Articles

Who makes luxury goods?

In her book, “Fabriquer du Luxe“[Making Luxury Goods”], Editions Presses des Mines, Paris, Nathalie Darène, a lecturer research scientist at UTC’s Costech Laboratory says that she undertook “an empirical survey in the worlds of watchmaking and perfumes” in both France and Switzerland for the purpose if understanding the re-organization induced by a new capitalistic set-up of the luxury goods sector.

Who makes luxury goods?

The book is a follow-on from her PhD thesis work and led Nathalie Darène to meet over 100 sub-contractors in the perfume trades in France and watch-makers in Switzerland. These sub-contractors - becoming more and more numerous - have to comply with demands from the luxury companies in terms of quality, delivery dates, ingenious solutions ... But they are 'hidden entities' of the major sector companies who communicate more on "luxurious dreams" than on their production lines. Nathalie Darène invites the readers to meet the sub-contractors she herself met during her work functions at Yves Saint Laurent Parfums. It was through this professional experience and her arriving in the luxury watch sector with the help of a "recognized collector" that "greatly facilitated a mutual understanding and the most representative description possible of the reality in 4 localities": the Bresles and Plastic Valleys in France, and the Joux Valley and the Swiss Jura canton. The introduction to her book is a panorama of the luxury goods sectors, where change depend on international expansion of trade, where the response us multi-trademark groups and rationalized management. Sub-contractors and suppliers are at the heart of paradoxical logics, "between the demands of the artistic directors (...), forever looking for perfection and the demands of the industrial and financial spheres who become more and more stringent and unmovable in terms of assuring short-time profits", between remaining faithful to a traditional heritage and a race to innovate and constantly propose new products. Nathalie focused on three issues: territories where the SMEs are grouped close to a prime contractor, inter-trade union organization relationships and how they are evolving towards more networking and, lastly, human and social capital factors "a true merchant value". In 6 chapters, Nathalie Darène then concentrates on the packaging sub-contracts for luxury perfumes in France and sub-contracting on luxury watch-making in Switzerland. Readers learn, for example, how the Bresles Valley, specialized in luxury bottles for perfumes ... has adapted to environmental constraints, while meeting the trade-mark demands and developing co-design of their glassware products: in this new context, the suppliers are proposing "global service offers" and are becoming more and more reactive face with the market. Nathalie Darène has identified "the strengthening of networks which had hitherto been informal" among the sub-contractors and she sees this as one of the keys to surviving and continuing their business activities. In short, the use of networks can serve to optimize the co-operation and ability to adapt rapidly to new situations. There are however two threats here: firstly, a substitution of "Made in xxx" by "Designed in xxx" opening the way to delocalization policy decisions and secondly, a lesser attractiveness of traditional 'luxury' jobs for the younger generations.