How does a young man, whose name the whole world aspires to own, go about leading his life?
“I do it my way,” says a young, smiling Benoit Louis Vuitton, who flew into town this week.
“You have the weight of tradition. You respect it, but also I’m a real person. So it’s a matter of how you combine that tradition with real life.”
Over lunch Monday, not only once or twice did Benoit Louis Vuitton talk about living with family heritage and tradition—his way; he repeated it several times, each time with a twinkle in his eye, as if he was talking of a victory won.
Louis Vuitton is arguably the most recognized luxury brand and logo in the world. It is no exaggeration to say that from Paris to Mongolia, the LV monogram and the name Vuitton are known. LV or Vuitton has become an aspiration, a prized possession, or a must-have for men and women the past two centuries.
And Benoit, now 36, is a great-great-great grandson of Louis Vuitton. There are six in his generation to carry the name of his forebear, who started the French luxury goods empire in 1854, and only he and his brother, Pierre, are working with Vuitton, aside from his father Patrick. (Both Patrick and Pierre are in the leathergoods division.)
Any way you look at it, that is the weight of tradition and heritage. But, it seems, we caught the scion at a stage in his life when he’s pretty cool about it.
Interest in watches
He says he’s a “real person who can’t be living in the past,” and that one must embrace change.
“One can be modern yet traditional,” he says.
And here, he can be talking about himself and the Tambour watch collection that he’s come to represent. He brought a few Tambour watches to show to special clients.
When he talks about “doing it my way,” he’s actually harking back to an earlier time in his life when he made known to his father and the company that it was in the watch and jewelry division that he wanted to work.
His interest lies in watches—from watchmaking to design. For the past 10 years, he’s been with the watch division. He trained in Switzerland for it. LV has its own watch manufacturer in Switzerland, at the La Chaux-de-Fonds. He is now Head of Special Orders, High Watchmaking.
He is in charge of the LV Tambour Tourbillon watches, which can be made to order and which he is presenting to a shortlist of LV clients in Manila.
This lanky (6 ft-2), nattily dressed scion is charming, amiable and candid in answering questions. He becomes animated especially when he explains the intricacies of the Tambour collection, starting with the Tambour Minute Repeater that he’s wearing.
The LV Tambour collection is now an iconic line. It consists of the Tambour Minute Repeater, Tambour Tourbillon Monogram, Tambour Monogram Tourbillon, Tambour Spin Time, Tambour Bijou Secret.
Benoit shows us how the Minute Repeater works—it gives the time in “music” or tones, just like in the olden days. The principle behind the mechanism is to give the time without you having to glance at the dial.
The mechanism is a throwback to a century long gone when people, out of courtesy when they were with company, felt or heard the time without having to look at their watches.
And while its complicated mechanism is classic, its design is modern, meant for contemporary lifestyles. Designed for today’s globe-trotters, the travel minute repeater watch has a dial that displays the time of the traveler’s destination and his place of origin. It has a manually wound calibre, protected by its gold case that is watertight up to 30 meters. It chimes the home time rather than the time displayed by the hands.
“It is traditional, the movement, yet it is very functional, by its ability to move in two time zones,” Benoit says.
Benoit’s own taste in watches or jewelry is “discreet.” He wants them to be “qualitative, but not showy.”
All these Tambour watches can be customized for the individual.
The client can choose the elements of the watch she/he wants incorporated, down to the diamonds or stones to be used, the monogram or initials.
Benoit recalls the time he met a North African who, as they talked, said he had a love of the sea, and was particularly passionate about his boat. Benoit and the client collaborated on a boat-inspired design, made in LV’s La Chaux-de-Fonds workshop in Switzerland. The watch remains a work in progress.
“It can take from two hours to two years,” Benoit says, when asked how long a client can decide on the watch being custom-made for him/her. This means there are clients who can take only a few hours to decide on the specifics of the watch, or a year or so.
What draws gasps from the media women in the post-lunch is the Tambour Spin Time. Its name denotes the rotation of the stems that display the hours. Its hour display shows the simultaneous rotation of two of the 12 visible staffs; at the end of each is a cube alternately showing a numbered or neutral side.
But what the women find awesome is the 397 white diamonds and 191 black diamonds on the watch—which are alternately used to show the time.
These custom-made watches range from about P3 million to P14.9 million (the equivalent of a condo unit). And—the LV store has a shortlist of 12 potential clients in Metro Manila.
“My father said each generation must bring something (to the table),” Benoit says. “I bring watches.”
He finds interesting the competitiveness of today’s watch industry, which is why, he says, there’s a greater need to marry tradition with innovation.
His decision to join the LV company, he says, was arrived at only after a succession of happenings. “While you want to be free, (the name or heritage) will always have an influence on you.”
In an interview with The New York Times 10 years ago, he recalled an experience when he was 7. His gym teacher asked him if he belonged to the well-known family, and if he could have a free luggage. That was when he became so aware of what the name stood for.
He had been asked to be an intern in the various divisions of the company. After a degree in Marketing and Management in the French-American Business School in Paris, he traveled the world, then did internships in Paris, London and Tokyo for LV and Chaumet.
He worked in New York as accessories manager at LV store in Soho and in Fifth Avenue. The job entailed meeting clients and selling.
It was while living in Japan that he took special interest in pearls—the way they are designed into jewelry and even how they’re harvested. He hopes someday to visit the pearl farms in the Philippines.
As head of special orders, high watchmaking, he travels considerably to Asia, and shuttles between the Paris office and the La Chaux-de-Fonds workshop in Switzerland.
He was just in Bangkok last week. Before flying to Manila this week, he spent a few days in the countryside in France, riding his horse.
He loves horses. He runs and has joined the Barcelona marathon where he clocked a little over four hours.
He says that while he and his father hold office in the same building, when they meet, the son doesn’t want to talk shop with him.
Even as he shows us his classic Keepall in brown soft leather, he repeats how it is his choice to work, not in leathergoods, but in watches and jewelry.
The scion does it his way.