Under the guidance of Historic & Creative Foundations Lecturer Jean Claude-Roustant, IFA Paris MBA Luxury Brand Management class had the opportunity to visit the Louis Vuitton atelier in the Parisian suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine. The legendary luxury house doesn’t give public tours, so it was an exclusive treat for the 18 students of the course.
Students entered through the garden before being welcomed into one of the small brick houses that were previously family homes, but now serve as the brand’s museum. The interior is decorated in soft shades of pistachio and peach, dotted with Art Nouveau details and light is tempered by the intricate stained glass windows.
Madame Margarita Zimmerman, directrice de musee Louis Vuitton,welcomed the class. “We felt like we were walking back into ‘home sweet home.’ Margarita was very welcoming and it felt really warm. We walked inside and it felt like we could just fall onto the sofa and lay down, it was very comfortable,” recalled student Cassandra Sariganon. “It’s part of customer relations to be really friendly and nice, but they did it in a way that felt so natural. It didn’t feel like we were walking into a luxury boutique, it was completely different.”
The group settled into the soft leather couches and enjoyed tea and croissants by the fireplace as Mme. Zimmerman reviewed the history of the house, before moving on to tell her personal history and share life lessons. She spoke about starting in a boutique and how she would take on any task with enthusiasm. “She explained that it is always important that you don’t think you are on some kind of level. If you need to clean the floor, or boss tells you to go find him a coffee, then you do it. You have to take on all the tasks asked of you, and really persevere.”
What was perhaps most telling was her reaction to those taking photographs in the house. Students weren’t discouraged by any means, but Mme. Zimmerman made a point of telling the students that while you can take pictures you must create memories. She emphasized the importance of concentrating on what is in front of you. “Capture the moments and not just the photos,” she said. In this age of Instagram and instant news blasts across Twitter, we all need to savor the moments not just snap and hit send.
Zimmerman also recommended that students research and read a lot, not just fashion but news, art, and a wide range of topics to take inspiration from the world outside of the industry. And perhaps her most poignant message was to persevere. She related her story of working her way up in the company, telling the students to not feel they are on a timetable or under pressure to hit imaginary milestones by a certain age, and don’t think you are a failure if it takes longer to reach your goal than anticipated. “You usually get this kind of advice from your mom or dad, not someone so respected in the industry,” said Sariganon. “And she’s telling us something that has been really important for her life, reminding us to remember things and to grow, and giving us personal direction. I felt like it was a family talk.”
In many ways the focus here is family – the property has been home to generations of Vuittons and the workshop is now headed by Louis’ own great-great grandson, Patrick Vuitton. The Asnières-sur-Seine atelier first opened its doors in 1859, and this Parisian suburb was the only place in the world for LV production until the late 1970s. These days the factory has been slightly scaled down and now creates only special orders such as the famed LV travel trunks and produces all of the company’s exotic skins and runway bags.
Students toured the 3 production areas, and watched the artisans shaping the wood frames for the trunks and chests, cutting crocodile and python skins for bags, and stamping and the embossed leather identifiers that are so important to the finished product. Seeing each person’s work and all of the attention to detail put into each product gave the students a sense of the real value of the product. Trained workers take months of meticulous care at every step to turn out an objet d’art. The resulting product is only about 250 items per year, but the skilled artisans are also dedicated to teaching the craft to a new generation so they can carry on the Louis Vuitton legacy.
Of the visit overall, Sariganon said: “First, it was great to be talking to someone who we might not have a chance to meet outside, and second it was not just something nice to see but it was really a lesson about learning to pay attention to the details.”