A luxury education: coaching the fashion managers of tomorrow

NEOMA Business School and MIP Politecnico di Milano have joined forces with the Prada Group to enhance their International Master in Luxury Management programme. Tommaso Agasisti, Antonella Moretto, and Céline Davesne explain why a course such as this is vital in building a pipeline of talent for the high-end market

As the world of luxury continues to evolve and brands and consumers change the way they operate, it has become incredibly valuable for both academic institutions and luxury companies to work together so that they can share their knowledge and collaborate.

Earlier this year, the Prada Group became an official partner of the International Master in Luxury Management (IMLux), a double degree programme dedicated to training professionals in the luxury sector. 

Developed in partnership between MIP Politecnico di Milano and NEOMA Business School, this unique course now benefits from the support of expert employers within the luxury sector, which will in turn help train the fashion managers tomorrow.

From its very beginning, the IMLux programme has been a result of an exclusive French-Italian collaboration, bringing together the renowned expertise of the two Schools and, more broadly, the two countries. Launched in 2011, there has been an increased desire to enrich this master’s programme in recent years, and the Prada Group’s input does just that. But why is there such a need for a programme so specific towards those who are looking towards a career in the luxury sector?

The nature of the luxury market

First of all, the luxury market is very specific, with its own codes, values, language, and audience. Products and services linked to the world of luxury, for example, do not work on the same marketing or logistics mechanisms as regular consumer products. To master all the challenges and specificities of the luxury sector fully, it was necessary to offer a course capable of covering the sector at 360 degrees. 

The practical elements of this course prepare those looking for a career in luxury by exposing them to the realities of working in luxury companies from the very beginning. 

In addition, the luxury sector has grown significantly in recent years. In 2019, the luxury market had a turnover of $247 billion USD, up almost 11% on 2018. As well as growth, the sector is also transforming – something players within the industry need to understand from all angles in order to succeed. 

Digitisation has transformed society, and in this instance, the way we consume luxury products. Therefore, those who work within the luxury industry need a thorough understanding of evolving consumption patterns, and need to be forward thinking and adaptable when it comes to their management skills within such a specialised industry.

Benefiting the student and the luxury sector

This course benefits both the student and companies in the luxury sector, by producing the experts that the field’s specific demands and challenges so greatly require. 

Working closely with companies is a principal features of this double degree, and its strength lies in offering proximity to, and links with, the professional world. Graduates of this full-time, 12 month programme taught in English receive master’s degrees from both MIP Politecnico di Milano and NEOMA Business School.

An internship makes up six months of the programme, enabling students to acquire a mix of academic and professional skills. This component speaks to the programme’s ultimate aim of allowing students to develop the necessary knowledge and capabilities to occupy key positions in companies within the luxury sector. 

Teaching is structured around a first semester in Reims, the city of champagne, followed by a second semester in Milan, considered one of the world capitals of fashion. The dual location boosts opportunities for students to meet leaders in the sectors of fashion, spirits, cosmetics, furnishings, and food, as well as the hospitality and automotive industries. 

The role of the Prada Group

As official partner to the programme, the Prada Group will contribute to course content via workshops, site visits and the organisation of several conferences with speakers from the world-renowned brand, strengthening both the ‘academic’ and ‘professional’ dimensions of the programme.

Current intakes are multicultural, with approximately 60 students representing more than 20 nationalities across the world. This ensures that students will be immersed in an extensive array of cultures and networks from the beginning. While programme is registering growing numbers of applications each year, care is taken not to increase the cohort size in order to maintain the programme’s exclusivity and status. In addition, retaining the cohort size ensures the sustainability of the programme’s relationships with the professional world, keeping class sizes small enough for site visits, and offering each student the best possible learning experience. 

The teaching on the IMLux double degree programme is committed to providing a full and detailed insight into the whole value creation chain. From an initial idea to the manufacturing process; from supply chain to retailer, and from online to offline communications. In so doing, its teaching methods aim to stand out in the subject area by combining the traditional with the modern and innovative. 

Students are taught by speakers and experts, but are also immersed in study tours. The six-month internships, meanwhile, take place with luxury companies based across the world in areas as diverse as food and wine, hospitality, and textiles. They provide students with vital and immediate experience in the luxury sector. 

The study tour spans two weeks and takes students to the heart of Paris and involves private and guided visits of major luxury stores, talks and testimonials from leading luxury experts, and the opportunity to attend conferences hosted by luxury professionals. 

Students also get the chance to become mystery shoppers within luxury stores so that they can see first-hand what it is like to experience luxury from the customer perspective.

Challenges that require real solutions

Ultimately, the programme’s exposure to industry places an emphasis on giving students the chance to work on real projects and face challenges that
require real solutions. Another emphasis is on the benefits, and requirement, of studying in two different countries. Going to Reims and Milan is an essential condition of graduating from the programme.

Strategic direction

The relationship between the Business Schools and the luxury partners has been the key to this programme’s success to date. Since the launch, both NEOMA Business School and MIP Politecnico di Milano have been organising regular meetings to develop the programme continuously. Both Schools have set up strategic meetings which are held twice a year, which brings together the general directorates of the Schools and the directors of the programme. 

These meetings are an opportunity to discuss the strategic directions of the programme; its structure, its positioning in relation to the competition, and its compliance with the best international academic standards. 

Both NEOMA and MIP Politecnico di Milano aim to evolve with the changing demands of the luxury sector. By identifying and capitalising on the strengths of the programme, and foreseeing future areas of development, both Schools can ensure they remain relevant and at the forefront when it comes to this area of teaching. 

An example of this is sensory marketing, which, as it continues to be developed, is taking a prominent place in the luxury sector. By making students aware of the process of winning a customer’s trust and attention by appealing to each of the five senses, the programme can teach them how to be experts within an industry that is constantly introducing new elements to their marketing strategies. 

The intertwining elements of educational content and industry interactions in the IMLux allow graduates to find positions in all luxury sectors, at all levels of responsibility, and across functions ranging from marketing and logistics, to finance. Among graduates, 94% land jobs less than six months after their graduation. Companies recognise the quality and the exclusivity of this programme and look to it as a place where they can recruit luxury specialists. More generally, the dual degree also serves to highlight the successes that collaborations between international fashion brands and academic institutions can have. Its exciting initiatives will continue to help coach the fashion managers of the future, so that they can become experts within this specialised field, and indeed, adapt to an ever-more digitised world.

Tommaso Agasisti is Associate Dean for Internationalisation, Quality and Services at MIP Politecnico di Milano.

Céline Davesne  is Associate Dean for Programmes at NEOMA Business School.

Antonella Moretto is Associate Dean for Open Programmes at MIP Politecnico di Milano. 

This article was originally published in Ambition, the magazine of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).