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Geoff Jones is a Professor of Business History at Harvard Business School. Jones researches the history of global business and has written on the evolution of international entrepreneurship and multinational corporations,[…]

Will Paris and New York continue to be the standard-bearing cities of global fashion?

Question: How are western beauty brands expanding into the rndeveloping world? 

Geoffrey Jones:
As Russia and Chinarn and now India really opened up to global capitalism, to foreign firms, rnthe very first reaction of consumers was a great hunger for western rnbrands. Local products, if they were made at all were poor quality, rndangerous, and absolutely lacking in aspirational value whatsoever. So, rnthese new markets, these so-called "BRICs," have proved incredibly rnattractive to beauty companies and have grown incredibly quickly. China rnin 1980 didn’t have a beauty industry. Mao Tse-Tung had abolished it, asrn a matter of fact; it was regarded as a sign of bourgeois decadence. rnIt’s now the fourth beauty market in the world. Let’s see, it’s the rnthird biggest, Russia is eighth biggest. 

So all of these marketsrn have seen this in-pouring of western brands. The interesting thing is rnthat over time we’ve seen, particularly in the case of China, growing rnconfidence among consumers in traditional beauty ideals and practices, rnand this has increasingly obliged companies to consider and implement rnwhat we call local customization of various kinds. 

So, in China rntoday, there’s a huge demand for local ingredients, you know, ginseng rnskin cream, or whatever. And so even if a brand is a global brand, like rnOlay, or L’Oreal Paris, actually the ingredients often reflect a sort ofrn local content. But it’s more than that. Companies have shifted, again rnin China in particular, from using western models—which a brand like rnL’Oreal Paris always did—to using local models. But it’s more than this,rn because they increasingly, or no pretty much always use local rnphotographers, local agencies to do all the shots because they are very,rn very anxious to capture local feelings. 

So, we live in a, I rnthink, in an interesting period where globalization and tribalization rnare sort of dramatically interacting in the global industry. And I thinkrn nobody is quite sure about the exact balance and consumers are kind of rnsaying different things. They’re saying, "Yeah, we want these fabulous rnParis and New York brands because they are aspirational." But they are rnalso saying, "We want them to be locally relevant."

Question:rn Will Paris and New York continue to be considered global centers for rnbeauty? 

Geoffrey Jones: If we go back again to the rnearly 19th century, no one place was associated with being especially rnbeautiful. If you look at the perfume industry, which some would regard rnis at the center of the industry, Britain was a bigger producer of rnfragrance and perfume for much of the first half of the 19th century; rnbigger than France. But, by the middle of the 19th century, in Paris yourn have the development of fashion, of Paris as a kind of a spectacle withrn the rebuilding of the city with wide boulevards. And the growth of the rnperfume industry becomes closely associated with this cluster of rnfashionable and luxurious industries. 

So by the end of the 19th rncentury, Paris is regarded as THE benchmark of all that’s chic and rnfashionable throughout the world. And fragrances and the beauty industryrn is part of that. And this process is self-reinforcing. Certainly the rnbenchmark of aspiration is self-reinforcing, but because Paris is so rnaspirational, so talented entrepreneurs, artists, and other people, the rnsuppliers of the beauty industry all cluster around Paris as well. So rnyou both have a... what economists would call a agglomeration effect andrn reputation effects. And that proves incredibly strong and persistent rnthroughout the next century. Paris is a symbol of chicness and style andrn aspiration and femininity. 

New York is a slightly different rnstory. By the early 20th century, the United States is the world’s rnbiggest economy, the world’s richest economy; New York is the major rncommercial center. Entrepreneurs and others are attracted to New York. rnIt’s a giant port for which ingredients of the industry come in. And so rnit starts to develop, again, a cluster of entrepreneurs. But then the rngrowth of Hollywood, of the American film industry, to which New York isrn quite closely tied as the center of finance and the center of a lot of rntalent I think is really important in taking the division of America rnaround the world. 

And then in the inter-war years, and after-warrn years, a group of entrepreneurs like Elizabeth Arden, Helena rnRubenstein, Estée Lauder develop expensive luxury brands of cosmetics, rnskin care, and fragrances which provide also New York and the United rnStates with a range of not only mass brands, but also prestigious rnbrands. And so New York and the United States come to represent a rndifferent vision of beauty. It’s a vision that’s more accessible, more rndemocratic view of beauty, less complex, less chic, more hip, more rnexciting. Just like New York itself. 

And it’s an interesting rnquestion why these two cities have continued that role. It’s partly rnbecause there is so much talent clustered if you reach a certain role, arn certain size. But it’s also about the cities themselves. Both cities rnhave emotional associations in people’s heads; Paris of cafés and the rnLeft Bank, New York of skyscrapers and energy. And those images, the rncities today are – you could say the cities today are still having thosern features. So, there’s no disconnect between people’s imaginations of rnthose cities and those cities today even though they are two of the mostrn fast-changing, cosmopolitan, evolving cities you could want in the rnworld. 

So I think the brand image of those cities, which is veryrn important in the beauty industry, is persistent and realistic. You can rnget on a plane, go to those cities and you actually see what you imaginern it to be. 

Now, it’s a very interesting question if other citiesrn can catch up, and I thought about that quite a lot. For example, Milan,rn after the Second World War, develops as a major global fashion center, rnbut it doesn’t develop as a beauty capital. London has always been on rnthe fringes of the beauty industry and at various times has become hip rnand exciting. The 1960’s swinging London, The Beatles, Twiggy, all the rnrest of it, but never quite sort of made it as a beauty capital. 

Nowrn one can think of Tokyo, or Shanghai, or Rio as potentials. 

Recordedrn on April 21, 2010