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Transcript: Why Birks is not a luxury brand

A diamond engagement ring at the Birks flagship store in Montreal.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/The Globe and Mail

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak to the newish CEO of Maison Birks [Birks & Mayors Inc.], Jean-Christophe Bédos.

You have worked for many, many years in Europe. How is it different doing business in Canada? Has anything struck you that has been different from here than back home in Europe?

JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BÉDOS – The culture is different, especially in the luxury goods industry. You have a hub in Europe, it's almost like a cluster – everyone is specialized. You need a communications agency, you have designers, and you need manufacturers. Everyone works like in haute couture you have a lot of ateliers, people who are highly specialized, and it's not difficult to identify and find talent. Here it is more difficult, because luxury is not a tradition.

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As a matter of fact, I don't like to talk about luxury when talking about Birks. I prefer to talk about prestige. Birks is a prestige brand because we need to make sure we do not develop an inferiority complex when comparing ourselves with European brands. Luxury belongs to Europe; and its history. Prestige is more North American.

KARL MOORE – What is the difference between prestige and luxury?

JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BÉDOS – The roots of luxury come from a long time ago. You think of Versailles castle, think of the Vatican, and the patrons who financed the artisans and artists, and it comes from really far back. Luxury represents a lifestyle of the wealthy, of the ones who can have it.

Prestige is very different. Prestige has a relationship to history; but prestige does not have a relationship to a class system, whereas luxury does. If you think of a catwalk, especially if you are a Canadian brand, on the catwalk in the fashion industry, you can see those beautiful young girls who create a distance with the consumer because they are so serious – they are not happy and smiling. We are a Canadian brand; we are prestigious, but we don't want to be serious or arrogant. We don't want that distance that luxury creates; we want to be close because Canadian people have that reputation of being warm, friendly, and unassuming – not arrogant.

Birks has to project that image of being accessible, not available, just accessible, and not too serious, not arrogant. So we wanted our brand, and our store, to be comfortable and welcoming altogether.

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