While thousands of attendees packed Paris’ Porte de Versailles convention center for VivaTech, some of the biggest names came as cartoons, and even showed up as holograms.
Among them were Facebook parent company Meta’s outgoing chief operations officer Sheryl Sandberg, who appeared as an animated avatar in conversation with L’Oréal chief executive officer Nicolas Hieronimus, while Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was beamed in Star Trek-style from his bunker in Kiyv.
That’s all to say that the sixth edition of the four-day, LVMH-backed conference offered a very eclectic mix of brands and executives on hand to talk tech. Audi showed off its latest connected car, while Amazon and Huawei were there touting new services. L’Oréal brought its beauty brands Lancôme and Skinceuticals to make the case for virtual consultations and AR color matching for makeup, with lines of eager believers wrapping around the room, all while mixing with crypto bros and NFT evangelists.
Holographic mirrors and virtual try-on were on display, while the “Low Carbon Human Park,” where people were encouraged to chat, play chess and interact IRL, was sponsored by TikTok.
Louis Vuitton and Dior’s parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton took the term fashion house seriously, constructing a grand apartment with various rooms dedicated to each brand and showcasing its technology.
Speaking on stage at the Innovation Awards, LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault reminded the audience that his company started as a small busines, and that ethos still runs throughout the group. He said that luxury and technology share the same core values of creativity, quality and leadership.
“Creativity is the key of the success of LVMH, and it is at the center of what you do with start-ups,” he told the rapt audience. On the point of quality, he commented that there is still “enormous progress to do” in tech areas that relate to retail, citing NFTs, which he noted are “complicated to buy,” and VR goggles, which he said are “not pleasant.” Together LVMH and start-ups can work toward solutions.
“The last value is entrepreneurship. All the start-ups here are made from entrepreneurs, and we are a family of entrepreneurs,” said Arnault. “We share the same energy, the same agility, and the same will to grow.”
Group managing director Tony Belloni said LVMH was previously reluctant to embrace e-commerce because it was associated with “value and convenience, which are not drivers of a luxurious experience.”
“We have over 5,000 stores and we love them deeply because they fully immerse the customer in the brand universe,” he sad. “The challenge is innovating the experience online in a way that we can create the same differentiation that we have created in the physical world.”
At Louis Vuitton, that means bringing special events such as fashion shows, private parties and other “non-reproduceable” events to VIP customers through VR. Last month’s spectacular runway at the Salk Institute in San Diego was shown as an example of an event that could be streamed in VR. Not making the invite list or not being able to attend due to personal scheduling conflicts “generates frustration” for some customers, said Louis Vuitton demand and program director Stephan Emanuely. The new tech would allow customers to virtually attend from anywhere in the world.
Vuitton is also working on interactive technology for VIPs, where they can virtually interact with a personal sales agent “or it can be the designer” for consultations, said Emanuely. 3D renderings of shoes were also on display, so a potential buyer can see down to the stitching on their screen.
LVMH also showcased the interactive shopping system currently available at Dior’s Paris flagship. It operates through Apple technology and behind-the-scenes sourcing so that any product will almost instantaneously appear in front of a customer. No flipping through racks or spending a moment alone here. That system is in the process of being rolled out globally.
Bulgari displayed its Octo Finissimo, the thinnest watch in the world, and its joint NFT which cannot be separated from the timepiece. “We knew that NFTs were going up and down and we wanted to stay completely away from the hype of devaluation,” said high jewelry director Massimo de Valentini.
There was buzz around Guerlain’s crypto bees, NFTs which are tied to a rewilding project. It runs on the Tezos blockchain, which the brand says uses less energy.
LVMH is using data to hone its production and offerings across brands, group information technology director Franck Le Moal told WWD. They run what he called a data factory, with 60 dedicated data scientists and engineers to crunch numbers.
“It’s the whole value chain we are trying to target,” he said about using information to reach the group’s sustainability goals. “The more you have data and accurate forecasts, the better your footprint will be. You will not over-plan your logistics and transportation, you will reduce what you sell and you will adjust production and distribution capability so we will not overproduce. In the end it’s a strong impact on the global supply chain.
“The major impact that we are looking for in terms of supply is to downsize and making sure that we are not having to do reverse logistics because we know that reverse logistics are having a significant value impact on our carbon footprint,” he said.
LVMH brands do not currently accept crypto, but are looking at it. “We are careful,” Le Moal added.
The crypto panel with Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, the founder of crypto-currency exchange Binance, and Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin in conversation with advertising conglomerate Publicis chair Maurice Levy, was the most anticipated event of the week. The two were treated like rock stars with whoops and cheers when they appeared on stage, or, in Buterin’s case, on screen. In one memorable moment, Levy got out of his seat to bow down to Zhao.
Both made their case for crypto despite the volatile markets that have shaken confidence in the currencies over the last few weeks. Buterin also tried to quell any environmental concerns, telling the audience Ethereum is moving from the energy-intensive “proof of work” blockchain used by Bitcoin, to the lower carbon impact “proof of stake” format. The new chain will also make the currency more scalable and accessible to the average consumer for small purchases as it will slash transaction fees.
Italian brand Pinko is one company that has jumped on the Ethereum train. Pinko executives were on hand to reveal their upcoming NFT project, which is a maze of an AR-enabled in-store installation, QR-code, online and metaverse hybrid that results in a digitally-decorated handbag.
The first limited edition drop is scheduled for October and will give buyers access to exclusive events and sales, both real and virtual. The cost is 1 Ethereum, which is roughly $1,100 at current exchange. If a customer wants to pay in local currency they’ll be turned down – it’s Ethereum only.
In more tangible currency, Mangopay, which works with retailers including La Redoute and Veepee, and customer-to-customer platforms such as Vinted, said these types of peer-to-peer marketplaces are seeing the biggest growth. “The main trend in the retail economy is the marketplace trend. For one euro spent in the e-commerce space, [the consumer] spends two in the marketplace space,” a spokesperson said.