Spring break à la française—leading Wharton’s first Luxury French Trek

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Paris is renowned as the world’s luxury capital. As part of the Lauder French track, I spent my summer learning as much as I could about this sector, and I finished immersion determined to return and deepen my experience in the luxury space. I seized the opportunity to do so by leading Wharton’s first Luxury French Trek over spring break 2014.

Trek Farewell Dinner at the Automobile Club of France. Photo credit: Saki Tanaka
Trek Farewell Dinner at the Automobile Club of France. Photo credit: Saki Tanaka

The adventure started in September, when I heard a few 2nd year French MBA students were planning a professional French luxury trek. I approached them and they warmly welcomed me as part of their team. They’d already compiled their dream list of brands to visit and we leveraged our contacts (including my own from the summer) to open these doors. One by one we got confirmations, and as spring break approached we realized we’d made our dream itinerary a reality. We set off as a group of 19 for a truly incredible experience.

After a weekend of sight-seeing, our trek started in earnest with a store visit at the Champs Elysees Louis Vuitton store, one of Paris’ landmark tourist shopping destinations. The store manager gave us an in-depth perspective and sharp insight into her work, managing a staff of 400 who serve 5,000-7,000 daily visitors and drive up to 800,000 Euros in daily sales. The most expensive item ever sold at this store? A made-to-order, leather, diamond-encrusted handbag priced at 350,000 Euros. The next day was Chanel, including a tour of Coco Chanel’s private apartments (a French national heritage site!) and a discussion with President of Fashion Bruno Pavlovsky, essentially #2 in the global company. Chanel is privately-owned and notoriously secretive, and gaining this level of access was tremendous for our group. It was especially fascinating to learn about how the company gives its designers creative liberty but tightly manages its retail business: pricing up, limiting stocks to train clients to buy without hesitation, and restricting distribution of products to maintain brand integrity. This gave us an insider’s understanding of the strategy of this private company, whose owners do not answer to shareholders and have the liberty to pursue calculated, deliberate growth. Above all, the company strives to stay faithful to its founder’s legacy.

The week continued with visits at L’Oreal, a tour of Cartier’s flagship store, and a private tour and tasting at the Moet Chandon cellars. All these companies across fashion, beauty, and wine and spirits emphasized the importance of passion in driving their business. Each brand leverages its heritage to build an aspiration image and connect with clients on an emotional level. Our group included students with experience in retail alongside career-switchers, and we all grew closer over this week sharing our passion for luxury, the French chic and joie de vivre. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this and am excited to begin planning next year’s trek!

By Sarit Henig (Wharton/Lauder ’15, French track)