The newly-launched Swiss Center for Luxury Research (SCLR) brings together researchers and luxury experts from Switzerland's top academic institutions to create a think tank on the future of luxury management.
As part of EHL Research Day, our specialist in Luxury Brand Management, Dr Florent Girardin, held a fascinating Q&A session with Dr Felicitas Morhart, Professor of Marketing at HEC Lausanne. Their subject matter was the new Swiss Center for Luxury Research which aims to address and assess the changing attitudes towards and conceptions of the idea of ‘luxury’ in Switzerland and internationally.
Their conversation shone an important spotlight on new themes of sustainability, innovation and ethics that the millennial generation is now looking for within the luxury sector. No longer content with just owning a prestigious brand, today’s younger generation of big spenders are looking for meaning and experience to accompany their purchases.
FG: How did the idea for a Swiss research center dedicated to luxury come about?
FM: It was during my sabbatical year when I was asked to edit the Research Handbook on Luxury Branding that I realized there was an important niche untackled. I began to notice that the concept of luxury was changing. It dawned on me that Generations Y and Z were starting to find the usual ‘posh’ stuff uncool, i.e. the young are now more concerned about whether an item is ecological, sustainable and ethically made than whether it is merely fashionable or exclusive. This struck me as an important new mindset for the potentially largest spending power the industry has.
Also, despite being situated between France and Italy (the two meccas of luxury fashion brands), Switzerland ironically has no clearly defined reputation for expertise on luxury – with the exception of watches. I felt it was time for Switzerland to position itself in this landscape, and hence the idea to set up a think tank for academic research dedicated to this important area of marketing.
There are so many fascinating new questions that need to be asked: How are luxury and status defined today? Being happy vs. being wealthy? How is innovation impacting luxury? There are so many areas to explore: sustainability, technology, liquid modernity, counterfeiting, luxury as experience rather than owning something. Yes, luxury still represents power, status, lifestyle, but it’s gathering important new momentum as a conduit to deeper values. We need to harness these new values if luxury wants to keep abreast of evolving customer expectations.
FG: How did you go about setting up the center?
FM: I felt it was important to set off with an entrepreneurial mindset, to look for new opportunities and forge collaborations with outside partners. My first port of call was to set up a public-private partnership with the online publication Luxury Tribune - the only online magazine devoted exclusively to the luxury industry. Run by Cristina D’Agostino (ex-editor in chief of Bilan Luxe), she welcomed this collaboration as a means of opening up the theme of luxury to a wider audience and also a way of nurturing the link to academic institutions. Hence, the Swiss Center for Luxury Research can be found in the ‘Academic’ section of the Luxury Tribune website which acts as a hub to our research articles and events.
FG: Who else is involved in the center?
FM: We have a wide range of Swiss educational institutions involved in our research team (Unil, Ecal, EHL, the universities of Bern and St Gallen to name but a few), but I’ve tried to go beyond my personal academic or luxury network and ask myself who is really interested and impacted by what’s happening in this sector? For example, the theme of luxury can also be applied to the biotech and pharmaceutical industry. My aim is to widen the boundaries and bring in new players who are not automatically associated with luxury but who could benefit from our research approach and ethos. Each academic institution will bring some specific knowledge and expertise to the center. With the current shift from luxury products towards luxury experiences, many luxury goods companies are starting to diversify in the hospitality industry. EHL is therefore well-positioned to do research on this phenomenon and contribute to the creation of successful luxury brand experiences.
Alongside the academic collaborations, Cristina D’Agostino has brought in Audemars Piguet and Cartier as business partners. Business partners are important for the center because our aim is to create a virtuous circle of encounters between academic and business worlds by organizing meetings between industry leaders, academic personalities and young talents, and to raise Switzerland's reputation in the luxury sector. We also want to contribute to the development of rigorous luxury business intelligence. However, it’s important to underline the fact that SCLR is not a money-making machine. The academics provide insights, share knowledge, while Luxury Tribune gives visibility to these partners via events, conferences and articles.
FG: What’s in it for the business partners?
FM: These companies have an image of glamour that is lacking business rigor in some people’s eyes, not just due to ‘superficial’ attitudes regarding luxury, but also because they have rarely been part of any serious educational research. Brands like Audemars Piguet and Cartier are keen to attach themselves to academia because such a scientific collaboration can add depth and meaning to their brand and also act as a bridge to the student community. Offering internships, for example, is a great way of connecting to the young student population, (not forgetting that they are potentially luxury’s new set of customers!)
By partnering with SCLR, these brands get access to qualitative market research, workshops run by professors and students, discussion panels – all serious academic activities that give rise to important data. SCLR’s strong academic background means offering actionability and active research to all sorts of different companies. For example, we are planning to set up a focus group on how femininity is represented in the watch industry that will shed invaluable insights into necessary areas of development and change.
FG: The future for SCLR?
FM: It’s important to be on the constant lookout for change: new niches, disruption of old trends, gaps in the research. Collaborations with schools such as EHL means working on focus groups together, setting up workshops, bringing industry and students together, and generally sharing our expertise.
The first official event organized by the SCLR and the Luxury Tribune, with the CEO of Cartier, takes place on November 9th: “Is deconsumption compatible with luxury?". We will be looking at how production cycles need to be adjusted according to environmental issues and how the consumption of luxury goods must be part of a new dynamic. Just one of many exciting debates that we will be hosting via Zoom in the forthcoming months.
Swiss Center for Luxury Research resumed:
To become the Swiss think tank for luxury business intelligence in the service of research, business practice and education.
To achieve this together with the Luxury Tribune TM online media in a public-private partnership.
To raise Switzerland’s capability and visibility for innovation in the luxury industry to the same level as France, Germany and Italy.
To observe and make sense of large-scale developments in society in order to assess where luxury consumer behavior and the luxury industry are going.
To inform and support innovation in managerial practice in the luxury industry based on first-hand result results.
To build future-orientated graduate and post-graduate education programs for the next generation of luxury managers.