Candid Perspectives:

The Luxury Goods and Design Business Club (LGDBC) and the Retail and Apparel Club co-hosted the second annual Retail and Luxury Goods Conference at the Spangler Auditorium Sunday, April 2. More than 300 attendees from the Harvard community and beyond turned out for the event. Robert Bensoussan, CEO of Jimmy Choo, opened as the keynote speaker and talked extensively about his definition of luxury as well the challenges he faces growing a global luxury brand.

The organizing committee invited a diverse group of distinguished panelists ranging from new designers Derek Lam and Tory Burch to business leaders from well-established retailers such as Neiman Marcus and The Limited. Lifestyle companies such as Ritz Carlton and Bluefish Concierge were also represented. Through four sessions, the panelists provided perspectives on some of the most pressing questions facing today’s retail and luxury goods companies.

The panel, “From Entrepreneurship to Innovation within the Luxury World,” focused on the importance of keeping the cultural and design “DNA” of a brand during aggressive growth. Pamela Baxter of LVMH discussed how this was accomplished during the revitalization of Christian Dior Beauty, while Derek Lam emphasized the three values he refuses to compromise during the growth of his brand: Authenticity, Honor and Dignity.

Panelists on “Managing Across Customer Segments” shared insight on focusing on the core customer while developing new customer segments. Elain Boltz of Ann Taylor also shared lessons learned when they lost this focus a couple of years ago.
The “Rise of the Luxury Lifestyle Brand” panel candidly discussed the misconception that developing a luxury lifestyle brand means putting a brand’s name on all kinds of products. Instead, panelists argued, it is more about focusing on the lifestyle of the customers being served and providing the best quality of service and products for those customers.

The diverse background of panelists also contributed to interesting discussions on the “Global Supply Chain Strategy” panel. Retailers such as Tiffany & Co. rely on vertical integration for quality control while The Limited outsources 100 percent of its supply chain. Retail giant Target relies on a sourcing consortium that works with other retailers.

Panel moderators included HBS professors Myra Hart, Rajiv Lal, Sandra Sucher and the Associated Director of Career Development, Lauren Murphy.

In its second year, the conference is a flagship event for both clubs. Club events like the speaker series and this conference serve as resources for the HBS community to learn more about the retail and luxury goods industries. They also allow industry leaders to become aware of the strong level of interest that HBS students have in these industries.

The success of the Retail and Luxury Goods Conference reflects the hard work of dedicated organizers from both clubs, as well as the decision to elect co-presidents of the conference and recruit RCs in the fall to organize this annual event.