Luxury industry conferences enjoying worldwide boom
Discussing the luxury market is turning out to be a lucrative business, judging from the number of conferences focused on the industry that were held recently. Alongside the major international conferences organised by media giants such as the New York Times, the Financial Times or the Condé Nast group, other similar initiatives were staged elsewhere, for example in Paris and Milan.
The idea was first turned into reality in 2000 by Suzy Menkes, who established the International Herald Tribune Luxury Conference in Paris, which subsequently became The New York Times International Luxury Conference, whose 17th edition was held on 13th-14th November this year in Brussels. After the renowned fashion journalist moved over to the competition, she launched the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in April 2015.
The recipe for this two-day event is simple: choose an attractive, exotic venue (last year it was Oman, while Lisbon and Venice will host the next editions), and add the luxury industry's upper crust: designers and CEOs from leading labels, renowned businessmen and bloggers, and a sprinkling of emerging entrepreneurs from successful start-ups. Then have them debate the industry's future in round-table discussions or one-on-one interviews with the house journalist, with enticingly-titled themes. All of this served with side orders of cultural outings and gala dinners in lavish locales.
"I attend the three main conferences to unearth new ideas or simply sniff out the market's latest trends," said one participant we met at the New York Times's event in Brussels. "They aren't really the ideal place to do business, unless you come to these conferences with deliberate strategies."
The same participant advised against sponsoring these events. "The organisers ask their partners for a sizeable commitment, but the returns on the investment are uncertain. Who will be able to remember the champagne brand we were treated to at the post-conference cocktails?”
“On the other hand, for lesser-known brands it's worth making an appearance among the panelists, something which ensures quite a visibility with a select audience," he added. Conference tickets sell for €4,000, and participants are by and large senior executives or entrepreneurs keen to rub shoulders with the luxury industry's elite. The largest of these conferences manage to bring together between 400 and 500 paying guests.
At such a price, participants will play every trick in the book to get noticed: being the first to speak up after a panel discussion, making sure to give chapter and verse on oneself and asking questions of biblical length; besieging top labels' bosses after their talks, elbowing one’s way through the crowd with a large smile on one's face; discreetly photobombing top executives, looking as though one knew them, so as to be able to generate some buzz on social media afterwards; and many more.
Coffee breaks are also highly coveted for networking purposes and to establish invaluable connections, provided one is able to speak to the right people: cue the owner of a company specialised in holograms and next-generation lighting, "super-attractive for special events, catwalk shows and stores," who about-faced as soon as he realised he was chatting to a humble journalist.
It is more difficult to make lots of contacts and capitalise on the investment when the programme features a sit-down dinner, as was the case on Monday in Brussels. "The Condé Nast event run by Suzy Menkes is better organised. There are buffet dinners, which make it easier to circulate and meet other people in a more convivial atmosphere," said another participant of the Brussels conference.
As for the panel discussions, they often turn out to be something of an afterthought. As the same participant said: "Platitudes and generalisations abound, though every now and again something stands out."
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