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Luxury Executives Preach Sustainability

International Herald Tribune conference focuses on environment.

NEW DELHI — Luxury goods and sustainable development are not mutually exclusive, according to luxury and retail titan François-Henri Pinault.

Speaking at an International Herald Tribune luxury conference here Wednesday, Pinault asserted that “more than ever, people want to return to genuine values such as timelessness, sincerity and exemplary standards.”

Pinault, who is chairman and chief executive officer of PPR, parent of Gucci Group, said in a keynote address that his version of sustainable luxury — the conference’s theme — encompasses ethics, collectivity and conservation. Conservation of the world’s natural resources is desirable, but also the continuation of knowledge and respect for craft and materials, he said.

Luxury is not superfluous, as it protects trades and skills, the sustainability of which is a necessity for human endeavor, he argued.

“The duty of luxury is not only to act, but also to mobilize,” he said. “I believe luxury is not just sustainable, but responsible.”

Pinault also took the occasion to trumpet PPR’s new foundation for women and the PPR-produced documentary “Home,” slated for worldwide release on the Internet, television and in theaters on June 5, World Environment Day.

How luxury brands can sustain their growth of the last 15 years is a hot topic at the two-day conference, hosted by IHT fashion editor Suzy Menkes.

Sustainability has become the most important ingredient of fashion now, said Nicolas Ghesquière, creative director of Balenciaga. He said he chose to make his new Los Angeles store eco-friendly and energy efficient, and it will serve as the model for all his future boutiques.

Dries Van Noten, who has been getting his clothes and accessories embellished in Indian ateliers for 20 years, said he has invested in improving the working conditions and income of his embroidery workers in Calcutta. Earlier, it was not possible to produce white garments, as the workshops were too dirty. Recently, the Belgian designer used white in his collection and had the clothes produced in India.

“Time is required to achieve deep luxury,” said Christian Blanckaert, executive vice president of Hermès International. He asserted that in times of economic recession, people prefer to spend money on quality, durability and timelessness rather than fast fashion.