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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Diane von Furstenberg: ‘Our headquarters is really on the Web’

Caption: Diane von Furstenberg (right) answers a question during a panel discussion at the FT Business of Luxury Summit. From left are Gillian de Bono, editor of the Financial Times How to Spend It section; Deepak Ohri, CEO of Lebuna Hotels & Resorts; Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products & User Experience, Google Inc; and Edgar Huber, CEO of Juicy Couture.

You could say that fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg was into social media before it was cool. In fact she was into communicating with her customers in an open, honest and organic way before there was an Internet, much less Web 2.0. So while many luxury and fashion companies are struggling to take advantage of social media tools, for von Furstenberg, it was just another way of doing what she has always done. In other words, she gets it, because she always understood the value of open communications with her customers.

“I started when I was very, very young,” the 63-year-old owner of DVF fashion house said during a panel discussion titled, “Communicating Strategies,” at the recently held FT Business of Luxury Summit. “For whatever reason, I established a relationship with women. And it was very caring, it was very real. And people have a personal relationship with me… And the reason why it works is because it’s real, it’s authentic, it’s harmless. My mission in life is to empower women. It’s more important for me that she feels empowered and then I sell her a dress. The dress is afterward. It’s a consequence that if she wears it she will be happy with it.”

Von Furstenberg told the audience of luxury professionals that she loves to use Twitter but she will never use it to tell people to buy DVF products. She spoke about a time when one of her employees tried to use the social media tool to recruit 60,000 followers.

“I got so upset. I don’t want to force people to do that. It has to happen organically. In my work and how I run my business, it’s organic, it’s real. And that is part of having a reputation and that’s how people believe in you,” she said. “So I feel that it can’t be forced. Not everything starts with marketing. For me it’s making the best product for the best price, the best design to make women happy, and therefore the sale is the consequence of a good product, the marketing is a consequence of the demand. But if everything you do is market driven then it’s no longer real and somehow the consumers will know that and they will not believe you anymore.”

The creator of the wrap dress also told the audience of a revelation she had six months ago when it came to how she views her company’s Web site.

“I always thought that our headquarters was in the (New York) meat packing district,” von Furstenberg said. “We were having a meeting with everybody and I said, ‘You know what? Our headquarters is really on the Web.’ So, we are now in the process of changing our Web site—which is very successful in both editorial and e-commerce—because you forget about it, but anybody who wants to know about anything: whether they want a job with your company, or have to do a paper on you, or they want to buy something, or whatever it is, they go on the Web and therefore the Web site is you image to the universe.”

Under the questioning of Gillian de Bono, editor of the Financial Times How to Spend It luxury magazine, who was the most probing of the FT editors who led panel discussions, von Furstenberg discussed how she views her own boutiques and department stores.

“Boutiques offer a way to control your destiny, a way to control your brand,” she said. “How you sell it, how you show the experience of a woman. My goal in my shops is to make sure that a woman who walks in leaves happier than she was when she came in. It’s not about how much I will sell her. It’s how happier I can make her. And that works for bricks and mortar and it also works for the Net. It’s an environment where I want a woman to come in and I want to make her happier.

On department stores: “Department stores also are a brand and they are larger brand and they do some editing for you, I mean for the consumer. Department stores are like editors, they edit, they buy, they choose, they decide who goes next to whom so I think they are important, too. And if you don’t think they do a good job, you pull out.”

Von Furstenberg even talked about an increased need for editors in this new communications age.

“I think that now we live in a world where everyone has access to everything,” she said. “You can reach everything, reach everyone, know everything. And strangely enough, I think that makes the need for editors even more important. Because we have access to everything, because we can reach everything, I believe that editors should not be afraid. The value of editors will increase. Some of them start are bloggers, they call themselves bloggers, but their dream is to be editors. And the editors now start to blog, so there are all kinds of merges … and therefore you have to respect those editors who say, ‘I like it because.’ I think that editors should absolutely not be afraid of what’s going on in this huge revolution.”

The von Furstenberg brand remains as popular as when she burst onto the fashion scene in the early 1970s, particularly with a younger clientele. She claims to be somewhat mystified with her appeal to young people but, no doubt a part of the reason for this is her ability to talk directly with her customers using modern communications tools.

“I really don’t know how it happens, but the older I am, the younger my consumer base is.”

The FT Business of Luxury Summit, hosted by the Financial Times, was held June 14 and 15 at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

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