‘Diversity of teams means a diversity of thought’ - five takeaways from Luxury Law Summit London

Maura O'Malley identifies key themes that surfaced during a day of discussion and debate at Luxury Law Summit London

Designer Sue Timney (left) interviews Jenny Packham

Luxury Law Summit London, which was held at the British Museum on 13 June, provided respite from a sweltering hot day in London. Delegates at the summit, which is hosted by The Global Legal Post, heard insightful and thought-provoking sessions delivered by speakers from many iconic luxury brands including Burberry, De Beers and Louis Vuitton. Workshops and presentations explored topics such as luxury in challenging economic environments, the law surrounding the beauty industry and an interview with fashion designer Jenny Packham, a go-to favourite of Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales. A number of themes emerged from the day.

Shifting consumer attitudes and increased accountability for social and environmental impacts.
There was much debate about how to reconcile the differing values of the increasingly diverse luxury consumer base, and the ‘different styles’ of luxury. On the one hand you have the more traditional consumer, representing older money, and on the other you have millennials, Generation Z, and the burgeoning Generation Alpha (those born between 2010 and now). Younger consumers demand more in terms of transparency, accountability and authenticity and are more likely to spend more on brands that they relate to. The big challenge is how to communicate the same products and services to these differing groups of people.

Belmond general counsel Abbi Hunt 

Sustainability agenda in the luxury space
In continuing the theme of the younger generation ‘demanding more’ in terms of sustainable and environmental efforts, they are also savvy at spotting inauthenticity in these spaces. There was agreement that the sustainability agenda is where everyone is going and not just because consumers demand it, but because it is the right thing to do. Are customers, however, willing to pay more for innovations in sustainability, say for a padded jacket made from recycled material? Panellists also pointed out that they were viewing sustainability through a European lens; in the US and Asia, consumers remain more status driven, although that is changing. There was also much conversation around the growth in the luxury circular economy, which has seen brands like Valentino partnering with vintage stores, allowing consumers to donate their pre-loved Valentino in exchange for store credit.

Diversity, equity and inclusion
Luxury in the past has been insular and not particularly welcoming to outsiders but this is changing. That was the message of conference chair Jamie Gill, founder of the not-for profit organisation The Outsiders Perspectives which has a mission to increase representation for people of colour in operational, commercial and marketing roles in the luxury and fashion sectors. In an interview with Vogue Business’s editorial associate, Maliha Shoaib, he said: “Change has to happen at the mid-to-senior level, to hit home and elicit tangible change.” He explained that many minority communities have not been living in the UK for very long, just one or two generations and “the mindset around most minorities coming from a lower socioeconomic background is you have to make money – go and pick a traditional, safe, career that gives you financial stability". It is all well and good launching mentoring schemes with under represented communities, but challenges at home, could make working in luxury an unobtainable dream. Gill believes the sector has only just started to address this issue and brands are not yet equipped to give that extra level of investment and patience to hire more people who are not from a privileged or connected background. But there was a positive message in that HR teams are waking up to the fact that luxury businesses need more culturally-diverse teams because they perform better – that diversity of teams means a diversity of thought.

Click here to read our interview with Jamie Gill

External pressures
Unsurprisingly, there were many references to the war in Ukraine, the aftermath of the pandemic and the impact of inflationary pressures on businesses. Consumers were hungry for elevated experiences after the pandemic. Luxury is not about convenience, it is about emotions, and consequently consumers flocked back to physical stores, for example, to feel the leather. The summit heard that the luxury sector, although resilient to many external pressures, is not completely recession proof, and is often hit later in the cycle. In a session on legal and commercial insights in jewellery and watches, representatives from the colour gemstone world, diamonds and gold stressed again and again how provenance and traceability were key issues in maintaining the trust of consumers, and ensuring jewels were responsibly sourced. This is an area where blockchain technology has come to the fore.

Conference chair Jamie Gill, founder of The Outsiders Perspective 

NFTs after the hype
The much-hyped NFTs and the main legal risks brands face if they start an NFT project was explored. NFTs are going down in value compared to the febrile valuations of last year, but many big brands including Louis Vuitton and Gucci have recently announced NFT projects. There was much discussion about how brands can control them. Are licences enough to prevent third parties from using them commercially? Should the first sale doctrine apply? Are NFTs ‘assets’ in the legal sense? If they are declared assets, injunctions could be available. In which case, what jurisdiction should apply to the terms and conditions of the brand’s NFT and what platform should it use when selling its NFT?

Email your news and story ideas to: [email protected]