PARIS — The future faces behind French luxury goods are young, determined, proud — and diverse.
Dozens of them were applauded Tuesday in Paris by top brass at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which last year established the Institut des Métiers d’Excellence, or institute for métiers of excellence, which involves recruiting aspiring artisans from have-not neighborhoods, and training them for a variety of careers.
“We started with 28 and now there are 100 of them. Soon they’ll be 200,” enthused Chantal Gaemperle, LVMH’s group executive vice president, human resources and synergies, who spearheaded the project.
Tuesday’s ceremony in the auditorium of the Fondation Louis Vuitton was to mark the second year of the program, done in partnership with top French schools in jewelry, dressmaking, winemaking, leather goods, client advisory and retail design.
They include the École de la Bijouterie-Joaillerie de Paris for jewelry, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne for fashion and Les Compagnons de Devoir for leather goods.
Gaemperle said the goal of the program is to promote such careers and “ensure the transmission of the know-how and excellence” that have made French luxury goods so popular.
Also behind the initiative is a will to create equal opportunities, part of LVMH’s corporate social responsibilities, and to heighten awareness of the rare craft skills behind products bearing such brand names as Dior, Chaumet, Givenchy, Kenzo, Make Up For Ever, Veuve Clicquot and Sephora. Some 21 brands of the group are hosting apprentices for the 2015-16 training year.
Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH, told the students that the group hires some 3,000 people a year.
“We are all here to sell dreams and create desire,” he said, exalting creativity as one of the group’s chief values — and engines.
In an off-the-cuff speech peppered with political jabs, Arnault stressed the importance of perseverance. “To succeed in business, you have to persevere, and even be obstinate,” he said, citing the Fondation Louis Vuitton building, by architect Frank Gehry, as an example.
He noted that it took a decade to overcome a bouquet of obstacles, including angry letters from residents in apartment buildings in the Bois de Boulogne neighborhood that did not wish to have their vistas altered by the building, which resembles a glass cloud drifting over the nearby treetops. “Now I get letters of congratulations because the value of their apartments has gone up,” he said, prompting a round of chuckles.
The LVMH initiative comes against a backdrop of high youth unemployment in Europe, and heated debate about France’s need to push through more business-friendly reforms.
Arnault also urged the students to “be optimistic,” to filter out “negative messages” and ignore doomsayers who lament that, “globalization is a catastrophe.”
He noted that LVMH exports some 80 percent of its products, the lion’s share of them made in France. “You have to adapt and stay competitive,” he said.
Arnault said he recently spoke to a savvy American investor who mused about the difficulty of predicting economic prospects in the short term, but that if you look at the next 100 years, 80 of them will be marked by economic growth.
“I can tell you, 80 percent, that’s still not bad,” he said, flashing a big smile.
The LVMH initiative combines theoretical education and practical work experience, plus coaching and mentoring, which it believes offers the best chance of turning out highly skilled artisans.