Hip-hop is coming to business school

When you imagine a Paris-based luxury-focused MBA, your mind is probably filled with the types of images you see on fragrance ads; women in flowing Dior ball gowns walking down the stairs, or beautiful people in the shadows lounging on yachts or pouting, waving expensive handbags in front of the Louvre. On the luxury path of the Global MBA from ESSEC Business School, a renowned French player in business education, they teach their students the historic brands of old Europe, of course. But this year, a new angle has been added: the influence of hip-hop on the luxury industry.

Classes are led by The Hopenclass, a non-profit organization that was launched during the pandemic, in April 2020, which describes itself as a “cultural and creative space for (de) learning” held “at the intersection of culture and academia ”. In practice, this means that they organize “discussions, courses and workshops complement traditional education by challenging the status quo”, which emphasize “emotional intelligence and soft skills rather than on academic excellence and aim to “address thought-provoking topics and present voices.” pass by.”

The luxury and hip-hop course, titled “ Sound, Status and Style: Unveiling the Mutual Influence of Hip Hop and Luxury, ” is hosted by American-born scholar and consultant Sissi Johnson, who worked with brands such as LVMH, Kering and Nespresso.


Sissi Johnson teaches new ESSEC hip hop course

Johnson points out that luxury and hip-hop have long, symbiotic relationships. Brands like Gucci are controlled endlessly in the songs; Lil Kim has worn (a lot of) Chanel since the 1990s; Jay-Z recently sold half of his champagne brand, Armand de Brignac, to Moët Hennessy; and Harlem designer Dapper Dan went from selling clothes that used luxury brand logos in New York City in the 1980s, to seeing Gucci release a version of one of their models and even release a clothing line. for men in collaboration with the Italian brand in 2017. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Nowadays, the world of luxury is not limited to Paris, London and Milan. While global brands attract people from all parts of the world, they are capitalizing on the popularity of one of America’s largest exports. In short, any self-respecting MBA who wants to work in the luxury world needs to know how hip-hop has used and in turn influenced big brands.

The first course in the ESSEC program introduced students to the basics of hip-hop, its history and its cultural influence. “We wanted to make sure the students understood the basics and the basics of hip-hop before we even started talking about luxury,” says Sissi. To do this, in its first class, The Hopenclass enlisted the help of Rocky Bucano, executive director of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum in New York, which opened in 2019. “He was there when hip-hop came on. was created years ago, and it hails from the Bronx, where hip-hop was born, ”says Johnson.

ESSEC and the Hopenclass have, in a way, been helped by the pandemic and the rise of distance education, as it has allowed speakers like Bucano to join the class. When the speakers were expected to appear in person, it probably wouldn’t have been possible (or economical) to transport him to Paris for a session. Zoom, however, means that he only has to spare a few hours of his time and enrich the experience of a handful of students thousands of miles away.


The second course in the series was about sneaker culture. “I feel like sneakers are like the new stilettos, and almost more in the pandemic,” Johnson says. “Even though you are fabulous, you want to be comfortable.” Once again, a top notch speaker was invited – Sean Williams, a famous sneaker collector and expert in New York City, and the host of a podcast called Obsessive Sneaker Disorder. Among the topics discussed were sneaker culture at LVMH, including the influence of American designer and DJ Virgil Abloh, who became artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s clothing collection in 2018, and the “problematic” creations of another. American, Jeremy Scott, who is creative. director of Italian fashion house Moschino and designer of eye-catching sneakers. In a nod to the worldwide spread of sneaker fashion, the class also discussed how a particular brand is used as a signal in Afghanistan for Taliban members to recognize themselves.

Future courses will cover other parts of the luxury world, such as perfumes and cosmetics (“The Fenty x LVMH Effect: The Common Ground Between Hip Hop and Beauty”), Luxury Automobiles (“Whippin ‘and Pulling Up: How Hip Hop impact the “New Rich” Global Consumer Interest in Luxury Cars ”) and Wines & Spirits (“ Hip, Hop, Hooray: Reshaping the Culture of Celebration ”). All will feature special guests, whom ESSEC will not yet reveal.

The course clearly struck a nerve. ESSEC has 27 students who are currently following the Luxury Brand Management stream of their MBA, and 18 have enrolled in the Luxury in Hip-Hip course, which consists of seven sessions spread over 22 hours, even if they do not obtain any credit for that. A vote of confidence also came from outside the campus; ESSEC says that employees of luxury brands attended the sessions. We learn that they were also joined by academics from other Parisian business schools. Students who recently graduated from ESSEC executive education programs have expressed interest in taking upcoming courses. ESSEC says it wants to take the course again next year, and is even considering adding hip-hop to its Executive MBA.


What do the students think about all of this? Ana Nocon, a Polish MBA on the ESSEC luxury circuit, has worked in the fashion industry for 16 years, first as a model, then in production and public relations, then moved to China in 2012 to work as a modeling agent. “I love it,” she said. “Obviously, we know there are a lot of connections to hip hop and luxury, especially in recent years, and a lot of us were very curious about the course.” The structure of the courses – which take place in a very collaborative and interactive style without slides or the pitfalls of traditional pedagogy – was engaging and evoked the iconoclastic nature of the subject. “After the first class we were really surprised because they invited some really good speakers. I mean, we knew luxury and hip-hop are related but not at this point. It was revealing and really entertaining, ”adds Nocon.

The diversity of the classroom also deepened the experience for all involved. “The cultural perspectives were really interesting, for example, people from China and India got to talk about sneaker cultures that I didn’t know about and were able to fill in gaps that we didn’t even know we had,” Nocon says. . Bringing people who are potential employers into the classroom is also reassuring. Overall, the classes were a success. “I think this should be the future of business training courses,” says Nocon. “Think outside the box and not just stick to the traditional, look around and see things that are actually happening in the world, but that no one has yet thought of as an academic path.”

Now that could be a trend to follow.


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