Insights from the 2014 INYT Luxury Conference


Steven Fischer | January 27, 2015

Steven Fischer shares the key insights from the International New York Times Luxury Conference, exploring the intersection between art, fashion and technology

Francois-Henri Pinault, Chairman, Kering

The focus of the International New York Times’ 14th luxury conference was the intersection between luxury, technology and art. At the bottom are insights from the presenters, but as far as themes, I observed the following:

Technology can mean many things to many people. It isn’t just electronic gadgets, online social media, supply chain management tools, or new fabrics. We heard from Francois-Henri Pinault that technology can be used to produce luxury products more efficiently.

Technology through social media can influence a fashion collection, as when Proenza Schuler used Pinterest images in a dress.

“ Technology through social media can influence a fashion collection ”

And, technology can be considered a biological process when it is used to artificially create a material, such as what Suzanne Lee and her colleagues at BioCouture are doing with leather and other materials.

Creativity might be considered the sole realm of the designer, but creativity can also be applied in bringing the scientific to the collection presentation, as did Stefano Pilati at Zegna Agnona, with astrophysicist Fiorella Terenzi who captured the sounds of space, later used in a collection presentation.

Or, creativity can be brought across industry boundaries as the music impresario demonstrated in his foray into wearable technologies.

Luxury wearables

Wearables kept coming up, as they are the topic of the day, with an entire panel devoted to bringing the technology to fashion. While there are many opportunities, challenges also abound – especially around safety concerns (e.g. what is the effect of inviting radio waves through one’s body?).

Key to luxury production is artisianship and in a panel on it, François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet, reflected that the artisianship behind its watches is a painstaking process, resulting in precious few pieces being produced.

Sustainability is an area that the industry has an important part to play around the world, as implored by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.

“ Technology does not drive desire, except in the craft of watchmaking ”

Key Learnings

Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO and chairman of Kering, maintained that luxury and technology can be productive if each discipline remains true to itself. Kering has become especially adept at using technology in support of production, for example: in inventory/supply chain management; cutting leather more efficiently; ecommerce and managing in-store inventory.

Technology can also be used to support creativity. But, it is important to remember in luxury that quality and beauty are the most important aspects. Technology does not drive desire, except in the craft of watchmaking. There are four areas where Kering will use innovation: Strengthening of quality; Offering a new area to design; to improve Production; or to improve Functionality.

We are in a world where art and fashion occupy the same space today. Art has moved out of the museum and fashion has moved in. Kering’s material innovation lab has identified new materials available to all the brands as a library.

Shoes created using 3D Printing

As a recent example, Kering has improved the tanning process by partnering with a German university to create a chrome-free tanning process, which uses less energy. This technology will be available to everyone in the industry, as an open source technology. The R&D; laboratory continues while the collections are coming out.

Suzanne Lee, of BioCulture, outlined research around sustainable textiles, which are not synthetic materials. Instead they use design plus nature, resulting in bio-design. White-coated artisans are now working alongside white-coated lab technicians.

Stefano Pilati, head of design for Zegna, and Fiorella Terenzi, professor of physics and astronomy at Florida International University outlined a creative collaboration between the two in which sounds of the universe were captured and presented in a show for Zegna. While innovative, I found the entire presentation to border on the bizarre.

“ Proenza Schouler used Instagram images on a series of dresses shown in their most recent show ”

The artist Ai Weiwei presented through a video message that time is now defined by the Internet, and the structure of society has changed. How we communicate with each other and receive information, reach another person, and global politics are all changing. How to express oneself in this new area as questions and engage people has all changed.

In a follow-up panel on Social Media as a creation tool, artist Brendan Lynch, Jack McCollough & Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, and Dan Porter, head of digital at William Morris Endeavor pointed that Instagram has become a creative communication tool.

Proenza Schouler even used Instagram images on a series of dresses shown in their most recent show. Instagram has changed what a fashion show is, with media being created around a show in 120 seconds of it going down the runway.

From Proenza Schouler’s Instagram Account

The world of sports has developed a lot of technology – and the most important moment has become when the players are running down the tunnel onto the playing field. The show has become the behind the scenes, creation of fashion, backstage moments, providing all access on the runway.

The latest shows have been captured all on iPhones, and the next step is all Instagrammable moments are on the runway, allowing everyone who comes to create content together. Instagram is also impacting how fashion designers get inspiration.

A panel on fashion in the arts explored Gucci’s collaboration with the LACMA. With Frida Giannini discussing with Michael Govan of LACMA, they pointed that Gucci opened its first LA store in 1968. Gucci saw the value in restoring the films of Martin Scorsese to the tune of $2 million.

“ The message was that we must think beyond the next financial quarter to the next quarter century ”

Film is literally disintegrating over time, and needs to be restored for future generations. Gucci gets a relationship with the artist, which it can use in future campaigns. But there is a potential for backlash if one is not careful.

Livia Firth introduced a video presentation from HRH The Prince of Wales. The message was that we must think beyond the next financial quarter to the next quarter century. Being responsible users of habitats that create products, plus communication at the beginning of the supply chain and building that up are important. At the end of the day, it is a question on how to best supply the needs of fashion.

Vanessa Friedman interviewed remotely, the musician and design impresario. He has created a wearable technology platform independent of the bigger technology companies, and it doesn’t need a phone to make it work.

Sergey Brin and Diane Von Furstenberg wearing Google Glass

The problem is that fashion companies don’t really understand technology, and technology companies really don’t understand fashion. Hence the opportunity. His most pertinent message was that it is best not to go to the big technology companies to partner, as they will eat your lunch long-term. Instead, bring the technology folks in-house – you need engineers in your company.

Can Wearable Tech be Luxury Fashion?, a panel hosted by Vanessa Friedman, explored how technology and the luxury world might fit together. It featured Diane von Furstenberg; John Maeda, design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Babak Parviz, vice president at Amazon, and creator of Google Glass; and Stefano Rosso, ceo at OTB group.

When Google glass was introduced, aesthetics was important, and it was a fortunate outcome that Diane featured it in a fashion show, which garnered great attention for both Google and Diane. John pointed out there is something systemic going on in tech companies.

“ It used to be that design wasn’t important; it was the technology that was important ”

It used to be that design wasn’t important; it was the technology that was important. Now companies are asking how the technology makes one feel? Doing so is much more expensive, and there is a necessity for process in approaching this.

Part of the challenge is that knowledge in design schools lags behind technology by leaps and bounds. At Amazon, collaboration has become tight, whereby designers are at the table at the inception of any project.

In a panel on artisanship, Francois-Henry Benneahmias, ceo of Audemars Piguet; Amanda Parkes, chief of technology and research at Manufacture New York; and Lisa Philips, director of the New Museum explored the interface between artisanship an technology.

Holly McQuillan’s flat zero waste patterns

Francois-Henry made the point that emotions have been missing in the discussion thus far. The New Museum is moving toward user-generated design. Manufacture New York is working on zero waste patterns. Francois pointed out that Hermes is expensive, to make.

During this panel, Amanda made the point that they are training a new type of artisan, a high-tech artisan. The challenge is that in order to truly produce haute couture or what I would refer to as “pure luxury” one needs to also train people in the traditional crafts.

Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, outlined how Intel worked with Opening Ceremony to make a smart bracelet. They partnered with the CFDA to find a partner. Engineers think about function; and fashion thinks about image & style.

“ Engineers think about function; fashion thinks about image & style ”

The Evolving Consumer featuring Massamiliano Fuksas, architect; J Allen Smith, president and ceo of Four Seasons Hotel; and Johannes Torpe, creative director at Bang & Olufsen. The panel encouraged one to act global but to think individual (Fuksas).

Consumers desire recognition, customized service, are emotional in how they receive it, and seek a sense of immediacy. How they are using space is changing- to more multifunctional and less subscribed. Consumer doesn’t want material goods, but experiences they cannot get anywhere else – a genuine and authentic experience (Smith).

Consumers are looking for magic, a magical experience (Torpe). The challenge for the Four Seasons is that they are on a five-year product development time, and needs are changing faster than that.

Scorsese & Gucci Premiere Restored La Dolce Vita

The artist Tom Sachs continued the magical theme with using it as a way to heal. Art is the least most valuable thing there is. And, we need to look at planned vs. perceived obsolescence.

Francesco Vezzoli, the artist, and Iris Apfel, the design entrepreneur, explored how glamour, mystery, desire and technology can fit together. They pointed out that consumers need to yearn for the object for it to become desirable.

The retail environment is going through a major upheaval, with 2014 Black Friday sales down 11%, but Cyber Monday sales up 27% this year. Addressing this was Carlos Jereissati, of Iguatemi; Karen Katz, president and ceo of Neiman Marcus; and Federico Marchettiti, founder of YOOX.

“ The retail environment is going through a major upheaval ”

Carlos pointed to the need for more than just a store, the shopping area needs to be an activity center capturing a customer’s whole experience.

Karen pointed to the experience’s evolution since ecommerce, mobile and digital all came together – at the heart of what Nieman Marcus offers is a unique, curated experience encompassing an art collection along with an intelligent sales staff that builds relationships.

Yoox is giving emotions at the end of the day, along with entertainment. Federico sees Yoox has become an “entertailer”, combining entertainment with retail.


Astrid Welter, project director for the Prada Foundation, observed that the scale of civic engagement the luxury sector provides is unprecedented. She outlined the new Milan space that Prada is creating – which is a space designed by Rem Koolhaus to provide a museum space. This is all part of an evolution for Prada’s involvement in the arts.

Diego del Valle, chairman and CEO of Tod’s, rounded out the conference with observations on his life as a philanthropist. He doesn’t do politics, instead he feels the most important area for him to be involved with is preserving culture and history. Italy doesn’t have the same level of government support as other countries.

What he is doing is visible, and fortunate for the country as other Italians now have an example for how to do something for common properties.

For more coverage of luxury industry events & conferences, we invite you to explore the below articles as follows:

- Understanding the Digital Luxury Consumer
- 6 Must-Know Insights From CEO’s At Baselworld 2014
- SIHH 2014: A New World of Women’s Haute Horlogerie

Arts | Social Media | Technology