#CNI Lux Day 2: The Nature of Luxury

Alice Newbold, Vogue Daily Editor, reporting live from the CNI Luxury Conference in Lisbon

The word ‘nature’ is at the heart of the 2019 Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in South Africa. And, Suzy Menkes says, nature should – and must – be the focus of 21st-century luxury. To help shine the spotlight on the talent pool in South Africa, Menkes invited Vania Leles, founder of VanLeles Diamonds, and Uche Pézard, CEO of Luxe Corp and Founder of Luxury Connect Africa to take to the stage in Lisbon.

Gemologist Vania Leles is a London-based jeweller who came from Guinea Bissau, grew up in Portugal and now sells her ethnically-sourced jewellery around the world. Her deep connection to nature and the landscape of Africa is what makes VanLeles Diamonds unique.

Trained by Laurence Graff with stints at De Beers and Sotheby’s, she has taken the technical know-how and made ethical sourcing the cornerstone of her work. “There’s an authenticity and honesty in the story of why I became a jeweller,” she explained. “I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s in Sierra Leone in the era of the blood diamond.” As she grew older, she began to notice that there was not one South African leading the jewellery houses that were mining South Africa for its stones. “I wanted to create jewellery that would honour that and the resources.”

It took grit. After working in well-oiled, well-funded machines, she had to persuade mining companies to lend her stones to work with – something unheard of as a newcomer in the luxury industry. It paid off. Seven years down the line, her fine jewellery translates the jungles, rivers and culture of her homeland into “modern pieces that appeal to an international customer. They don’t have to look local to be South African.”

Fledgling South African brands, like Leles’s, can now receive support from Luxury Connect Africa, a new type of luxury goods stable akin to LVMH and the mastermind of Uche Pézard. An entrepreneur and a business strategist, Pézard works out of Paris, but is on a mission to give Africa as a new luxury market the platform it deserves.

“There is a language of luxury that is Afrocentric and Afrocontinental,” she explained. “It’s not just about Africa , it’s a culture that forms the base of a population of 1.4 billion people in 54 countries around the world. It’s a consciousness that comes with being a black person, it’s multi-layered.”

Words such as Afropride, Afropreneur, Afrofuturist, Africanism, Afrocapitalism, Afropolitan and Africanist are becoming common in the popular lexicon, because the African language of luxury is already spreading. Through schemes like Luxury Connect Africa, which will work with the new set of luxury brands to help build them into global businesses, Africa, in turn, will help the international luxury industry to re-think its own business models. Next year’s Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in Cape Town will show how far South Africa has come.

For more information on the 2019 Condé Nast International Luxury Conference, visit the website