Luxury firms pamper the ultrarich

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A Paris apartment hosts an elite liquor store for the ultrarich. Pic: iStock

An elegant stone facade just off the Champs Élysées in Paris hides what may be the world’s most elite liquor store.

Spirits maker Moët Hennessy has turned a Parisian apartment into a discreet, invitation-only boutique for its best clients and those of its parent, luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Decades-old bottles of limited edition Dom Pérignon champagne, costing thousands of dollars each, lie in a temperature-controlled closet made of crystal glass. A display case holds massive “Nebuchadnezzar” bottles of Cheval Blanc, each containing almost 15 litres of the ultraexpensive Saint-Émilion wine.

The apartment, opened a year ago, is part of an intensifying effort by luxury firms to pamper their best-heeled customers, hoping the ultra-rich can bolster growth amid a cloudier outlook.

For years, the luxury industry relied on Asia and globetrotting shoppers from China’s emerging upper middle class to fuel annual growth rates of more than 10 per cent.

But Chinese policies to keep shoppers from spending large sums overseas, combined with terror attacks in Europe, have hit the industry hard. Global luxury spending didn’t grow in 2016, the first such stall since the worldwide financial crisis.

Some of that pressure has eased as terror fears have ebbed, but sales growth this year is expected to be just 2 per cent to 3 per cent. Amid that new normal, luxury firms are conjuring up ever-more-extravagant perks to woo the super-wealthy.

This clientele isn’t the 1 per cent of the world’s richest people. It is the top 0.1 per cent, a group that already makes up a disproportionate percentage of sales for the industry.

According to research firm Wealth-X, an even more rarefied group — the roughly 211,000 people around the world with individual net worth of more than $US30 million — account for about 19 per cent of total luxury-market spending. Their wealth is expected to surge in the coming years, growing 9 per cent annually through 2020, Wealth-X says.

“This VIP-management side of the business is getting more and more important,” said Luca Solca, luxury-industry analyst with Exane BNP Paribas. “A happy few are doing really well.”

Harrods, the swanky London department store, has private areas akin to hotel suites that wealthy clients can rent for their entourages. Customers can hire chefs to cook meals for powering through daylong shopping sprees.

High-end menswear firm Stefano Ricci flies its tailors to clients around the world to make custom suits. Each suit costs between $US10,000 and $US20,000, and customers are expected to purchase at least five for a tailor to make the trip, says Filippo Ricci, the family-owned company’s creative director. The Ricci family recently opened a country house near its headquarters in Florence where it hosts top-spending clients, even allowing them to drive the family’s collection of vintage cars.

“Our mission is to maximise the feel-good factor of these people,” said Thomas Mesmin, who started a company that designs specialised shopping trips to Paris for the ultrawealthy. “We want them to be in the perfect mood to buy products.”

Luxury firms hope brand loyalty nurtured among these influential consumers will spread to their social circles and eventually trickle down to the broader public.

“The impact is much more on the desirability of the brands and the image of the company than purely financial,” said Marc Fourcade, private-sales manager at Moët Hennessy, who conceived of the Paris apartment.

At a starting price of roughly 15,000 ($US16,000), clients can spend a few hours dining and sampling Moët Hennessy wines and Cognacs. The bill can soar from there.

A personalised barrel of Château d’Yquem, a renowned sweet wine, goes for 100,000. The barrel contains the equivalent of 300 bottles. That amounts to something of a bargain for wine from an estate that has produced single bottles selling for more than that sum.

The boutique’s sleek interior, designed by Bruno Moinard, has custom-made furniture. For dinner, Moët Hennessy can arrange for a celebrity chef to cook for up to 12 guests.

The apartment’s liquor storeroom is stocked with Moët Hennessy’s brands: Dom Pérignon, Krug, Veuve Clicquot, Château d’Yquem, Cheval Blanc and Ao Yun, a new Chinese wine from an estate in the Himalayas. A closet holds a limited-edition Cognac, Hennessy 8, made to commemorate the master blender’s handover of the keys to the house to his nephew. It comes in a crystal bottle inside a personalised case. The price for a litre of Cognac? Mr Fourcade says Hennessy has been selling the bottles for tens of thousands of dollars each.

By Matthew Dalton Courtesy Dow Jones

 

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