Remember, we started this discussion with the premise that the next renaissance will be at the confluence of technology and the arts. By “technology,” I am referring primarily to information technology and computing.
As for other technologies, there are significant expertise and major industries such as automotive and aeronautics in Europe. German brands like Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, and Audi are market leaders. Airbus is a massive aircraft maker that leads the market alongside Boeing in America. The industrial machinery industry is also strong in both Germany and Italy.
But I am thinking primarily about the potential of IT and computing to set in motion a new renaissance, and even more specifically, the Internet and mobile computing technologies.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at an example of a concept that started in France in 2001. France is arguably the capital of the fashion and luxury industries, and it is not a surprise that the notion of hosting online private sales for fashion and other luxury products was born there. The company that invented the concept was Vente-Privee.
In 2000, Jacques-Antoine Granjon and his team began to experiment with the sale of previous seasons’ stock through limited-time sales events on the Internet. The principle was to fulfill supplier’s needs to quickly sell old stock without harming the brand or competing with other distribution channels, while generating maximum revenue from the sales.
Over the past decade, more than 30 other websites built on this concept have emerged in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the United States. Some regular e-business websites have moved to the private sales as part of their offers (e.g., cdiscount.com and rueducommerce.com).
In the United States, Gilt Groupe has emerged as the leader in private sales. It has more than $500 million in revenue, compared with$1.5 billion for Vente-Privee. Other players in the sector include Rue La La, Ideeli, One Kings Lane, HauteLook, as well as more traditional retailers like Saks, and online players like Blue Nile. Everyone is now offering private sales and daily deals to create excitement and bring traffic to their sites.
For consumers, scouting for deals on fashion and luxury products has become infinitely easier, and even designers now have additional and efficient channels through which to connect to them. For the fashion industry as a whole, this innovation has been a large step forward using human-centric computing.
What is interesting about this particular trend is that it was born in France, not in Silicon Valley, and even its American replication has happened in New York, not in Silicon Valley.
Why is that relevant?
Well, New York and Paris are centers of fashion where a deeper understanding of how that industry works is readily available. The technology, in this case, is relatively simple, but the innovation comes at the cusp of that deeper understanding of the fashion business and the possibilities of electronic commerce.
Another example of a business born out of an amateur photographer’s love for high-quality photo books is Blurb. Eileen Gittins founded the company because she was unable to get any printer to print high-quality, limited runs of books based on her photography. This business is based in Silicon Valley, but again, the technology itself is relatively less complex than what Silicon Valley specializes in.
The important point is that these are innovations in two arts-related fields – fashion and photography – and for such innovation to happen, knowledge and understanding of the arts is critical.
My hypothesis is that Europe continues to be a mecca of culture, and there is adequate technical expertise on that continent to come up with more significant concepts that may become drivers of major trends in the same way that Vente-Privee has been the starting point for such momentum in the fashion and luxury sectors.
I am, of course, extremely curious to see what some of those new trends will be.