French luxury giants making inroads into Silicon Valley

Betting big: Mark Zuckerberg has been mostly seen in a plain grey T-shirt.   | Photo Credit: Eric Risberg

Steve Jobs may have been a tech genius, but he clearly didn’t care much for fashion.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has followed in his footsteps, sporting mostly a plain grey T-shirt for years — only to swap it for a simple black suit to testify before Congress and the European Parliament. But Silicon Valley, whose billionaires have long stuck to basic, functional apparel, may finally be starting to get a taste for something more extravagant.

Sensing an opportunity, French luxury titan Hermes has launched its 34th U.S. store in Palo Alto, the ultra-rich beating heart of the world’s technological behemoths. “We opened this new store after our San Francisco store reaped very strong results,” Hermes CEO Axel Dumas told shareholders in June. “It’s also a bet on the future. Right now, you can see how residents often invest more in their cars than in their clothes. We hope to be able to change that a little,” Mr. Dumas added.

Palo Alto “isn’t very far away from San Francisco, where luxury is everywhere. However, the environment is very different. People are very focused on their professional success, working very long hours”, Guillaume de Seynes, a top executive at Hermes, said.

“If you really think about it, Steve Jobs had a disastrous dress sense,” Paris School of Luxury co-founder Eric Briones said.

Startup CEOs have had such a huge cultural impact that firms around the world have become more casual about clothing, Mr. Briones said. “Nowadays, startup bosses are seen as the epitome of success. For them, clothing is utilitarian, functional and secondary,” he added. “And if they wear a suit, they must be wrinkle-free, because they don’t have the time to preen themselves. They live in the moment, zipping from one plane to the next,” said Mr. Briones.

Until recently, few luxury houses had thought to venture out to Palo Alto. Today, three French giants — Hermes as well as Louis Vuitton and Cartier — have set up shop there.

In December, Comite Colbert plans to welcome some 70 Californian industrialists and investors in Paris, where they will visit tailoring workshops and dine in Versailles — “unique experiences that money can’t buy”, Colbert CEO Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes said.

“We are planting a seed,” she said, adding that it wasn’t financial return that the firms were after.

Rather, her group wants to “to help (Silicon Valley residents) understand the difference between marketing-based luxury and the real thing”.

Beyond the beauty of the scarves and elegance of the bags and shoes, French luxury houses may also have another lesson in store for Silicon Valley giants.

According to Ponsolle des Portes, tech companies are intrigued by “the longevity of our enterprises”.

Hermes was founded in Paris in 1837, Cartier in 1947, and Dior in 1946.

Google was born in 1998, and Facebook in 2004.

“In the Silicon Valley business model, companies are ‘uberised’ within five years,” Ponsolle des Portes said.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 12:15:29 PM |

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