Renaud Dutreil, chairman of vodka-maker Tigre Blanc, comments in an interview about his experience in public and private sectors, the need for luxury brands to innovate and why Indian artisans need the support of young and edgy designers. A former president of the North America business of French luxury goods company LVMH, Dutreil also served the French government for over 15 years. He was one of the speakers at the Mint Luxury Conference in New Delhi. Edited excerpts.
You have had a diverse experience from being part of the French government to working with the world’s largest luxury good company LVMH and now vodka? How has the experience of handling such diverse work profiles been?
If you look at the appearance it’s very different, but what’s important in both the public and business sphere is that you have to have a strategy and to be able to implement it and motivate people. It is something I’ve been enjoying in both worlds the ability to define new tracks, to set goals, innovate ways to reach goals and I would say it’s much more difficult in the public sphere because it’s slow, it has a lot of red tape, but it is possible to be creative in both the worlds.
After handling the luxury business what insights did you gather?
It was interesting for me because I joined LVMH in 2008, at the beginning of the crisis, and everybody was challenging the luxury products and saying ‘do we needs these products?’ The answer was not business but cultural, saying look at those products, they are telling stories, they are bringing to you an insight in the lifestyle and that is valuable and those products are made by artisans, not by billionaires. So, I was working on the authenticity of the products and that I think has worked really well.
Very interesting profile of work, from LVMH to now vodka?
Tigre Blanc Vodka is a good mix between heritage, it is crafted in the south-west of France, where cognac is born. It is very innovative and we have a partnership with an organization which tries to save tigers, specially here in India, which is a very very important DNA of the brand, i.e. the aspect of giving back. The bottle is of a very innovative design, it’s a dialogue between two cultures, you know France has no tigers so I couldn’t be inspired by animals in my proximity, but I am passionate about the cause. So this brand is a good symbol of what luxury should be i.e. a good balance between heritage and a dialogue between different cultures and gives back to society. It’s a new animal coming into the luxury market, it’s not a large global company, it’s part of my personality and it’s authentic.
You have travelled to India in the past for business and you have launched Tigre Blanc here now, what is your understanding of the Indian consumer?
Sometimes when we speak of emerging markets, in luxury, we use this word “new money”, but behind this word you have new consumers who are rooted in the most ancient values in the world. What is important is that luxury brands understand that the Indian consumer is not like the Chinese consumer and customize their products and experience and be able to respect the culture of the consumer otherwise it will be a nightmare where we will have the same products, to the same consumer all over the world, which is the opposite of what I would like to see in the luxury experience, i.e. something which is respectful of everyone’s identity and culture.
You think brands are doing that, i.e. adapting to local markets or is it the global trends that work everywhere?
I think that some brands are doing that and some are blind brands trying to sell their same products wherever it is. For instance, Louis Vuitton which has a gene of travel and loves discovering new cultures, when they open stores somewhere there is always a great respect to the culture and architectural environment of the place. There is money in the luxury industry, this has to be spent to promote diversity not only to sell the product.
You said in your talk today that heritage is boring, it needs some excitement and innovation, are brands doing that?
Fortunately, the culture at the end of the day is that the consumer is the one who decides so that brands that have fallen asleep on their heritage are going to have trouble in their future and the brands that are respectful of their identity and able to break rules and reinvent themselves will win.
You have been promoting local artists. Do you think in between commercialization of luxury as a business the artisans’ role gets diluted?
That’s what happened very well in France where artisans today are not disappearing class of workers but are emerging as a very respected class of workers because they are managing high quality of work, and people respect that and are willing to pay a high price for their products, So in India, it is important, artisanship can be protected and can be modernized i.e. young, trendy, edgy designers can work with local artisans to instill a new freshness, new innovative approach to the traditional work of artisans, otherwise it’s too folklore, it’s too local.
You spoke about luxury as a dialogue between two cultures, how would you define that?
Brands are story-telling machines. We are in a business that can be called the business of emotions, so if you cannot connect with your customers and to understand his specificity you cannot work and it's not enough to say you have “new money” and consumers who want to show off and you provide products which they can show off say “look I’am successful”, that’s not enough. But if you want loyal consumers you have to give them something more personalized and something more cultural. And in the past you had the Maharajah and Cartier bringing their passion for different jewels; it was a co-production between consumers and artisans.
Where do you think the future of luxury as an industry is heading?
Luxury industry will be growing at high rates in the next 20 years because you will have so many new customers in search of new products and experiences. And that’s what the luxury industry provides and that should last. The luxury industry should not be very proud of itself and realize that it needs to give back and allow new innovative brands to evolve.