While the 2018 Football World Cup had Louis Vuitton as its official partner, private banks and Hublot watches associated with regattas, Rolex with golf, and Hermès with horse riding, no luxury brand appeared. among the sponsors of the last African Cup of Nations in Cameroon, whether Western, African or even Cameroonian. At a time when luxury and sport are closely associated, this absence raises the question of the place of luxury in Africa, the interest of this sector for the continent, and the existence of a truly African luxury industry.
The statistics are clear: a 2021 New World Wealth study notes the strong development of the luxury sector in Africa, and particularly in South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria, which together concentrate five more 50% of the total wealth held by individuals on the continent. However, among the favorite brands of these High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI, with a fortune equal to or greater than one million dollars), none are from Africa. Moreover, the majority of their purchases are made abroad: this is notably the case for 90% of luxury purchases made by the richest Nigerians, leaving little room for the emergence of luxury brands. local luxuries. Does this mean that an African luxury sector would be impossible?
To ask the question in these terms would be to forget the immense cultural diversity of 54 countries, bringing together a multitude of peoples, with different artistic and aesthetic traditions. Luxury does not come out of nowhere, it draws its inspiration from thousand-year-old craftsmanship, and the African continent is full of it. Just think of the immense heritage of Mansa Moussa of the Mali Empire, whose splendor of treasure has been widely commented on by the chroniclers of his time, of Ashanti gold, of the splendours of the Songhai Empire. .
What is lacking in the emergence of a luxury sector with African roots is the availability of highly skilled workers and infrastructure
However, despite the emergence of talent, no brand has yet managed to symbolize the African luxury made on the continent in the eyes of the world. And this does not only concern the haute couture sector. Luxury represents a particular mode of production and consumption. It’s not just about aesthetics, but about an exceptional experience that goes beyond the price paid to access it. What sets it apart is the uniqueness of a product or experience created specifically for an individual and meant for them alone. This involves tailoring, finishing, organization and impeccable service.
However, to date, it is neither inspiration, nor cultural richness, nor raw materials that are lacking in the emergence of a luxury sector with African roots, but the availability of highly qualified workers, the positioning and infrastructure to serve the level of requirement of these industries.
Some countries have been able to rely on a national strategy to create a luxury sector specific to their territory. Côte d’Ivoire thus promotes its know-how and cultural heritage. With a head start, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, the Seychelles, Tanzania and even São Tomé and Príncipe have been able to capitalize on this wealth and adopt a strategy of extensive internationalization, which today now one of the regional centers where creators from all over the continent gather and exhibit.
Rwanda has been able to position itself as a luxury tourist destination by focusing on the assets of Lake Kivu
And among the most significant successes, Rwanda has been able to position itself as a luxury tourist destination by focusing on the assets of Lake Kivu, and by rising to the international criteria of very high-end luxury to attract customers from all over the world. , in hotels that are fully booked all year round.
All these winning strategies have in common that they do not rely on an abstract reference to “made in Africa”, but on a locally anchored positioning. Just as there is French or Italian luxury, but no European luxury, African luxury is a contradiction in terms, and authenticity is only found in cultural references. national and local.
Can all African countries follow the same model? Yes, provided you set up international quality standards and don’t hesitate to train with experts from around the world. In the tourism sector, too often luxury hotels are far from living up to their stars: very approximate service, poorly finished rooms, these elements which are not details project a deplorable image with a customers accustomed to excellence all over the world. For luxury sectors to emerge, it takes more than designers and hotels. We need real brands, meeting precise specifications, and committees to identify the talents of tomorrow beyond the fashion effects of the moment.
Image and “soft power”
Luxury is as much about consumption as it is about international image and “soft power”. Despite its economic slowdown and its internal problems, France remains abroad the country of haute couture, prestigious perfumery, exceptional jewelry, and an art of living which makes it the first tourist destination. world and a country whose voice counts. The countries mentioned above have clearly understood the importance of this, and Rwanda today projects a radically more optimistic and assured image than it did thirty years ago, partly thanks to its positioning, which demonstrates a prosperity acquired in a short time. ‘years.
Authenticity does not sit well with labels that want to be everything for everyone, which is radically contrary to the spirit of luxury.
The luxury industry does not only benefit the economic elite: its galaxies of subcontractors make this industry a formidable job creator and a guardian of know-how. There is no such thing as “African” luxury, and that’s a good thing, because authenticity doesn’t sit well with labels that want to be everything for everyone, which is radically contrary to the spirit of luxury. It is therefore up to each country to draw on its own wealth to invent its own conception of luxury, by finding the ideal marriage between local and foreign inspirations, and by integrating traditional symbols into forms adapted to the requirements of modern and contemporary life. .