‘Rupert the Bear’ on nurturing artisans and the future of luxury
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‘Rupert the Bear’ on nurturing artisans and the future of luxury

Luxury conglomerate Richemont, best known for brands like Cartier, Montblanc, and Van Cleef & Arpels, has long been a nurturer of artisanal skill. But now, the group’s chairman, Johann Rupert, is hitting out on his own to ‘give something back’ to the industry that’s made him successful by founding the Michelangelo Foundation.

The Foundation, a Geneva-based nonprofit, has been set up to champion master craftsmanship (first of all in Europe) in a number of ways: by building networks of artisans and institutions, facilitating apprenticeships, and “nurturing global recognition for the Continent’s applied arts culture, hoping to bolster its future,” according to the New York Times.

Speaking to the Times, Rupert said:

“Our society today honors all the wrong people. Those who do good now live on the last pages of the newspaper. Then there are these footballers making millions. Fashion designers who just stand on the end of a catwalk after a show. Or women who sit on a front row and are paid to wear ridiculous clothes. It really makes us shudder, the level some people will go to for attention. I’m sorry, it is so banal. Where are our values?”

Elaborating on the dearth of culture in modernity, Mr. Rupert described his long held concerns over “what had been happening to the cultural heritage of Europe.” The Foundation is his attempt to reverse this shift, and bring the cultural qualities that helped create the luxury sector in the first place to the forefront of modern life.

There will be no direct links between Richemont and the Michelangelo Foundation (although, of course, if Mr. Rupert is successful in his endevours, then Richemont, along with many similar companies, will ultimately be a beneficiary). For Rupert “this will not be a moneymaking thing.” Explaining his motivation in more depth, he said:

“But uncovering the raw or enduring talent — for me, that’s the best part. What’s not fun anymore is going to Bond Street or Fifth Avenue or Via Montenapoleone where the shops and product all look the same and have done now for the last 30 years because all the smaller, independent artisans have been pushed out by the retail rentals. We have to protect their livelihoods.”

Of course, this initiative speaks strongly to Mr. Rupert’s own belief in the future of luxury (and, as a forecaster, it is well worth remembering that his nickname, “Rupert the Bear” comes from his timely prediction before the 2008 financial collapse). What does he see in the sector’s future?

“Luxury has got to be more discreet; the day of bling is gone; forget it. The hatred of the rich is going to expand, and people will not want to show their wealth off and put it in people’s faces, like they have in the past. Designers need to start understanding that.” He adds:

“Ultimately, luxury is not something made by a machine in a repetitive fashion. It needs a human element — that is what makes it unique and different. That will always pique curiosity. And we need to protect that talent at its source, while teaching customers that it is always worth paying 20 percent more for something that will last three times as long.”

Dominion holds Richemont in its Global Trends Luxury Fund.

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