Engines of society - Michèle Vallenthini

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In cooperation with Losch Luxembourg, we regularly present women who have a very special impact on Luxembourg society through their professional careers or simply through their personal stories.

Michèle Vallenthini loves cars. She has spent her whole life behind the wheel of Volkswagens, which she describes as "great cars at a very good price". Although she recently broke the rule, the experience she is about to have should suit her. Today she will be testing the brand's latest electric model: the ID.5 GTX.

However, Michèle has never driven an electric car before. "Ech sinn e Sprit-Fuerer! (I'm a fuel driver!)", she laughs, as she looks for the car she's just been given the keys to in the huge car park at Losch Import in Howald. So, this will indeed be a first for her, regardless of her experience with the brand. Under the covered part of the site, Michèle pushes the unlocking button and a superb SUV Coupé lights up. Found it!

The ID.5 shines as soon as its headlights come on, thanks to IQ.Light, an innovative technology that allows you to drive with the lights on continuously without dazzling others. This innovation also gives the model its class through an elegant light strip that links its LED headlights to the new VW logo. "It's changed", says Michele, who has an eye for such things in her job, "it's more minimalist".

The colour of the vehicle, with its sleek and muscular design and imposing front bumper, is also impressive: a metallic King Red with a sporty, athletic and wild accent whose colour signature refers to the brand's GTX family. "I love the colour", says Michèle, "metallic with a bit of shine in it. It definitely suits me. (laughs)" While the roof remains black to provide a sublime contrast, the colours available are numerous and the SUV is therefore customisable.

Michèle lifts the bottom of her long, exotic green waistcoat and enters the car. The interior is spacious, bright and covered in sporty materials with a perforated GTX logo. Its panoramic glass roof gives a superb view of the sun and the blue sky. "Do you know the road?", she asks and laughs. "I have no sense of direction. (laughs)" No worries, that's what the versatile Discover Pro navigation system, a 12-inch touchscreen that of course supports Apple CarPlay, is for. With two clicks, "Kräizbierg" is programmed on its integrated GPS: 20 minutes of driving time.

Like the Volkswagen, she is now driving towards Dudelange, Michèle Vallenthini also has a wild side: Wild Solutions. 37 years old and independent, "I have a company with which I advise companies on their communication and marketing strategy", she explains. "I offer my clients the opportunity to redesign their image, but not only that. I write texts, I make brochures and websites, I plan concepts and ads to sell their products."

Equipped with an all-wheel drive motor on each axle, Volkswagen's first electric SUV coupe has a combined output of 220 kW, or 299 horsepower, and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.3 seconds.

A year and a half ago, Michèle also embarked on another concept with a different goal, a shop called Wild Stuff: "Wild Solutions is what I earn my living with. My shop is a project of the heart. I already have enough money from my business, now I want to give some back". She sells products made in collaboration with sheltered workshops. "That's why we're going to the Kräizbierg today", she says happily. Without even knowing the details yet, you can already see how much she likes it. She can't wait to get there.

"It's a colourful, flashy concept", she explains. "It's my designs, but it's also theirs. It's cool because they're super creative and have skills in everything. We can do all kinds of things. Silk-screening, ceramics, baking…" Moreover, to be able to add some tempting pastries to her offer of "hoodies, burlap bags, mugs and other things", Michèle plans to move her shop, currently located inside the Alima, to more suitable premises which she will unveil soon.

On the highway, the Volkswagen ID.5 GTX demonstrates its breathtaking acceleration. Thanks to Dual Motor, the SUV has nothing to envy to conventional cars. Equipped with an electric motor with all-wheel drive on each axle, it has a combined output of 220 kW or 299 horsepower, accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.3 seconds and can reach a top speed of 180. Accompanied by an optional sports chassis for even better handling, it leaves no doubt about its sporty credentials.

For long journeys, the Travel Assist is a winner: it is the safest thing you can do. The vehicle keeps itself in its lane with a slight steering input in the event of a deviation, maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front and respects the maximum speed set by the driver for unrivalled driving comfort. "And it glides like a unicorn over a rainbow", Michèle laughs, who really enjoys driving the ID.5.

Enjoying what she does is paramount to her. Her CV is full of impressive jobs. And yet… "I am not a careerist. Anything but a careerist!", she says with a laugh. "If I have done so many things, it is because I do what I love." Her career path began with Sanskrit studies, combined with what she probably loves the most: "French literature is something that defines me. I read Proust, Balzac and a lot of books that people wouldn't open."

Turning her sentences in such a way that the reader receives them exactly as they should is something that fascinates her. "I try to make my clients understand that even if they have used the word perfectly correctly in their environment, it's bad publicity if nobody understands it." Her first job was at Tageblatt, where "they told me I wrote too commercial, but what matters to me is to write a good text. I search and search and open up, I thrive when I find the right word."

It was while interviewing her future director that she landed the job that "most marked and impacted" her: Head of Media at… Circus Roncalli. "It was a great company as far as creativity is concerned because as a circus, you have no choice: you have to be creative if you want to survive. They had that creativity because they gave up animals, they transformed everything to work sustainably and to digitalise." She also experienced a company there that "has 250 people, but grows to 1,000 with lots of temps" at Christmas time. "It was between creativity and industry."

After this colourful stage, where Michèle followed the circus in her caravan on the road to the shows, she returned to Luxembourg and joined the FEDIL. "People thought, 'How can she do that? That's the old grey men's club!'" But the reality she found there was different: "I spent my time visiting great companies and passed it on to people through my writing." As a woman in flashy clothes in the midst of sceptical men, she stuck to her approach, redesigned their entire graphic identity and convinced them.

She had a stop at the Raiffeisen bank – "I only lasted a year, I was going crazy sitting at my desk all the time! (laughs)" – and at radio station 100.7 before deciding to become independent. "I realised that I am a person that people hire when they want to change something", she says. "When the change has taken place and things have to go back to normal, it becomes tiring for me and I become tiring for others."

In her agency Wild Solutions, she wants to have fun, enjoy herself and preferably work for daring clients. "I want to take risks, make noise. Be cheeky. I don't want to do the 3,000st crappy campaign that people will see on the street and that I'll die of boredom making." It was when Kräizbierg called on her agency to rebrand her image that she (re)fell in love with her approach.

"Welcome to the Chill-Zone"

In fact, here we are. Michèle gets off the motorway and, after only a few minutes in the town of Dudelange, enters the Kräizbierg estate. "Welcome to the Chill-Zone", she says. "It's mega zen here. Driving slowly through the workshops, she waves to everyone before realising that… "nobody recognises me with this car. Shit! (laughs)". Moreover, the car is far from making the noise of a petrol engine: "Ech geif voll drënner lafe gell… (I would be able to get run over…) (laughs)".

That said, Michele needn't worry about that, because Volkswagen has thought of it. Indeed, if the ID.5 GTX is quiet inside – "You sit down, close the door and you're in your own world. A real cocoon", she says, –, outside it emits an artificial noise at speeds of up to 30 km/h. This is an important detail to protect pedestrians, cyclists or, in our case, people at the Kräizbierg who might be distracted.

We park, there's room everywhere. You don't even need the exceptional Park Assist Plus with its memory function, which can now be taught to perform manoeuvres. Michele gets out of the car and looks at the boot. "There's room for a human being in there", she jokes before demonstrating. "It's got everything you could possibly need!" The disabled people, intrigued, come to meet us. We can visit the place.

"Did you see that beautiful red car!", she asks them. One of them raises the sleeve of his T-shirt and shows us his tattoo: a ladybird. They are happy to see Michèle and share a real bond with her. We enter the first workshop we see. It is used for silk-screening and Wild Stuff jumpers hang there. A man with reduced mobility is preparing some t-shirts. A few steps away, a group is gluing labels on plastic containers.

Whatever the workshop, the atmosphere is good and Michèle knows everyone. "Who wants to be in the photos for the Journal?", she asks. Almost everyone. "I still have to style myself", one laughs, while the person next to him asks for more. "This place is my escape. You feel relaxed, there's no tension. The disabled people get special attention and there's no pressure on them. It's great."

Photos are very important to Michèle. Showing Wild Stuff customers "where and by whom" her products were made is essential. She therefore makes sure that her salespeople are people who "know how to tell a story" to get the message across. "We work in an inclusive way as much as possible", she says, and she is also keen to explain what will happen to their work to disabled people. "Often you don't see people with disabilities in the pictures… Some people are afraid of them, to touch them. Some people are afraid of them, that they will touch them. They look at them badly."

Michèle was confronted with this view from an early age. "I grew up in Limpertsberg in a two-family house", she says. "Below us there was a boy with a severe mental and physical disability who was in a wheelchair. He was a friend to me, we played together. As I was small, I could sit on his table, he would hold me so I wouldn't fall and we would ride together. I loved that. I was like, 'Yeeey! King of the Castle!' (laughs)."

Michèle's mother, a native of Poland who came to Luxembourg "because she listened to RTL and thought it must be a great country", was nevertheless afraid of the disability. Michèle doesn't blame her: "In Poland, disabled people are isolated in structures. So she wasn't used to it." Nevertheless, since then, "I am super shocked when people turn around, laugh or whisper. I hate it."

"I want to make sure that disability is talked about and I use my visibility to ensure that it is highlighted and that it is treated appropriately."

Michèle Vallenthini

That's why she decided to "take her commitment to the Kräizbierg a step further" by creating Wild Stuff after working for them with Wild Solutions. "They were super happy to work with me too. I'm a super open person and they welcomed me with open arms." This is also why working in sheltered workshops has become a way for her to recharge her batteries.

With the ID.5 GTX, charging has never been easier. In addition to a maximum range of 513 km, VW offers the ID.Charger, a home charging station that comes in three versions with different levels of connectivity and intelligence. On the road, the We Charge service allows users to charge their vehicle at a maximum charge of 135 kWh (standard) at 340,000 charging points, including the fastest ones, thus considerably reducing the time needed for stops.

Thanks to Plug & Charge, recharging also becomes a break like any other rather than a source of anxiety. Indeed, the fear of running into a charger that does not recognise our card is a thing of the past. Now the vehicle and the charging station communicate directly with each other. Billing is done automatically, which greatly simplifies use. No more unforeseen events. The durable and the pleasant go hand in hand.

Once again behind the wheel of the Volkswagen SUV, Michèle takes the opportunity of the return journey to emphasise one last time the nature of her fight: "I want to make sure that disability is talked about, and I use my visibility to ensure that it is highlighted and that it is treated appropriately. I want people to understand why foundations like Kräizbierg ask for donations. People think that everything is funded by the state, but it's not."

"It is also important that these people are not treated with pity", she continues. "Are they able to do anything? Come on, let's talk about that. Let's bring it out. No need for violins and sad music. Most of them are born that way. For them, it's normal. If you look at them strangely, they don't understand."

"I'm completely uncompromising about that. Gay bashing, even if it doesn't come from a bad place… Jokes about the disabled… I don't want to be identified with that kind of thing."

"I am tolerant, but intolerant of intolerance."

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