Luxury world capital: Paris vs Milan


While Italy may be known for its exceptional taste and artisanal savoir-faire and Paris known as the world leader in cut, style and “selling the dream”, Milan and Paris are head to head for the title of world luxury leader. A conference was held on this topic at the Hôtel de l’Industrie on Saint-Germain des Prés in Paris, in late May 2014.

The alumni association of Paris’ Sciences Po University in association with the Parisian branch of Italy’s Bocconi business school alumni, brought together a group of industry thought leaders to exchange on the theme: Where is Luxury Headed, Paris or Milan? While the jury is still out on that, a broader discussion of European luxury ensured. One real difference between France and Italy was heard to be the level of financial stability: Italy’s luxury is grounded in the artisanal while France’s luxury brands are part of large groups like LVMH, giving them a corporate weight, in terms of security.

Is the French touch & vision superiour to Italian emphasis on materials and craftmanship?

This French style industrialization of luxury supports forward-thinking investments, and gives brands valuable backing from corporate groups and access to best practices. While the more artisanal luxury of Italy benefits from more creativity because budgets are unlimited and problem solving becomes a source of innovation. The debate raised many interesting questions such as could a luxury product be made with recycled materials?
An intellectual’s vision was voiced by David Dubois, marketing researcher and professor at one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD. He defined luxury as axed in scarcity and exclusivity. In this context, luxury is mostly used to communicate social status.
Andrea Stillacci, founder and president of Paris based multidisciplinary communication agency Herezie, looked to the way marketing and communication treated luxury compared to mass accounts as a good analogy for identifying luxury as a whole: “luxury marketing is not about selling a product but about communicating magic and creating and keeping a dream alive by recharging brands’ values. While the internet offers an ideal tool of luxury storytelling through video,” he explained.

Can the more artisanal luxury of Italy continue to compete against the French powerhouse luxury corporations?

Fulvio Peppuccini from the investment company Bain & Company, outlined luxury’s transition to a more mature phase, less vulnerable to financial crisis, as well as a trend towards vertical integration of the supply chain, meaning brands are taking over their own production and retailing to gain more control and cut costs.
While ranks of the extremely rich swell, the divisions between premium and luxury are constantly being redefined, as completely new categories are created. Niche brands are able to take on traditional fortresses and digital media has turned communication and marketing upside down; for students heading into luxury fashion, the message was clear: Italian or French, Milan or Paris, ambition, audacity and keeping a clear vision is the key.