Pauline Brown knows luxury. As the Former Chairman of North American for Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, luxury has been her business for the majority of her life. And when she parted ways with LVMH last year, she didn’t waste anytime putting her lifetime of knowledge to use. She went straight to Harvard University, to teach a class about the importance of Aesthetic Intelligence. And it was that experience that formed the foundation for her new book, Aesthetic Intelligence: How to Boost It and Use It in Business and Beyond. Pauline Brown is intelligent, chic, and insightful. I know you’ll love her book as much as I did.
Where do you live?
On the North Shore of Long Island, only a 30 minute drive (but a world away) from midtown Manhattan.
Give us an overview of your career.
I’ve transitioned a lot. I began my career in strategy consulting (Bain), then moved into corporate management (Estee Lauder), then private equity (Carlyle), then back to corporate management (LVMH), then academia (Harvard), and now media. I currently host a weekly show on SiriusXM, on which I interview creative leaders, innovators and tastemakers. The common thread throughout my entire career is the integration of business and creativity. I’m a businesswoman at heart, but drawn to the world of ideas, design and beauty.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
I just completed my first-ever book. It’s about the power of aesthetic intelligence or, what I call, “the other A.I.” to transform businesses. My hope is that it’ll empower people to apply aesthetic solutions to overcoming all types of business challenges.
As the former Chairman of North America for LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, style has always been a serious part of your life. How have you seen the culture of fashion brands change?
As I see it, fashion has become utterly irrelevant. By definition, it’s commercially dictated, trend-driven and tied to distinct seasons and collections. Style, on the other hand, is more meaningful than ever. It’s built on social and cultural movements, which evolve over long stretches of time and extend well beyond the way people dress themselves or decorate their surroundings. Style is here to stay, and I believe that brands which help people discover and express their own style are here to stay too.
What does the actual work of building luxury brands entail?
The three major tenets of luxury brands are that their products are hard to make, hard to find, and last forever. Those working for luxury brands are more like custodians than builders. Their job is to honor the brands’ heritage, protect the quality of its craftsmanship, and ensure that the story remains relevant and well-poised for the future.
How would you describe your style? How has it changed over the years?
I would describe my style as “a Tale of Two Cities and Two Centuries.” On the one hand, I often pay homage through my clothing and accessories to my grandmothers, both of whom came of age in the early 1900’s in Central Europe and whose tastes were heavily influenced by the ideals of the Habsburg Empire. I gravitate to vintage and handmade items – Old World European goods. On the other hand, I am a lifelong New Yorker. So naturally I’m drawn to pieces that feel like my hometown – ones that are cool, modern, bold and sexy. I feel I’m at my best when I bring these two disparate worlds together and when I do so in fun and unexpected ways.
What’s your go-to outfit right now?
I have no ‘go-to outfit.’ I never have. But one thing I incorporate into every outfit is a heavy metal bangle. I call it “my Wonder Woman cuff.” It looks like armor and makes me feel indestructible. I have gold and silver ones. I often wear them together. I like the way they clash visually – gold and silver are not usually worn together. And I like the jangling noise they make when I enter a room.
You have a new book out, Aesthetic Intelligence: How to Boost It And Use It In Business and Beyond. Tell us a little bit about it, and why you wrote it.
I loved the experience of teaching at Harvard, but was struck by the amount of effort it took to educate a relatively small population. (I typically had about 100 students per semester.) I wanted to bring my learnings to a much broader audience, and the book presented the perfect opportunity to do so.
My goal with the book is to show how aesthetics can be used to unlock value and help businesses succeed. I also want to help readers rediscover and refine their own personal aesthetic gifts.
Aesthetic Intelligence can be learned. What are some great habits or tools we can use to sharpen our Aesthetic Intelligence levels?
A.I. starts by being mindful. We all need to embrace the art and science of noticing. I encourage people to do “sensorial audits” in which they take a few minutes each day to immerse themselves in a particular environment and jot down as many sensorial cues as they can. They typically are surprised by some of the things they start to see, hear or smell – even in their own home.
I’m also a big proponent of mood boards. They really are helpful in setting a creative direction for a particular project or idea.
What was the experience of writing a book like?
I have profound respect for writers. It requires deep introspection and a lot of discipline. I’d compare it to training for a marathon. Few runners enjoy the preparing for the race, but none regret the experience of crossing the finish line.
Culturally, aging is viewed as this sad thing. In reality, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel bad or sad. I feel better than ever. How can we re-brand aging?
I don’t feel remotely bad or sad about growing older. In fact, I love this stage of life. But I do feel bad about the word “aging.” Aging food implies that it’s rotting. An aging building is seen as crumbling. Aging clothes are described as worn out. When it comes to people, I prefer to use the term ‘growing.’
What’s your go-to hostess gift?
Like most people, I give gifts that I like to get. And I really like writing – especially the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper. One of my favorite gifts to give is a set of mini notebooks by Pantone. I love the bold iconic colors, and I love the dotted paper. These notebooks make for a beautiful display, whether or not the hostess ever takes notes in them.
Do you have any seasonal traditions?
Every summer my family and I head to Aspen, Colorado. I far prefer that town in the summer than during in the ski season. It’s rife with festivals – the Ideas Festival, music festival, a food & wine festival. But, above all, we just like the quality of the mountain air and the quality of people who converge there from around the world.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
In my dreams I’d be played by Cate Blanchett. In reality, I think Laura Linney would do.
What’s the last thing you bought online?
I tend to buy commodity items online and one-of-a-kind higher-end pieces in stores. That said, I came across two amazing finds online, while recently decorating my home. One is a brass bird by the Mexican sculptor Sergio Bustamante, which hangs from the ceiling in my dining room. The other is a contemporary table lamp with pink ostrich feathers which is by my bedside.
What would you put on your menopause registry?
Izipizi reading glasses. I have them in almost every color.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
Extrasensory perception. I like to think I already have it. I suppose ESP is relative.
If you had a warning label what would it say?
Warning: No stupid people beyond this point.