EAT LOVE SAVOR® as part of our editorial mandate since our inception, embarked on a mission to showcase true luxury brands, to celebrate excellence, and through luxury expert insights, help readers make sense of the true luxury lexicon in order to foster greater understanding and clarity of this complex ecosystem. We believe this is especially important during a time of great change in the luxury landscape as a result of the overuse of the term and in the face of luxury democratization. In this special editorial feature, we interview thinkers, leaders and creators that serve the luxury market to inform and shedding light on the multi-faceted complexities of luxury and how it is expressed. We had the opportunity and pleasure of speaking with Sebastien Santos, an expert in luxury marketing and branding with a specialty in UHNW. We bring that discussion to you in this interview.
Ms. Carla Martin, founder of JEANNE.CHAVANY, an up and coming French luxury women’s accessories brand has benefited from Mr. Santos’ knowledge in the development of her luxury brand.
Ms. Martin says: “Sébastien Santos is an amazing consultant, his vision of luxury is truly unique and expressed with lot of elegance. It is an absolute honour for me to write few words about him. Sébastien is a wonderful friend and one of the best luxury consultants I have ever met. A professional who stands out through his exceptional attention to details, extremely dedicated and focused on achieving excellence. He has always been very supportive, helped me understand this exigent industry and guided me to though the evolution of JEANNE.CHAVANY. I am grateful for everything he has taught me. “
“DNA & Details: Luxury and its Pillars”
How did you get your start working in the field of luxury and what drew you to it?
Even as a child I was always drawn to beautiful things and culture. I started my career in finance and I was not very content because I was spending all day behind a screen, with no direct client contact. One day a friend of mine told me about an opportunity to work for a Swiss watch company. The brief was that they were looking for someone fluent in both French and Japanese (I lived in Japan for about 15 years and I spent most of my career in Tokyo), with a vivid interest in watches. I immediately raised my hand and I was able to start my career in luxury!
What led you to the teaching profession in the field of luxury? What are your aspirations for your legacy as a professor in the field?
I had already set up my consulting company, and one day I was contacted with a request to speak at a conference at a fashion school in Paris. It went very well, and at the end I was asked if I would give classes. I love teaching: it allows me to meet with people from all around the world, with various experiences, and of different generations than mine (therefore with different mindsets). As a legacy, I would like my students to become successful managers in luxury while protecting its values and codes.
You have a consulting company that specializes in UHNW. Tell us about your company and its mission/vision? What prompted you to get into the business of consulting? What sets yours apart from others of its kind?
My company is called Luxury Yours Consulting and its goal is to help launch luxury businesses that are just starting out, or to guide existing brands that are ready for the next phase of growth and global expansion, but unsure of how to get there. Being a consultant allows me to be independent, flexible, and most importantly, to choose who I work with. I can also work in a variety of sectors, for luxury goods (watches, jewelry, perfumes…) and for luxury services (hotels, event companies…).
What sets my company (and myself) apart from others is that I have both the working knowledge of luxury and the theoretical background, which allows me to see the big picture, but also to go into details. I also have a thorough knowledge of Asian markets, with a special focus on Japan and Korea, additionally I frequently work with Brazil and Europe.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
Its diversity. I have clients from all around the world, working for sectors as different as watches, wines, hotels or shoes, each with different needs and expectations; but they all share a passion for beautiful things and a deep respect for their clients.
What was the best advice you received about being in the luxury business today?
To be disruptive! One of my clients created his brand around a concept: “What can I do for my clients?” He does not have any specific product, but listens to them, deciphers their dreams and makes beautiful objects to satisfy them. His company is very young; maybe only 2-3 years old, but HNWIs are already getting in line to meet him. Do not listen to people telling you it is impossible: do it and you will make it possible!
Who were some of your teachers and what were some of the key learnings under their tutelage?
In high school, I was influenced by two amazing teachers: Jean-Pierre Bénat and Frédéric Trajber, respectively my Ancient Latin and French teachers. They taught me to develop my curiosity and passion for knowledge, as well as how to be resilient. Later, when I was at HEC Paris, I studied under Jean-Noël Kapferer and Michel Chevalier and they opened my eyes to various theories and best practices regarding luxury business.
What was one of your biggest milestones reached as an entrepreneur in luxury?
Being able to develop my business in Latin America. Until then, I was very focused on Europe and Asia but now I have many contacts with Brazil.
What are your philosophies about luxury as a mindset and approach to living? How do you think the industry can guide and advise people at large to shift their thinking from consumerist to lifestyle mindset to get more out of luxury beyond acquisition in the 21st century?
In today’s climate, the importance of ownership is diminishing, and true luxury is about experiencing. Luxury goods and services should enable people to fully enjoy their free time, to reduce their stress when they work, and to provide them with happiness and beauty.
From your perspective, where do you see the luxury industry heading overall and as it pertains to your line of work?
I believe that luxury will move back to its essence and cease to be democratic. Luxury was created to honor the happy few (kings, queens, priests) and is, by nature, restricted and scarce.
Massification killed luxury: quality decreased, service at stores became inconsistent, and over-use of logos destroyed exclusivity.
Concerning luxury goods, I believe the future lies in niche brands, using only the best materials and asking highly skilled craftspeople to produce in small quantities for an elite clientele. The product should speak for itself, not rely on brand logos to garner recognition.
As for luxury services, such as hotels, remote locations with the utmost facilities and services tailored to high society will be the norm within ten years.
In your view, what have been some of the biggest changes in the way UHNW clients fulfill their luxury lifestyle needs in the 21st century? How has this affected how you guide your clients?
Most HNWI were not born in HNWI families, which means that they struggled (or are still struggling) with understanding luxury codes, and sometimes consume luxury in a very conspicuous way. Still, luxury brands need to develop customization and enhance the quality of their products if they want to be true to their deepest values.
Some of my clients might struggle with what are sometimes called parvenus (or “new money”) shoppers, less loyal and more conspicuous than the patricians (“old money” clients), and I tell them that education is the key: often, parvenus show off because they do not know the way a product is intended to be consumed (like a client adding ice cubes to a 40-year-old Bordeaux). Instead of mocking them, brands should educate them, show them how to choose a fine wine, how to wear a nice pair of shoes or teach them about watch complications.
Based on my experience, and on my research, parvenus decide and buy faster than patricians, so they are a great opportunity for brands!
Since the shift in the 1980s early / 1990s to meritocracy as a means to acquire luxury, luxury has become too much about showing or external manifestation and acquisition, in your opinion, how can luxury brands go about recapturing or returning to meaning / true essence or (re)create it in their DNA?
As mentioned before, brands should go back to exclusivity and scarcity. Luxury is, by definition, for the happy few and cannot be democratic. Brands need to understand this and have a clear strategy: being either luxury, and therefore targeting HNWIs, or prestige, and focusing on targeting more people; but it is impossible to be at the same time democratic and exclusive.
Exclusivity in luxury has always been inherent. What is the origin of exclusivity in luxury and why does it matter? Since luxury is more accessible today, does this increase the value of exclusivity now and into the future?
Exclusivity in luxury is about the materials, the know-how (savoir-faire), the service, the experience. These values are the identity of luxury and cannot be changed or discarded. We must differentiate between luxury and the business of luxury: luxury is for the elite, while the business of luxury can reach the masses. Many people dream about Haute-Couture, but only a few dozen people in the world can afford it. The others will fantasize about it, and buy perfumes or make-up made by the same brands to feel they hold a piece of the dream.
About Sébastien Santos
Sébastien Santos is an expert in luxury marketing and branding, focusing on “true luxury” brands and high net worth individuals. He has served as Marketing / Sales Manager in his branch capacity for renowned luxury brands like Bulgari, Jaquet Droz, Parfums Givenchy. He divides his time between helping luxury companies develop their global strategies and sharing his experience with business school graduates. He specialises in strategic luxury, co-branding and cross-cultural negotiation / management. Born and raised in France, Sébastien has lived in Japan for 15 years, has comprehensive knowledge of the Asian, European and Brazilian luxury markets, and is fluent in English, French and Japanese.
For more information visit https://www.luxuryyoursconsulting.com/