PARIS — Silicon Valley, meet Luxury Tech Riviera.
The Mediterranean city of Cannes aims to leverage its image as a magnet for entertainment and jet-setters to become a global hub for research and innovation in the field of fashion and luxury, via a new partnership with the Côte d’Azur University, data research and insights company Launchmetrics and social networking platform TikTok.
The brainchild of Michael Jaïs, chief executive officer of Launchmetrics and a native of Cannes, the project will consist of a research arm, focused on studying the behavior and emotions of Millennial consumers, and the launch of a master’s degree and start-up studio to foster local entrepreneurship in the luxury sector.
“We needed to recreate the ecosystem that exists in Silicon Valley,” Jaïs told WWD. “Our sector has seen more changes in the last six months than in the 10 previous years. Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, I think it’s the right time to try to develop a new hub and to give it all the resources it needs.”
He noted that given its leadership of the luxury sector, France was the natural home for such a project, adding that Cannes has long been a center of excellence for industries including film and aerospace. “We have absolute legitimacy for Cannes to become the world center of luxury tech,” Jaïs told a news conference in Cannes on Thursday.
Industry heavyweights, including LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Clarins, are already on board. The master’s program, launching in October, will take on between 25 and 30 students who will work in teams of three on field projects and research collaborations, at the initiative of partner companies, with the aim of launching 10 start-ups in 2022.
Jaïs hopes the location of the city, combined with the presence of high-end luxury consumers and wealthy investors, will attract top-flight talent with a winning mix of experts in tech and data knowledge, business types and creatives. “The idea is to bring together people who are highly qualified and motivated, to become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow,” he said.
The research division will analyze consumer trends using a combination of artificial intelligence, deep learning, predictive analysis, nowcasting, semantic web, customer analysis, behavioral economics and emotions.
Data scientists will create algorithms based on affluencers: people below the age of 35 earning more than 100,000 euros per year, and with more than 5,000 followers on social networks.
“There are 100 million people that fall into this category,” Jaïs said. “The objective is to understand the consumer of 2025 and beyond.” A second lab will use neuroscience to analyze emotion by monitoring facial expressions using eye tracking, facial recognition and even dermal reactions.
“One of the big challenges today, as marketing and communication become increasingly virtual, is that you don’t know what emotions people feel when they are watching videos,” Jaïs said.
A first study, conducted in partnership with TikTok and the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, French fashion’s organizing body, will seek to measure reactions to videos posted during Paris Fashion Week. Results should be available this summer, Jaïs said.
The research division will be funded through a mix of public and private funds, but as a public institution, it will share its findings with the industry at large, he said.
Launchmetrics is particularly interested in advancing this field of study in order to fine-tune its AI-driven and proprietary Media Impact Value tool, which allows customers to benchmark their performance against 2,000 competitors worldwide.
“For social networks, there is very little feedback in terms of emotional performance. They count the number of likes, and that’s pretty much it, even though everyone knows that in this sector, the challenge is really to connect with customers on an emotional level,” Jaïs said.
“We really want to invest strongly to ensure that these research programs we’re supporting translate in our solutions into KPIs and indicators that can really measure emotion in a more structured way,” he added.
Eric Garandeau, director of public policy and government relationships for TikTok France, said the project was a natural fit for the platform.
“As a home of creativity and self-expression, TikTok has also naturally become a new catwalk for luxury brands, accompanying their digital transformation and allowing them to reach and connect with a highly engaged and diverse community,” he said in a statement. “Inclusion and diversity being among our core values, TikTok will also sponsor access to the master’s program.”
Four years in development, the project benefits from the support of local authorities, who hope that once travel restrictions are lifted and physical events return, Luxury Tech Riviera will complement the city’s conference activities, from the MAPIC real estate trade fair to the TFWA duty-free and travel-retail summit and the Cannes International Series Festival.
David Lisnard, mayor of Cannes, noted that although the city’s famed Boulevard de la Croisette is a magnet for global luxury brands, a fifth of Cannes residents live below the poverty line.
“Cannes is becoming the epicenter for avant-garde innovation, research and higher education,” he said. “This project reinforces the positioning of Cannes as a city of creative industries, a source of new attractiveness, prosperity and jobs for our youth.”
Jeanick Brisswalter, president of Côte d’Azur University, said the Master of Science in Luxury Tech Entrepreneurship and Affluencers Management, conducted in English, will provide a unique combination of skills, with masterclasses taught by leading industry professionals. Jaïs, who has taught at prestigious Paris university Sciences Po for a decade, is codirector of the program.
“The luxury industry, emblematic of French know-how and of our territory, poses exciting challenges in research and innovation that are now being renewed by the growing importance of digital approaches, particularly artificial intelligence,” Brisswalter said.
“These new approaches imply the need for new training programs that combine artificial intelligence, economics and consumer behavior. We are bringing to this partnership all of our research potential not only in these fields, but also in training,” he added.
Jaïs said details of the start-up structure will be revealed soon, but there will be an accelerator, capable of funneling through some 50 fast-track projects a year, and a start-up studio that will provide financing for five to 10 projects with a longer development phase. A financing round for the latter is being conducted with state-owned investment bank Bpifrance and private investors.
“We’re talking about a network that will represent between 300 and 400 companies within the next four or five years,” he said. “What 25-year-old entrepreneur wouldn’t be happy to live somewhere where you only have to cross the road to go to the beach?”
Jaïs plans to move back to Cannes himself, though he will continue to head Launchmetrics, which has offices in Paris, New York, London, Milan, Madrid, Shanghai, Girona, Tokyo and Munich. “In terms of quality of life, for start-ups, it’s ideal,” he said of his hometown.