Profiles

Alexandre, a luxury expert talks gifting

expert

Moet Hennessy Eastern Africa Marketing Manager Alexandre Helaine toasts to the 150th Anniversary of Hennessy X.O held at the Emara Ole Sereni on September 26, 2020. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

Summary

  • After 22 years in the luxury business, it is only natural that the Belgian-born French-Russian is inclined to the softer, finer side of life.
  • Alexandre, 47, joined Louis Vuitton, Moët & Hennessy (LVMH) in 1998, working in Russia as the sales manager.
  • Whether shoes, watches, cars, or clothes, Alexandre says it takes centuries of refining a craft to develop luxury brands.

If destiny chooses experiences and heaps them at one’s feet, then Alexandre Helaine, Moët Hennessy’s market manager for Eastern Africa, has lived through what can only accurately be called royalty. 

After 22 years in the luxury business, it is only natural that the Belgian-born French-Russian is inclined to the softer, finer side of life.

Alexandre, 47, joined Louis Vuitton, Moët & Hennessy (LVMH) in 1998, working in Russia as the sales manager.

Subsequently, he worked in West Africa before taking up this role seven years ago to oversee sales and marketing activities and training for teams.

“I live for quality products. Luxury allows you to meet quality people,” says the father of two with a thick French inflection, adding that selling alcohol is exciting ‘‘because it puts people together.”

Whether shoes, watches, cars, or clothes, Alexandre says it takes centuries of refining a craft to develop luxury brands.

“It has taken eight generations to make good cognac over 200 years,” he notes in an offhand reference to Hennessy, LVMH’s signature brandy. Luxury, he notes, is a combination of know-how, time, and detail. When it comes to details, this man is almost bizarrely fussy over the minutiae of every product he buys or sells.

Alexandre’s career has been within an environment that promotes attention to detail “as an organisational mindset.’’ As activities for the festivities gain steam, so have tasting and pairing events that brands under LVMH, notably Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, have been promoting in Kenya. In Nairobi, especially, these events are the rage these days.

Has the country got the hang of alcohol and dinner pairing? Alexandre says Kenyans, like Russians, like to learn fast, which allows them to adopt practices and to replicate them here.

Pairing your drink

It’s for this reason that Kenya is home to dozens of sommeliers and a vibrant market for premium alcohol brands.

“Elsewhere in the world, master cellars and distillers are much older people. It requires a minimum of 10 years to learn the craft,” he says.

On the need to learn slower, he warns: “When you grow too fast in a category such as wine or spirit, you don’t grow proportionally.”

He notes that it’s possible ‘‘to spend a lifetime learning about wine and still have room to learn more’’ because one can never learn enough about alcohol.

“I always have a lot of questions for master distillers whenever I meet them,” adds the man who tasted alcohol as a seven-year-old on his father’s asking. It is this fleeting act that developed his palate prowess for his future career.

He says his palate continues to develop to date.

“Experience and exposure to different flavours allow some people to tell the difference between a single malt and blended whiskey” while others can only guess. So what is the best way to drink cognac and single malt whiskies?

“You drink whatever you want, however, you want and wherever you want,” he responds.

Spotting my confusion, he clarifies: “You must tailor [your food and alcohol components] to suit your preferences.”

There must be fundamental dos and don’ts, though, I insist, to which he explains: “There has to be a balance of flavours to avoid overlapping. Champagne, for instance, is mild and pairs well with seafood with light sauce or cheese. Single malts or cognac make a good blend with spicy foods.”

He has been around the world both on tours of duty and vacation, experiencing in the process the finest offerings, from Northern Europe to South Africa and Kenya’s coast, including enjoying “a glass of cognac at -20° Celsius in Russia.”

On gifting, Alexandre is scarcely modest about the kind of gifts he would give or those he would want to receive. “Champagne would be ideal. Or sparkling wine. If whisky, give the best,” he says.

Short supply

He notes that chocolate “to go with the drink,” sweets and “flowers for women’’ are important components of “a standard gift basket.”

An ideal gift basket for him would feature a helicopter ride over Maasai Mara and a camera “to take photos with.”

For many people, perfume is considered a statement gift, although he has reservations about fragrance gifts. “Perfume is very individual. I like fruity, mineral, and oily varieties.”

His wife is Russian, his son, 19, was born in France while his daughter was born in South Africa. He explains why he has no permanent home anywhere in the world: “I like to adapt to my present environment and to feel at home in any country.”

For someone who has sold alcohol has his life, I wonder if there’s a drink that reflects his character. Alexandre says he likes to have new experiences.

To him, memories are made up of ‘‘the right drink, temperature, location and people’’ and that luxury has no price tag.

“You’ll see a lot of discounts on regular products this festive season. If you want a Ferrari, you buy a Ferrari at its price tag. You don’t ask for a discount because you’re paying for quality.”

He adds: ‘‘Luxury products are always in short supply. You may find ten people going for the only available bottle of champagne, for instance. Why, as a manufacturer, would you give a discount on such a product?’’

Does he want to leave any particular imprint in this market? “I’m doing my best to make the brands I represent stay in the minds of the people as the best [in their category] in the market.”

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