“To rethink the world also means rethinking luxury”

Fabio Bonavita

By Fabio Bonavita12 novembre 2020

Nine Swiss Universities were invited to participate to one of the first major events dedicated to environmental responsibility. During the inaugural event themed “Is deconsumption compatible with luxury?”, Cyrille Vigneron, President and CEO of Cartier International, engaged with more than 300 students via zoom.

Cyrille Vigneron, CEO and President of Cartier International (DR)

First conference jointly organized by Luxury Tribune and the Swiss Center for Luxury Research (SCLR), this initiative was also the first achievement of both institutions’ common goal: to nurture a debate and enhance research on current issues in the luxury sector. Nine Swiss Universities were invited to participate. The concept of deconsumption, currently crucial in terms of environmental responsibility, was at the heart of the conversation on November 9th. For sanitary reasons, the meeting was held on Zoom. Themes such as transmission, innovation as well as the necessary superfluous were explored over an hour and a half.

Cyrille Vigneron, is deconsumption an enemy to luxury?

First of all, I would like to define my vision of deconsumption. It’s about reducing waste production, then reusing materials with the idea of eventually minimizing environmental impact on the sector. There can also be a will to pass on a better world to future generations as deconsumption is first and foremost a question of behavior. It’s about reducing overconsumption which is about immediate satisfaction. However, luxury belongs to what I call the “necessary superfluous”, which we don’t need but which we desire and which makes us happy, on the contrary to “utilitarianism” which forgets about the non-essentials.

Do you advocate a type of luxury that is close to frugality?

Exactly. It is important to keep in mind that frugal luxury has been present during our entire history. A beautiful product that is not opulent is an ideal that is resurfacing especially during the current complicated times. It is linked to a desire while not taking it too far. It is neither about being ostentatious nor about overconsuming. It seems fundamental that one should cultivate a certain form of patience, in order to buy the dream object that will make one happy. 

At a time where the industry must face a global drop in sales, do you think deconsumption has its place?

Well of course. In the past, to buy a car or a washing machine was considered a luxury. The Maisons have to remember their clients are happy to possess exceptional objects. Solidarity is also essential. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased inequalities all around the world. People in the most precarious situations are the most impacted and we need to help them. Diverse confinement measures are also offering an incredible opportunity to rethink the world in which we want to live, and we have the time to do so. To rethink the world also means to rethink luxury.

Can a company’s profitability go hand in hand with deconsumption?

A company’s profitability will benefit by proxy to the entire community by offering jobs and by paying taxes among other things.

Can you give us a concrete example of deconsumption?

When we were inaugurating the new version of an iconic collection such as the Panther or the Pasha, for example, we invited our clients who owned a watch from a previous collection to come to our boutique for a free repair. That way, the pleasure of wearing the model was restored without having encouraged the client to make a new purchase. That’s the concrete way to work towards sustainability, and towards deconsumption. A luxury object needs to be recycled, repaired and shared.

At the beginning of 2020, the Pasha de Cartier made its big comeback in a new collection (DR)

How do you explain the relocation phenomenon we are currently witnessing?

Let’s first remind that luxury is mainly manufactured in Europe, in France, Italy or Switzerland first and foremost. But what the pandemic has shown is that to choose a cheaper workforce abroad could create many problems, especially regarding transportation and in the supply chain.

What about the new generations’ values? We often hear that they are quite different from the ones of their elders. Can you confirm this?

I haven’t noticed this phenomenon. Youths appreciate the same products as previous generations. At Cartier for example, 60% of our clients are millennials and in China 25% are from the Z generation. A Maison that has a story, a know-how, a timeless design will seduce new generations. However, there is a trend in the background that touches upon all generations and it is about environmental concerns. I have noticed that the more sustainable the design, the more it answers to people’s desires.

Have these environmental concerns impacted the evolution of your strategy?

Up until today, current regulations were considered enough for some brands. It allowed to answer questions regarding endangered species, pollution or materials used. From now on, we need to go further. Much further. In our House for instance, 90% of the gold used is recycled. There is also a desire of traceability from our clients as well as a strong desire to be ethical. Before that, we would take action, but now we need to take action and say it.

The panther has been the emblem of the Cartier brand for more than a hundred years. It appeared for the first time in 1914 (DR).

Are you dedicating more budget?

No as this strategy is incorporated within Cartier. We became carbon-neutral ten years ago. Nevertheless, we continue to innovate. That is why we’ve created a new fund called “Cartier for nature”. The new fund “Lion’s share”, a UN program for development (PNUD) to which we participate and which regroups a coalition of companies and UN partners, is very interesting as it aims at raising more than 100 million dollars a year over the next five years to finance efforts against the loss of biodiversity and protecting habitats by inviting brands to pay the equivalent of 0.5% of their advertising spend, every time the image of an animal is used in their ads. As citizens of the world, we think it is our duty to protect the planet’s biodiversity and to make a difference in wildlife conservation. In our boutiques as well, we aim at sustainability by reusing materials. Our factories have chosen renewable, hydraulic and solar energy mainly. In short, our commitment towards protecting the environment trickles down to the entire business and I can only be proud of it.


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    Unil (HEC Lausanne), University of St. Gallen, Univesità della Svizzera Italiana, Universität Bern, Université de Neuchâtel, Ecal, l’Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, Glion Institut of Higher Education, IMD

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