« Most Swiss export products can be associated with luxury »

Nicolas Bideau, director of Presence Switzerland and the country’s ambassador abroad, believes that luxury has no choice but to bet on sustainability. He talks about the values that make Made in Switzerland a quality label on an international scale. Even in times of crisis.

Fabio Bonavita

By Fabio Bonavita02 novembre 2020

Your mission is to promote the image of Switzerland abroad. Is Swiss luxury one of the country’s main assets?

According to our studies on Switzerland’s image abroad, the perception of our country is often linked to luxury or its related values, like quality and precision, as well as nature, chocolate, watchmaking or finance. Other countries, like France or Italy, may be more directly associated with luxury but Switzerland embodies deep-seated values that pertain to this exact sector. Moreover, many Swiss luxury brands embody these values and perfectly symbolize this aspect of our image. Swiss luxury is a springboard for our image, it is a precious communication tool when we organize events abroad.

Is it difficult for you to talk about anything other than watchmaking?

It is obvious that when you start talking about luxury, watchmaking is the primary spontaneous association with Switzerland. In addition to quality and precision, the watchmaking tradition also celebrates Swiss history and technical know-how. The luxury hotel business also has a place in this collective imagery: Switzerland remains a destination of reference in many countries. Luxury here lies not only in the hotels themselves, but in the pristine nature, safety, cleanliness and high-level infrastructure. Finally, most Swiss exports can be associated with luxury in their respective fields: Gruyère is our caviar, ABB is the Rolls-Royce of industrial equipment, and our textiles are used by leading car brands.

For Nicolas Bideau, the Made in Switzerland label remains a synonym for quality and credibility. (DR)

Will the luxury hotel industry recover from the current crisis?

As in many other countries, Swiss tourism is unquestionably facing an unprecedented crisis. The current figures are worrying and some establishments may not recover, according to current forecasts. The more its market depends on international visitors and conferences, the more exposure to problems like this a destination has. The luxury hotel industry falls exactly into this category. A solution, be it a vaccine or something else, is therefore vital for the sector.

Does this apply also to Michelin-starred restaurants?

Michelin-starred restaurants have a higher proportion of local customers and are therefore less sensitive to changes in foreign tourist flows. In recent discussions I've had with several chefs, the figures seemed quite reassuring after weeks of forced closure, which of course posed a financial and human challenge.

Would Swiss luxury goods benefit from further diversification into fashion, jewelry and leather goods?

It is difficult to answer this question directly. I leave it up to the brands themselves to determine their potential for development! From an analytical point of view, it seems to me that there are opportunities in these areas that are on a par with watchmaking, building on a fairly natural extension of the Swiss image and credibility, as well as major challenges, since the markets are already crowded, with many players and well-established foreign brands leading the way.

France can count on the Comité Colbert, Italy on the Altagamma Foundation. Can Switzerland dream of a similar instrument to oversee the luxury industry?

Our country has a different tradition compared to France or Italy. We are generally wary of centralizing structures and let the industries structure themselves. But it seems to me that in recent years, the players in the luxury goods industry, while fiercely defending their independence, have sometimes managed to coordinate their actions to safeguard the interests of the industry. For example, I am following with great interest the watchmaking industry's reflections on the coherence of its initiatives in the area of trade shows. These reflections are healthy, particularly in order to preserve and promote the image of this emblematic luxury industry. This ability to come together around shared interests is useful, without necessarily requiring a permanent meta-structure.

Quality, precision, nature, chocolate, watchmaking and finance continue to define the image of Switzerland. (Pxhere)

Is Made in Switzerland still a selling point?
Made in Switzerland is still a quality label with a high level of credibility. But its impact is different depending on the country and the field. Studies are regularly conducted, in particular by the University of St. Gallen, to calculate its economic value, which generally remains "more than good". The number of brands trying to pass themselves off as Swiss is a good indicator! Moreover, in this time of pandemic, qualities like safety, durability, stability and cleanliness are all the more important for Switzerland.

International schools also attract big money to Switzerland, how do you explain this Swiss tradition?
There are several factors that explain the success of international schools. First of all, tradition: the history of these schools in our country is long and their image has consolidated over time, especially because crowned heads and celebrities have attended them. Secondly, the quality of education: if the families were not satisfied with the level of education provided in these schools, their success would not be the same. Finally, the image of Switzerland: the qualities we mentioned earlier also play an important role here. Political stability, neutrality, economic success and security are all relevant arguments when choosing a school for one's children.

Tomorrow's luxury will necessarily be more sustainable

Nicolas Bideau, Director of Presence Switzerland

What do you think tomorrow's luxury will look like? Will it be more sustainable?
There is no other option! This is a fundamental political and societal trend that a sector as important as luxury cannot overlook. Many brands have been aware of this theme for a long time and have adjusted their positioning accordingly, both in terms of communication, with partnerships that support sustainable initiatives, as well as production and distribution channels. However, much remains to be done, and this is true for every sector. Luxury has a certain advantage, being more sustainable and durable by nature, as opposed to the programmed obsolescence of other industries. But this is only the beginning!

Nicolas Bideau has been Director of Presence Switzerland since 2010. (DR)

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