In the course of the pandemic, Alain Bernard — the chief executive officer and president of Richemont North America — felt a desire to create a wider personal impact on fashion, retail and consumerism. As a result, he stepped down from his role at Richemont at the end of May and has founded a new consulting firm, Abbey Road Advisory.
“The pandemic has been an intense period for everyone. Definitely for myself, it has been a period of crisis management and a moment, if you will, for companies, brands and leaders to assess what is really important and how to strike the right balance between people, purpose and performance.
“I had a great run with Richemont, especially with two great maisons with Cartier and Van Cleef, and I’m very proud of that run and I felt like the time was now to act differently,” said Bernard, who was also the president and CEO for Van Cleef & Arpels in the U.S. and Japan and had held senior management roles at Cartier.
He hopes that Abbey Road Advisory, which is based in New York and opened for business this month, will coach companies on emerging social and consumer trends that retail will need to scale in order to remain culturally relevant. He chose the name Abbey Road for the famous crosswalk, which he thinks can represent a bridge of sorts, “between two worlds: between the world of digital and physical, between the U.S. and the rest of the world, and between corporate companies and purpose,” all topics that he hopes to broach in his new role.
Abbey Road Advisory will advise private equity funds on investment opportunities in fashion and retail while consulting directly for brands. Its operations will have a general aim to “combine people and purpose,” in matters of corporate responsibility, sustainability, innovative and experiential retail concepts, digital strategy and targeting the U.S. market.
These concepts, Bernard feels, are in a state of reset coming out of the pandemic. He thinks companies will need an experienced and thoughtful mind on call to help them navigate the new market.
“The world we are living in is obviously completely different than what it was 18 months ago. There has been a seismic shift in luxury, in brands, in retail in general.
“The world of exclusivity, opulence and excess I think is over. It’s about inclusivity not exclusivity: the smart brands and maisons have observed that and are already making incredible progress.
“It’s about inclusivity in all meanings of the word — it’s the experience over owning, recycling over excess and opulence. I see a quest for uniqueness — unique products, unique experiences — and that’s what brands need to do. Shoppers want to be surprised and delighted,” he said.
While the role of consultant is often undefined, “my way of seeing it is that I just want to be a contributor to great projects with great people. That’s basically my aspiration and that’s what I want to do now — working with founders and investors who have a vision and want to expand their business with purpose being a part of it — that’s the best I can do,” said Bernard, who hopes to leverage his vast experience in hard luxury to advise brands in traditional and emerging luxury categories.
While the former executive has been entrenched in jewelry, watches and fashion, he also counts space travel, lab-grown diamonds, personal care and hospitality as “fascinating” emerging markets that could become a new norm in the world of luxury consumerism.
“Circularity, sustainability, pre-owned, rentals, consignment, sharing — whatever the category — that’s more than a trend. Then it’s a question of going back to humanity, which is something I really love about this period because we have lived at a distance for so long and our world became almost purely digital. Our way of shopping shifted to shopping from a distance. A great side effect is that there is more of a need for humanity and real-life experience and humans in the picture [than ever before],” said Bernard.
He feels that in order to speak more directly to shoppers, companies will need to “go more local or take more local approaches. Human experience and engagement will be at the center of everything. I’m a true believer that physical retail is not dead, but probably not in the same way, not with the same store and not looking at the same experience again.”
Bernard declined to reveal his initial roster of clients or plans to scale his new firm, noting: “It’s too early and very confidential but what I can say in the world of brands and world of retail is that it’s changing. But there are some recipes to be applied. We’ll see as we go, one step at a time. It’s in the making.” He plans to remain active in the New York community, particularly through charitable work with the Bowery Mission.