Guest Post from Michael Dresner, CEO, Brand² Squared Licensing
Last week, I ordered a time capsule from Amazon.com which features news articles from the future. Sure enough, on Saturday I got a fresh copy of The New York Times dated June 27, 2099. (Ok, this sounds far-fetched. Bear with me). The Business Section reported a new venture initiated by the great grandchildren of Vera Wang, in honor of her 150th birthday. Wang’s descendants decided to re-launch the brand – with powerful PR support (given the coveted NY Times impression). To commemorate Vera’s contributions to bridal fashion, they were re-introducing Vera Wang bridal gowns. But, in an effort to protect the prestige of the brand, no other product bearing the Vera Wang name would be available. The gowns would only be distributed through verawang.com, or 15 sales representatives. Furthermore, the original patterns that made Vera so successful when she first commenced bridal gown design would not be available. “The patterns remain the most potent symbol of the Vera Wang name,” her great grandchildren said. “Sooner or later we’ll embrace that opportunity.”
Does that sound absurd? Economically naïve? Could Vera’s descendants undermine her accomplishments by creating such a limited context in which to enjoy the brand? I would say yes, resoundingly. Turns out a variation of this future shock is happening today. The House of Faberge – founded in 1842, a purveyor of high-end jewelry and coveted Easter Eggs originally created for the Tsar of Russia – presented its first new line of jewelry in more than 90 years last week. Consumers can only buy the merchandise from Faberge’s website, or 15 sales reps. And, no plans exist to launch the jewel-encrusted Easter Egg. “Eggs remain the most potent symbol of the house of Faberge,” manager Mark Dunhill said. “Sooner or later we’ll embrace that opportunity.”
Being a connoisseur of brand re-launches, I was hoping for more. The House of Faberge is a regal reflection of personal luxury with a history of making people literally feel like kings and queens. Perhaps the current protectors of the brand could have at least read a page from the Vera Wang business plan. She started in bridal gowns, and ultimately parlayed a design aesthetic and brand name that represents a cross-category solution for brides, before, during and long after the nuptials. Or Louis Vuitton (a brand which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2004). Vuitton started as a luggage and trunk retailer, and now is a symbol for prestige across dozens of personal accessory categories.
Yes, a limited line of Faberge crystal and china is available in high-end department stores. But given its rich heritage, why didn’t the brand re-launch itself as a cross-category solution for consumers seeking a luxurious personal and household statement? Where is the sterling silver? The linens? Could the brand launch as a furniture line? Would a McMansion builder (even with the economy and a green trend, the market still exist) license in the name and original designs for stately homes? Could Faberge be positioned as a must-have in formalwear or bridal gowns? Or on a more personal note, could the brand help establish a high-end luggage or watch manufacturer? Kings loved Faberge too – so where are the $10,000 humidors? Conclusively – how could Faberge not bring back the jewel-encrusted egg?
A subset of the categories mentioned above could introduce the brand to a larger market, create new relevance with a younger generation, engage distributors and media vehicles focusing on the luxury space, and generate revenue while paying homage and respect to the accomplishments of Gustav and Carl Faberge. The current strategy hides the brand to a fault. And the brand’s new, non-family owners – a group of investors calling their organization Faberge Ltd. – have already admitted not earning a profit for another five years. I understand that extending a brand too far can risk dilution – but the new House of Faberge seems to be holding it back from consumers that would enjoy.
POST-SCRIPT: Entrepreneur Sam Rubin created Faberge perfume and trademarked it in the 1930s without ever consulting the original family. The Faberge family by that point had lost their financial ability to afford a lengthy legal debate and settled out of court for $25,000. Mr. Rubin spent three decades milking the name and selling his perfume company for $26 million in 1964. Faberge Ltd. is now the current owner of such trademarks Mr. Rubin created.