IWD 2021 | Leader in Luxury: Aude Villebrun, William Grant & Sons

“I remember a quote I read in a Bain & Company report that said “this crisis may be transforming the luxury industry for good, but it could also be a transformation for the good”. The luxury industry has always been a pioneer when it comes to leading the way and questioning itself and I believe it will once again. Purpose and inclusiveness will be at the heart of the industry.”

To complete our week-long celebration of the women of Walpole we speak to Aude Villebrun, Global Head of Channel Development – Meta Luxury at William Grant & Sons. Here Aude shares what she sees as the future of the luxury, as well as her advice for those starting out in the industry, and her thoughts on why elegance is underrated.

How have you seen luxury spirits evolve since the pandemic?

I have seen the spirits industry come together to support friends, colleagues and partners, including the on-trade which is still suffering a lot. The industry has suddenly modernised itself with brands pivoting, accelerating, diving into e-Commerce, social commerce and digitalisation, inventing new ways of reaching consumers through virtual experiences. Suddenly the true luxury is about “doing”, spending time with friends drinking the best spirit or cocktail virtually from home or celebrating the moments which matter the most.

What did you think is the future for luxury?

I remember a quote I read in a Bain & Company report that said “this crisis may be transforming the luxury industry for good, but it could also be a transformation for the good”. The luxury industry has always been a pioneer when it comes to leading the way and questioning itself and I believe it will once again. Purpose and inclusiveness will be at the heart of the industry.

The luxury retail landscape might change massively. Will people return to travel as much or more than before? Or will they shop local more than ever before? Will people keep buying online or will they miss the human interaction too much and will return to the stores? How will the luxury brands encourage and convince their consumers to visit their stores again with the highest level of service, uber-personalised offers or an omnichannel approach? Last but not least, in terms of regions, Asia and the next generation of consumers who will drive the industry’s growth for at least the next 5 to 10 years – with purchases happening more and more locally. But let’s not entirely forget about local customers in other regions… they may surprise the industry positively.

What was your big break?

When I left Paris and lived in New York for almost 3 years. A founding moment in my career and in my personal life for so many reasons. I was given an amazing opportunity to go and discover a new country, a new culture – both professionally and personally – and I met the greatest mentors there.

What inspires you?

Strong and brilliant women. My family. Books and people’s stories. Brands. Selfless generosity. Nature.

What piece of advice would you give to someone wishing to start a luxury business now?

Put elegance and authenticity at the heart of everything you do. I do believe elegance is underrated. Elegance can be a handwritten thank you note, offering help or extra support with no specific reason, paying attention and listening. My second piece of advice would be if you do receive help or support from anyone to start your business, make sure you give back one day to someone else in the same situation.

What would you be doing in a parallel life?

I would be a landscape designer or an activist – or both!

What does British luxury mean to you?

For me British luxury is the sense of royalty, of establishment, mixed with the most extraordinary creativity and irreverence.

What’s your favourite luxury?

It has changed a lot over the past years. I don’t know if it’s because I now have two young daughters, but today my luxury is meaningful jewellery. Something I will give pass onto my daughters one day. Disconnecting from the day to day in a very remote place, with no one around except my family, just nature is also my favourite luxury.

www.williamgrant.com

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