“If you caress it the right way it can be soft and sweet. If not, it has claws and can bite,” laughs Cyrille Vigneron of Cartier’s emblematic big cat. The chief executive of the French jeweller is speaking of the iconic panther, muse to the house since 1914 and namesake of its most recent timepiece revival, but he could just as easily be referring to the multi-faceted Cartier woman.
“Cartier is for adult women – not young and girly – women with strong character, freedom and independence,” Cyrille asserts over breakfast at the iconic Polo Lounge in The Beverly Hills Hotel, his base for Cartier’s Panthère watch collection relaunch celebrations held in Los Angeles last month. Women who want to express strength and power in an elegant way, he says, “Don’t have to go and wear ultra-masculine things..,” not when Cartier is on hand with its industrial screw-studded Love collection or the nail-derived Juste un Clou or the animalistic force of 1980s power that is ready to pounce in Panthère. “Clou is pointed. It’s a tool and it can be a weapon,” he points out with a glint in his eyes. “It can say, ‘I’m a girl but I’m strong.’ But it’s delicate too. The balance has to be there showing sophistication and boldness.”
Since being promoted to chief executive of luxury conglomerate Richemont’s star player in January 2016, Cyrille has become something of an expert in the female psyche. “Women have no problem to grow the feminine and masculine part of themselves. For men, there’s usually more pressure to be mannish, so they tend to cut the part which is sensitive,” he explains of learning to open up to women’s way of thinking. “It’s a different world to be in but when you get there it’s a fantastic world,” he laughs, cautioning, “If you try to learn about women from books you will never make it.”
It’s not just his own approach that’s being feminised, Cyrille is actively looking to promote and empower women within the ranks of Cartier, a “dominantly feminine” maison, and amplify their share of voice. “To be relevant to the younger generation, it’s important to increase the number of women in top positions.” He estimates that the managerial split is evenly balanced between men and women but admits, “Seventy per cent or more of our clientele are women so probably the proportion should be higher.” It’s not just gender diversity, but increasing cultural awareness too, as evidenced by the digital animation released for the first time last Ramadan, which, together with films celebrating the Eid holidays, garnered 20 million views and was driven by Cartier’s desire to be with its customers, “At a time when people celebrate, a time they are happy, when they want to give gifts to the people they care for,” Cyrille says.
Following his appointment, the French national spent three days in the Middle East immersing himself in the region, and left with a deep-rooted respect for Cartier’s client base here. “GCC women know very well how to express femininity even when they are all in black and covered,” he observes. “They are specialists in how to look feminine in a way which will not be perceived as indecent. Attractive but not provocative.” And in their arsenal? “They are experts with fashion and accessories, and Cartier plays a big part of showing this self-confidence and femininity,” he smiles. The 56-year-old also appreciates the chameleon-like abilities of Middle Eastern women to adapt to their surroundings with utmost respect to social and cultural mores. “I think GCC women know how to have several identities depending on the occasion,” he muses. “If you go to Riyadh it’s different than if you go to Dubai or if you are in London. So it’s how to adjust to this by being yourself.”
Cartier rather neatly serves this projection of identity among uniformity. As Cyrille points out, the Love bracelet is one of the few luxury goods that is not tarnished by omnipresence, carrying with it an intensely personal narrative. “Usually, when you see everyone wearing [the same thing] you lose interest. If you see all women in the same dress or with the same bag it looks sad. But they can all have the Love bracelets, each of them for different reasons, and no one gets offended. That’s why you don’t feel unhappy by seeing someone else wearing it. On the contrary, the more you see the more it brings joy.”
Under his suit jacket, Cyrille himself sports the new Ecrou design next to a white gold Love. “I have worn this since 2010 and have never removed it since,” he says of the bracelet that his wife symbolically locked onto his wrist. “Yes, she has kept the key,” he laughs, admitting that the only downside of being ornamented thus is his inability to pass through airport metal detectors. “It’s a small price to pay to keep this symbol alive,” he concedes.
The Ecrou is unusual in that it was conceived in 2017. Many of Cartier’s other modern icons have their roots in decades past. The Tank family of watches was born in 1917, the Love bracelet in 1969, Juste un Clou in 1971 and Panthère timepieces in 1983. Age, Cyrille says, “Doesn’t really matter; they are beautiful today in so far as you can look at them with fresh eyes and each new generation can say, ‘This is really cool’. They are like a living treasure.”
This tenet of timelessness is at the heart of Cyrille’s belief that reenergising the house of Cartier does not require new products, but a fresh approach to communicating with customers in store, across digital platforms and in spirit. It also means re-focusing on the beating heart of its timepieces. “Cartier was known for very sharp design, very powerful and simple shapes. For watches that are not round [but are] square, rectangular, curved and oval. A collection of beautiful shapes.” This month’s re-launch of Panthère de Cartier, its signature square face framed by a chain link bracelet, is in direct homage to Cartier past, made relevant for millennials thanks to that LA launch party, featuring Alicia Keys and DJ Mark Ronson sending Snapchat into a frenzy. By digitally debuting the collection on Net-a-Porter – a Cartier first, which saw the luxury online retailer sell out of the Dhs500,000-plus panther-spotted diamond and enamel model – the conversation becomes modern, relevant and as audacious as ever. The products may barely have changed, but the way Cartier is speaking to its audience is utterly fresh.
As a father of four – he has one son and three daughters aged from 13 to 25 – Cyrille enjoys intimate insight into how to communicate to a new generation of potential customers. “They taught me the language of WhatsApp and photos and emojis,” he laughs of his older children, conceding that the younger two are more of an enigma. “Getting into teenagers’ brains is difficult.” Nonetheless, Cartier is doing a pretty good job of it, harnessing the Dubai-educated former Harper’s Bazaar Arabia cover stars Simi and Haze Khadra for a series of social media-promoted videos showcasing serious stacks of Cartier jewellery, and working with regional digital influencers, including Karen Wazen Bakhazi, on the launch of the thinner Love bracelets around Valentine’s Day earlier this year. “The Middle East has been crazy with young women wanting to stack them from here to here,” Cyrille indicates up his arm, “they are crazy about it. So we don’t need a younger product, it’s just the atmosphere and the vibe,” he concludes.
Read the full article in the June issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia
Cartier's "living treasures"
1. Panthere de Cartier watch, Dhs102,000. 2. Amulette de Cartier necklace, Dhs52,500. 3. Cartier Love bracelet, Dhs87,500. 4. Cartier Juste un Clou bracelet, Dhs306,000. 5. Cartier Juste un Clou torque necklace, Dhs328,000. 6. Cartier Ecrou bracelet, Dhs23,200.