industry works. A thesis, an in-depth analysis of a specific problem related to the subject of study, must be presented at the end of the course in front of a jury of luxury professionals. As Mr de la Rivière explains, “Each year we ask our students to prepare a thesis about an issue for which they have to give ideas and solutions. So today we have 1500 thesis, a lot of them being commands from brands. It happens that a thesis is a way for a student to come forward and to be hired by the company for which he or she has sustained the thesis”.
This master offers not only a first class education but it is also a great opportunity to meet some of the top managers of the industry, that are invited by Sup de Luxe to hold conferences and share their experience with the students. As Mr de la Rivière explains: “The luxury is something that you understand, it´s not something that you learn. No teacher out what is the quality that he or she has that has not worked in luxury can teach the luxury. It´s the people working in luxury that should talk about it”.
Sup de Luxe was founded 22 years ago by professionals of Cartier, who were struggling to find people who already have a sensitivity and understanding of the sector. “Sup de Luxe was born from the desire of industry professionals with a desire to shape their future managers”, points out Mr de la Rivière. Since the beginning, there has been a close a connection between the luxury industry and Sup de Luxe. “We are not part of an academic system, we belong to the luxury companies. Sup de Luxe is at the service of the companies of the sector. Sup de luxe maintains relationships with all the professionals of the sector”, he explains.
THE COOLTURE: Good morning Mr de la Rivière. Can you talk us about the profiles of the students at Sup de luxe?
THIBAUT DE LA RIVIÈRE (SUP DE LUXE): We are for the multi-culture because the luxury is multicultural and present worldwide. Then, this year we have 90 students and about half of them are from abroad, from 20 different nationalities. The average age is 27 years with younger people of around 24 years old who have 4/5 years of higher studies and older people of around forty that are usually working in luxury homes and who need to better understand how this sector works.
There are different cultures, ages, origins and professional backgrounds (journalists, entrepeneurs, fashion designers…). In fact, the more different profiles we have the more happy we are because that is the goal, to make coexist these different profiles that will work together after that. That is also wealth. We are not forming a business, we are forming a universe. Today in luxury we need people in design, in sales, in legal matters, in communication…
THE COOLTURE: What are the assets that you look when you select Sup de Luxe students?
THIBAUT DE LA RIVIÈRE (SUP DE LUXE): Already a cultural openness, that’s important. Luxury is a cultural openness, is a way of life. You must understand what is behind it (the history, geography, geopolitics, art..) and therefore already have an understanding. You need people who have this cultural understanding. Secondly we need people who are open to the world, luxury is not selling in French, it sells worldwide. You need people from different cultures. We must be able to effectively address different types of clients and different cultures. Then you have to understand the luxury, you must understand more than learn.
Then you have to have a creative spirit. Luxury is people who have a vision of tomorrow, with a vision to surprise customers. In the luxury you must surprise customers. Today the act of luxury is an act of love that starts when you are surprised by the product. You come across a product, you have the means and costs what it costs, even if it is useless, you buy it. Because we fall in love in front of this product. So the role of people working in luxury is to surprise the customers and serve them. That are already the main assets that you must have.
You also must have an ability to adapt. Today when you are working in luxury you may have clients who are still kings, queens, you can have clients who are the so called “new rich”, you have people who have an artistic culture which focuses on luxury goods, and people who will want a once in a lifetime, or twice or ten times to buy a product that they have dreamed about, for whom they have saved. So we must be able to serve all its customers and adapt to all these customers.
THE COOLTURE: Sup de Luxe offers the opportunity to build relationships within the luxury industry. Is that important to enter a sector that seems quite closed?
THIBAUT DE LA RIVIÈRE (SUP DE LUXE): Today the luxury sector is still an area that is relatively closed and it is important to integrate it -when one has the assets for it (the sensitivity, the culture, etc.) – to have a network of relationships in this sector to be recognized. The luxury sector is self-sufficient. You enter as junior in the sector and subsequently develop a professional life. And after there are effectively lots of links between people and companies because the luxury sector is a sector where people know each other, are in contact with each other, appreciate each other. And there are links to move from a company to another or from a group to another.
THE COOLTURE: Is it the competition to enter the luxury industry really tough?
THIBAUT DE LA RIVIÈRE (SUP DE LUXE): The competition is very tough because all young people dream of working in luxury. Young people get passionated by periods for certain sectors. There was the period of computers, of Internet and today a lot of young people think they will find their place in this sector, they think this is the place to go. But they are wrong because the luxury sector is a sector that is doing fine but it is not a sector that employs more than another. It is a sector that lives reasonably well in an economics terms, with interesting growth rates but it is not because of that is a sector that needs to hire. Or at least it’s a sector that do not hire in the same jobs as before.
THE COOLTURE: Talks us about these needs of the luxury industry, which are the jobs that have more demand.
THIBAUT DE LA RIVIÈRE (SUP DE LUXE): When we created Sup de Luxe 22 years ago this was a sector that was developing (in marketing terms, in terms of communication) because before they were rather old houses and these old houses opened on to a more large world and were beginning to communicate, to do marketing. Today these structures have acquired their marketing and communication capabilities so their needs are different.
These needs are on the development of the retail network and of the international markets, on the opening of shops, on the logistics, on the sales, on the digital development… Today the luxury brands are working more and more their digital visibility and need people who know how to use the new digital tools. Today most brands sell in their own shops and they open shops worldwide. There are also job opportunities in the logistics, in the resolution of problems that generate this store openings worldwide.
So I would say the markets have changed, I would say that the luxury companies are now structured, are established, have become real businesses in their own right (and not only craftsmen themselves). Companies now have integrated structured groups and therefore the needs aren´t the same.
THE COOLTURE: So in your opinion what means the term luxury for people working in this sector?
THIBAUT DE LA RIVIERE (SUP DE LUXE): Luxury is a state of mind. For customers, luxury is a lifestyle but when you work in the luxury sector is a mindset.