It all began with a black invitation card: "After 10 years of innovation and creativity, Vertu is pleased to invite you to discover the new Signature" - Thursday, 11th September 2008, Musée du Petit Palais - evening dress required.
Ten years after participating in the adventure that resulted in the creation of the brand with Frank Nuovo, the man who dreamed, imagined and created Vertu, it was with great pleasure that I set off to see what this innovative brand, the initiator of a new category, "luxury communication instruments" had become.
The first person I met when I arrived was Frank Nuovo himself: "Frank, it's a real pleasure to see you here! You came all the way from Los Angeles to attend this launch?" "Michel! Remember the launch of the first Vertu phone in 2002 at the Palais de Tokyo? I had to be here ...". And then an ill-chosen question from me, "What is the programme? Are you going to speak?"... "No. The programme ... things will happen ... just walk around".
That is when I understood that after all these years Vertu was still not a luxury brand. Of course, the telephones are expensive (9,500 € for the new Signature in steel and 26,000 € in yellow gold)! Here, quite evidently, is a manufacturing procedure that is practically handcrafted, using high-quality materials (in fact, two craftsmen were present on Thursday evening, demonstrating how they were assembled)! Of course, the President of Vertu was assiduously photographed with his guests against a backdrop covered with Vertu logos. Evidently, a classical orchestra played for us and an extraordinary flutist interpreted a beautiful melody that is an exclusive Vertu ringtone!
Yet, the brand has not understood that the essence of luxury is dream: All luxury brands are doted with an image, a vision that lies at the very core of the emotional relationship that its customers share with it. And this vision is that of a man: its creator.
All luxury brands that were created 150, 100 or 50 years ago spend most of their time maintaining this image - and in finding new creators to reinvent the brand. This is the role that Tom Ford played in his time at Gucci and played today by John Galliano at Dior. Of course there are some centennial brands that do little to draw attention to their creators (who knows that the designer at Burberry is Christopher Bailey?)
But here is a brand which is 10 years old and whose creator is present. Let us consider the roles that Christian Bedat and Franck Muller played when they headed the brand of watches that they created ... Having worked with Christian Bedat and with his retailers, I can testify to the essential role he played in the minds of the the brand's clientele.
Why did the launch of Vertu's new Signature have no place for Frank Nuovo?
To understand it, let us go further:
Why, in the book telling the story of the 10 years of Vertu (which was given to us at the exit) and which opens (luckily) on a (short) tribute written to Frank Nuovo, is the first (full-page) picture one sees that of the editor-journalist who wrote the preface? Why do we have to wait until page 35 to find an untitled photo of Frank?
Why was the product absent at this event? Why were we not made to fantasize about its quality, its features, its design? Of course it was there, but shown dismantled in small showcases. Of course, we saw images of it on the screens, but no one really looked at them and no one paused to look at the showcases!
Why had almost all the explanatory notices regarding the telephone in these little showcases come unglued under the heat of the spotlights? Luxury means paying attention to EVERY detail, however insignificant it may seem.
Why was the French version of the documents given to us at the exit of such poor quality (since when does one translate "Media information" by "information concernant les medias"??). Quality, which is one of the key aspects of luxury, also encompasses the brochures from the company and their translations.
Why was no one interested in the assembler-craftsmen, although they were situated in the centre of the room? It is not enough to place them under the limelight: they still have to be presented, getting the crowd interested in their skills, in their contribution to the brand. Failing this, everyone would suppose it was only an amusing gimmick ... It is a shame that Vertu's managers had never heard Jean Louis Dumas talk about the Hermès saddle-makers during visits to the ateliers at Pantin.
The answer is obvious: Vertu is a brand made by engineers, more interested in technical prowess than in dream, fantasy and luxury. Nokia's stamp is still evident. The concerns that some of us voiced in 1999 were unfortunately proven true.
Oh, I forgot – the food was excellent and the Dom Perignon was simply perfect …