With years of experience and a well used passport, Alfonso Beaufils has taken his career all across the globe in pursuit of luxury.
Beaufis started his career in the fashion industry with a position at Macy’s in 2007. From there, he moved into the luxury space and worked for Hermès. After these roles, Beaufils climbed the ladder working for small French brands and creating his own e-commerce startup in New York.
A similar trajectory began once Beaufils made the switch from luxury fashion to luxury wine and spirits. After working for liquor brands Diageo and Jose Cuevro, he has spent the last five years at Moët Hennessy.
So why the switch? Beaufils explained the cyclicality of fashion and the overwhelming rate at which clothing is now produced, with the rise of fast fashion-resulting in traditional seasons being expanded to now include sub-seasons. This not only has an immediate effect on the consumer, but on his view of the fashion industry as well.
“I felt like we were always either launching a new line, or launching a new collection or having to try and figure out what to do with the remainder of a collection… I found that at some points the fashion side was very operational,” said Beaufils. “But with the spirits industry, the product doesn’t really change too much. You do have line extensions, limited editions and things like that, but those all have a purpose to bring, you know, a little bit more awareness to the brand.”
Fashion in its most basic form is less disposable of a product than wine and spirits, based on the rates in which they are consumed. An article of clothing can be used for years while a bottle of liquor can be finished after one sitting.
This raises the question of how similar the two products are in terms of their customer base?
“As a consumer you choose where you go in and what you want, and you can have multiple things, but you don’t buy 20 Hermès bags… well maybe some people do,” said Beaufils. “But usually you’ll buy one… but with spirits it’s a bit more of an affordable luxury. The duration of the product is different.”
The company where Beaufils has embedded himself is a curiosity to work for. LVMH, the acronym standing for “Louis Vuitton Moët Henessey,” is a conglomerate of luxury fashion brands as well as luxury wine and spirit brands.
This brings up an interesting topic of brand identity and its importance. How does one find their own brand identity within such a multi-tiered operation?
“I think the idea of brand identities is especially important once the price point goes up,” said Beaufils.
He went on to explain the three reasons why he believes the idea of a luxury brand means everything to the consumer.
“One, which is kind of the easiest to explain, is the status… If somebody asks you what you’re wearing or if somebody says oh, I like that shirt or like oh, that’s a great cocktail… just the ability to say what brand it is puts you somewhere,” said Beaufils. “Then, very closely related is the idea of history and craftsmanship… The third part is the idea of community.”
A similar analogy was made within the pages of “Fashion Branding Unraveled” by Kaled K. Hameide. It talked through the decision-making process of a consumer choosing between H&M and Gucci, and how that process is much different than the same customer choosing between Gucci and Prada. It all comes down to brand identity.
The ability to tell a story that surrounds the product a customer may purchase gives a whole new meaning to the shopping experience.
“I remember when I was at Hermes we had books about the stories of different scarves, and I kid you not we had customers call our customer service line every season and just speak to one of our sales representative on the phone for about an hour because they wanted to know the backstory of them,” said Beaufils. “Being able to share that has a huge impact.”
A big part of communicating one’s brand identity with a target market starts with the development of strong advertisements and brand partnerships.
“Hennessy has a deep affiliation with music, specifically urban music and hip hop music. That’s why a few years ago they partnered with the NBA, because it wasn’t just about urban music, but it was about urban culture,” said Beaufils. “They asked how you can be present in urban culture, apart from music. They tried to find other things within the territory, and one of them was sports. And so that’s why the NBA was a really great partnership for them.”
After asking Beaufils for a final comment on what he would like to see from the luxury fashion industry in the future, he had only one answer: “We need more disruptors.”
“I feel like in many of these big luxury companies we don’t take a lot of risks in certain areas… I really wonder if some brands that have enough of a strong brand awareness can be more ambitious or courageous in just trying something completely wacky,” said Beaufils. “What’s the most you could do that you think would not damage your brand and why are you not doing it?”