Laurent Beretta: how the magician of luxury brings the hotel guest experience to its apotheosis

Magic and luxury have many things in common, not least that they both excel in the art of creating lasting wonder. The “Magician of Luxury”, Laurent Beretta, exploits this common ground through his science of the customer experience, whether in his shows or in the service of brands and companies.

 

Giving life to a historical cultural heritage, transcending the product, giving the spectator a role in which he or she is the hero, and propelling him or her into a bygone era as if in a daydream – this is what marketing can learn from its distant cousin, magic. This is exactly what Laurent Beretta offers with his Soirées Fantastiques.

 

In the prestigious and intimate setting of the Alfred Sommier mansion, a stone’s throw from the Place de la Concorde, the magician – bilingual like few others in Paris – devotes an evening to reviving the memory of the most famous French illusionist of the 19th century: Robert Houdin.

A corporate magician and lecturer specializing in customer experience for the past 15 years, Laurent Beretta is unique in that he trained as much in illusionism as in marketing, seeking to understand the emotional underpinnings of his magical effects.

 

In these times of profound uncertainty, Laurent Beretta proposes to reconnect with an extraordinary power rooted in every human being: his or her capacity for wonder.

 

From illusionism to customer experience

 

With his impeccable attire, infectious good humor and spellbinding diction, Laurent Beretta is a born storyteller. Behind him, like a stage screen, stands one of the two bookshelves in his home, filled with rare, old and cosmopolitan works on magic, of course, but also – more surprisingly – on the customer experience.

 

The magician’s background is impressive: scientific baccalaureate, then business school in Lyon, bachelor’s degree in finance in Boston, option marketing and branding; MBA in management at Sup de Co Montpellier; short course in neuromarketing at ESSEC; training in customer experience with Forrester Research… But always with magic as the common thread.

 

 

© Ludwig-clegnac/Les Soirées Fantastiques

 

Winner of the Monte Carlo Magic Festival (2004), he followed in the footsteps of his childhood idols by appearing on French TV shows Patrick Sébastien’s Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde (from 2002), before being voted Best Magician on La France a un Incroyable Talent (2011). His performances with the major Maisons of the LVMH group, as well as Hermès, Chanel High Jewellery, Porsche and Cartier, have earned him the title of “luxury magician”.

 

Today, the maestro also performs for insurance companies, construction and public works firms… in short, for both BtoC and BToB audiences.

 

The art of prestidigitation burst into his life at the age of 9, and has never left him since.

Fascinated by the French television sensations of the Garcimore and Gérard Majax, he finds, at the foot of the Christmas tree, the gift that will change the course of his destiny. A Garcimore magic box.

 

He experiences the miracle of magic when his cousin, reading the instructions before him, manages to make “a yellow handkerchief disappear in a black paper cone” before his astonished eyes.

 

“I felt this sensation of extremely powerful astonishment, a kind of slippage of reality as if suspended in time. Since then, I’ve never ceased to want to relive this sensation, observable in any spectator experiencing a magic effect.”

Locked away in his room for 7 to 8 hours a day, he rehearsed tirelessly to perfect his tricks in front of his family and classmates.

 

Through a friend of his grandmother’s, he met his mentor, Jean Rigal, magician and winner of an Invention Prize at the World Magic Congress in 1967. Over the next 8 years, Rigal taught him the art of performing and, above all, drastically improved his English, as the best magic books were mainly distributed in English-speaking countries.

 

Jean Rigal introduced him to top-quality equipment from the Japanese company Tenyo, as well as American magic magazines “in which we saw great tricks, great illusions, women being cut, levitating… “Between the ages of 11 and 18, Laurent doesn’t remember him doing anything other than practicing all the time with objects, cards or cups in his hands.

Aware that the best training in magic is to be found in the United States, he deliberately chose Boston – despite the language difficulty required for entry – to pursue a degree in finance, without telling his father that the city was home to “the biggest magic store on the East Coast”.

 

Visiting the shop every weekend, even selling magic equipment to other professionals himself, he discovered that magic and business can go hand in hand, thanks to “corporate magic”. A profession in its own right, it involves working for a convention or a brand and writing magic scenarios, “to get a message across, to promote a product or a service”.

 

From that moment on, Laurent Beretta understood that “magic can be a vector of communication”. This was to be the subject of his dissertation on graduating from business school.

Arriving in Paris in 1999, he never stopped canvassing and demonstrating wherever possible, such as at Roland Garros.

 

A friend introduced him to a number of luxury houses, and it was love at first sight. “I was then asked to make certain items worth several million euros appear, to tell the story of the brand, to stage it in such a way that it could come to life before the eyes of the spectators. Instead of seeing the jewel under a cloche, it is brought to light. Here, I change a ring into a bracelet, here a set appears in the blink of an eye…”

 

As he likes to point out, putting the product in the limelight is akin to the act of selling. “This magic that conveys strong emotions is actually relatively similar to an act of selling, to a way of wrapping things up to bring something particularly strong to life and to be able to transport a customer with you.”

It’s also through magic that he discovers common threads in the customer experience. “What is the wow effect? What does it imply in terms of perception, the psychology of attention, and what emotions are created? How can these same emotions be used in the customer experience, whatever the company?”

 

A documented, quasi-anthropological vision of its queen discipline, like Robert Houdin of his time, who was the first to record, in writing, all his magic effects.

 

Robert Houdin or the miraculous encounter

 

The famous 19th-century French illusionist Robert Houdin excelled as much in the power of his magic effects as he did in his avant-garde storytelling, particularly the poetry of his “dénouement”, the text that accompanies his tricks. He was one of the first to perform show magic. Extremely innovative in form and act, he inspired many English and American magicians.

 

 

© Les Soirées Fantastiques

 

Robert Houdin began performing under the arcades of the Palais Royal in 1845, before converting an apartment into a showroom until 1852. Buying a theater, he moved his salon magic to boulevard des Italiens: the theater of fantastic evenings was born.

In his shows, he conjures up booklets (in the form of a notebook for gentlemen and a fan for ladies) and offers them to his audience. Each magic experiment is meticulously described.

 

Yet the name of this extraordinary magician seemed to have been relegated to the dustbin of history in favor of his most famous collector and admirer, the filmmaker Georges Méliès, and the American Houdini.

 

Indeed, before making Voyage dans la lune (1902) and a plethora of other masterpieces, Georges Méliès was himself a born magician. However, in his animated film Hugo (2011), Martin Scorsese brings Méliès to life, while Houdin is evoked only through an automaton bird.

And it’s above all his American admirer and disciple – Houdini – who is remembered today.

 

It was during his confinement that Laurent Beretta discovered, or rather rediscovered, Robert Houdin. At the age of 10, he had discovered his book “Comment on devient sorcier” (How To Become a Sorcerer). “This treatise, which is in no way a book on witchcraft, explains how to manipulate objects, crystal balls, playing cards and coins, all accompanied by the rhetoric of the day.

 

© Les Soirées Fantastiques

 

In 2020, Laurent Beretta discovered the four-volume collection dedicated to the famous illusionist by film producer and collector Christian Fechner. In it, the author details the entire world of Robert Houdin, as well as the content of his Soirées Fantastiques.

 

“After reading the book, I thought it odd that Robert Houdin should have just one commemorative plaque on rue de Valois, and not a single show worthy of the name in his honor in Paris.”

Laurent Beretta then set about resurrecting Robert Houdin’s Soirées Fantastiques and reviving the show “as it was seen in the 19th century.” To this end, he paid a visit to the Académie de magie, the publishing house behind the series of books on the famous illusionist. Familiar with the head of the company, the latter confided in him, “If you manage to remake even 10% of what’s in this book, it could be a huge success.”

 

Laurent Beretta is convinced that the show of yesteryear is finally within his grasp… The only hitch: the fantastic evenings were based on automata with complex mechanisms, the originals of which are in Las Vegas, now owned by American magician David Copperfield.

 

So how can we recreate the magic of another time?

An impossible journey?

A client, eager to celebrate her birthday at the Hôtel d’Evreux on Place Vendôme, gave Laurent Beretta carte blanche to try out his show. Then the neighboring Ritz Paris was tempted by a performance.
Finally, wanting a historic, intimate venue not far from Robert Houdin’s Théâtre, the choice fell on the 19th-century Hôtel particulier Alfred Sommier. The magician enlisted the help of the hotel’s management. Each evening, Richard de Warren, a descendant of the five-star hotel’s owners, introduces the audience to the history of the premises and his ancestors, while the magician arrives in a frac and elegant top hat.
© Les Soirées Fantastiques
Meanwhile, Laurent Beretta meets a club of Robert Houdin enthusiasts – and therefore mechanics. Thanks to them, tricks he thought impossible come to life, such as the Pâtissier du Palais Royal and the Oranger Merveilleux. As for the singing bird, it’s the work of an American.
The show can begin under the salon’s gilded halls.
Laurent Beretta emerges from a door, a curtain or a discreet alcove. Gesture, delivery and tone are measured and precise, and the magician captivates the room with his story and his various effects… magic.
Jewelry disappears, only to reappear in a different form further down the line, where a participant’s secretly desired pastry has just come out of the oven. Or fruit grows on an orange tree in the first light of summer. As the hours pass, the history of magic unfolds before our eyes.
At the end of the show, as on the magician’s first try at the Hôtel d’Evreux, the audience is won over.
© Les Soirées Fantastiques
Les Soirées Fantastiques: December 12 and 22 – other dates to come in 2024, including during the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games.

 

Hotel Alfred Sommier,

20 rue de l’Arcade,

75008 Paris

 

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Featured Photo: © Les Soirées Fantastiques

Grâce à une veille accrue et à une excellente connaissance de ces secteurs, la rédaction de Luxus Magazin décrypte pour ses lecteurs les principaux enjeux économiques et technologiques de la mode, l’horlogerie, la joaillerie, la gastronomie, les parfums et cosmétiques, l’hôtellerie, et l’immobilier de prestige.

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