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The storied Belgian brand Delvaux just opened their first ever American flagship on fabled Fifth Avenue. Located on the iconic corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street in the former two story A La Vieille Russie location, it’s a bold move. As many high profile retailers retreat from a challenging retail arena, Delevaux is charting a decidedly different course under the leadership of Jean-Marc Loubier, the CEO of First Heritage Brands (which owns Delvaux) and its dynamic Artistic Director, a modern day princess and career woman, the Princesse Frédéric de Broglie, Christina Zeller.
Zeller is leading the creative charge and the brand’s resurgence with 35 years of fashion and luxury world experience. Starting as a model for Chanel, Hermes and Nina Ricci, Zeller eventually moved to the sales side of the industry with Dejac and Lanvin. In 1990 she began to specialize in the management of luxury house accessories lines such as Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix, and Givenchy as Accessories Director taking over the full responsibility of more than 25 different accessory lines. Zeller was in charge of the full operational process, from creation, production to distribution before starting with Delvaux in 2011 and becoming Artistic Director in 2015.
With this foundation, it’s been a fascinating creative journey for Zeller and given her a 360° vision on the how to run and leverage a storied brand. Previously only sold in the U.S. exclusively at Barney’s, the New York store mark’s the houses 42nd store globally and an opportunity to introduce Delvaux to a wider American audience.
This initiative taps into research that the modern luxury consumer is looking for greater product exclusivity and a sense of discovery. Delvaux has used these insights as a jumping point for reinvigorating the brand.
To deliver on this expectation Zeller crafted a new vision for Delvaux while embracing the heritage of the brand. Founded in 1829 in Brussels, Delvaux is the oldest fine leather luxury goods house in the world and Official Purveyor to the Royal Court of Belgium since 1883. A little known tidbit is by registering the first ever patent in 1908, Delvaux is the inventor of the modern handbag.
To break away from the retail pack, Zeller zagged away from the retail industry single “look” store design approach and executed the opposite tactic. Every store looks completely different. The one unifying factor is each Delvaux shop combines the brand’s Belgian heritage with design elements and artwork from the respective city and employs a “whimsical” in-store design dialogue.
For brands that are already in the luxury arena or for founders who are entering this coveted segment, these net take aways from the Delvaux experience just may be the way forward in a crowded retail market.
Think Outside The Box. Use unique locations and structures as opportunities. Zeller explained that the new flagship ” is a boutique, of course, but much more than that. The boutique located on the mythical Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park, offers a moment of discovery, a moment to breathe in this city that never sleeps. It is the ideal setting for experiencing quality in every way.” This philosophy taps into how consumers, according to Google, often search online to discover a brand but then make their way to retail locations to experience a brand first hand.
In New York, Zeller used Gris des Ardennes marble floors juxtaposed with a wall decorated with leather cutting tools from the Brussels atelier and courtly Emiel Veranneman tables. Leading up to the mezzanine floor, the original sweeping staircase has been renovated and customized with the colors of the Belgian flag on its risers, and the impeccably restored balustrade looks straight onto an outstanding antique central chandelier once illuminating a Flemish church. In Milan, customers discover greenish marble sourced from the nearby Alps while the New York space is comprised of sleek light fixtures, touches of gold and silver, and a sense of restrained elegance.
Know Your Consumer To Drive The Design Vision. Zeller explained “When Solange Schwennicke took the helm of the house in the 70s, she was one of the first business women of her time. During this period Delvaux became a Maison for independent women, led by an independent woman who was capable of understanding their desires. Delvaux has always understood how to meet the ever changing needs of women, and does it in such a way that reflects the sophistication and femininity for which the la Maison is universally known. Today, the Delvaux women is a free spirit, who makes her own choice and doesn’t follow fashion diktas but her own instinct. she is not a brand advertiser. Delvaux is a brand for a woman who doesn’t need a brand.”
Using these insights and knowledge, Zeller and the design team have remained faithful to the brand while injecting an updated, relevant design aesthetic. Zeller’s philosophy is that she is “not in charge of reinventing the house. I never consider myself talented enough to reinvent a such historical brand with a strong DNA. I am here as a relay. My role is to remain faithful to the essential values of Delvaux. I have been lucky to inherit from an extraordinary brand and I am just reinventing historical design and adding new contemporary design with the help of creative studio.”
The results have been impressive with Delvaux moving from a 100% Belgian company with 10 local boutiques in 2011 to 42 boutiques in the world in 2019 but each location purposefully “captures timelessness, authenticity, extraordinary quality with the uniqueness of bringing something different and audacious.”
Stay Focused. Whether you are a founder or a builder, Zeller advises “Don’t take success for granted, stay humble and work hard. Rather than trying to reinvent the personality of the luxury brands I worked for, I wanted to reinterpret the DNA of the brands I was in charge of and make it one of the most creative and successful ones.” If you are embarking or the midst of a major project Zeller added, be sure to “follow your intuition, stick to your convictions, always be open-minded, never take anything personally, and make sure your team grows and evolves around you.”
By embracing the same holistic and creative risks as Zeller and the Delvaux team, your brand and career may just find the way forward to simultaneous drive the perfect balance between growing a combined online and retail model. Retail is just as exciting as ever but requires the discipline to invent a new paradigm to make it work.
January 31, 2019 at 04:47PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs