Interview with Philipp Bolthausen, Creative Director at Baume & Mercier

By Lidi Grimaldi and Matteo Corbellino, Express Arena Subject Matter Experts

Let me cite Karl Lagerfeld, “Trends are the noise before defeat”. Trends are short-lived and can be extremely dangerous to brand equity. 

You see these companies bubbling up with a monochromic brand and then they are gone a couple of years later. And that is a forbidden route if you are a Maison that cares about brand equity and sustaining in history especially if you have Maisons that are hundreds of years old. We may come late to the party but our steps are always incredibly intentional to drive brand equity.

Even still, traditional luxury is 10-15 years behind fashion. Most of the luxury brands are thinking Brand A competes with Brand B – one watch vs another watch. But I think true decision making is different – I have $10k to spend, do I go on holiday, buy a watch or something else? For the customer, perception is everything. The question is what can the brand do for you?

Luxury goods are a symbol, a statement of your own respect for yourself. Do I like the brand? Does the brand complete the image I want to give you of myself? People shop in that pattern. It doesn’t need to fulfill a need, it needs to say something about who I am. It’s social complementation, social acceptance, and rewarding in the acceptance of others. Uniqueness and belonging.

You can’t preach your way to relevance.”

Many of the Maisons need to start listening to their customers – all but the very top Houses have been a little arrogant. People don’t respond to that any more. I think for Baume & Mercier the key is the customer letting them participate with the brand experience, we did a customization program that creates a dialogue with customers along the buying process.

Every brand has to understand the social context in which it operates. Even other Maisons whose clients are largely unaffected by economic factors like recessions have understood that they need to create more of a connection with customers, to become less “top down” and to capture the zeitgeist. You can’t preach your way to relevance. For example, Louis Vuitton is not preaching. Off/White is not preaching. Look at Supreme, coming from a skateboard shop in New York that nobody cared about selling you things you don’t really need at super high prices.

Our clients are getting younger, people are getting richer quicker, at least in the segment we are looking at. If you compare to 10-15 years back, the customer is much younger. The price point of our products ranges from $1K to $25K; core clients range from $1K – $5K. We created a new access point of product priced at around $500, with a customization approach and a sustainable edge to it. No animal, no precious metals, and traceable footprint. The entry point was highly competitive. 

We also collaborate Central Saint Martins, and Design School in Milan and ask them what they would do with the Maison. That helps us see the spots we are slipping over, they have a blank slate, and don’t have the same constraints. The experiential part of brands will become more and more important more prominent. Creating experiences around the Maison will be key.  

Luxury goods are a symbol, a statement of your own respect for yourself.”