written by Barbara Palumbo of Adornmentality
When I received the message from Nina Nguyen back in early November asking if I had heard about the upcoming New York Times Global Leaders Collective that was to be held in Washington D.C., I was a little embarrassed to admit to her that I had not. “Have you seen this? It’s a summit about the future of luxury and I’ve been invited to go” she said, sending a link which took me to the event’s page. I immediately scoured the site – jaw ajar – as I read the list of prominent, salient names of some of the summit’s guest speakers.
The two-day event was to be held at the infamous Watergate Hotel on November 28th and 29th and was moderated by the New York Times’ Chief Fashion Critic and Fashion Director, Vanessa Friedman, Times columnists Roger Cohen and Thomas Friedman, and Times’ Washington Bureau Chief, Elisabeth Bumiller. Yet, as if those four powerhouse media personalities weren’t enough to turn a wannabe journalist like me Pantone’s Color-of-the-Year with envy, the panels also included speakers like White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, author and futurist Ray Kurtzweil, and former Vice President Al Gore, just to name a few.
“My God, Nina, that’s incredible! I’m thrilled for you!” I replied, happy to know that the designer jewelry genre of the luxury world would be well represented. “It’s great, right? I knew you would appreciate it. That’s why I think you should go” she said.
“Wait... I’m sorry, What?”
“I think you should go. I’m going to email the woman from the New York Times who reached out to me and give her your contact information. I’ll tell her about you and what you do in our industry. You should be there for this. You can bunk with me if you want to.”
And before I could say the words, “Slumber Party at the Watergate,” Nina’s contact emailed me a list of questions and ultimately approved my invitation to the conference.
The first day of the event consisted of checking into our hotel, getting our delegate badges, and meeting for dinner with the other attendees before listening to Dennis McDonough’s Q&A session. I honestly had no idea what to expect in terms of the crowd size or who would be there. As my Uber pulled up to the front doors of the beautifully decorated and renovated Watergate, I was met by no less than a small army of welcomers. A doorman asked my name, two bellmen took my bags, and I was approached by the hotel’s staff manager who thanked me for coming, offered me refreshments, and showed me around the hotel. Yet all of that seemed to happen in a matter of about three minutes. I was figuratively swept off of my feet while being nearly blindsided with kindness and customer service. What IS this strange parallel universe and why isn’t every place on Earth like this?? Eventually Nina and I met up in time to slip on our luxury best and head off to the fancy schmancy cocktail hour.
I’ll admit it was a little surreal for me to be standing in a room with the likes of Scott Malkin, owner of the New York Islanders, especially being the huge hockey fan that I am, but the more Nina and I looked around, the more we realized there were some serious players among us from all sectors of the luxury industry. Bally CEO Frederic de Narp was sipping a cocktail while David Lauren of Ralph Lauren chatted with two finely-suited gentlemen across the room.
Once seated for our meticulously-plated gourmet dinner, however, we realized just how few people had been invited, giving our presence there an even greater personal significance. You see, for Nina Nguyen – a woman who prides herself on the sustainable practices she uses in running her company – being at this summit not just to hear about the plans in place for the future of luxury (retail and otherwise), but also to be able to submit her own ideas and express her own worries, was critical. As she spoke to other guests about her brand and her concerns over an unstable economy in the wake of a new administration, her passion was apparent and her uncertainty, genuine. And as we soon realized, those passions and uncertainties were shared across the room, no matter how well-known the label, how expensive the product, or how famous the face representing it.
Everyone there was there for their own reasons, and in part two of this story I’ll share a little more about what those reasons were, and what the professionals had to say about how our industries and our world leaders plan on dealing with it.