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The PowerHouse of Taylor

Cover Story
By Carrie Soucy, Senior Editor
This story appears in the June 2005 issue of JCK magazine
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At first glance, Kathy Ireland and Elizabeth Taylor seem to be an unlikely pair. Ireland, a former swimsuit model, has built her name into a billion-dollar brand that popularizes her as a friend to working mothers and everyday women. Taylor, one of the 20th century's most famous cultural icons, is the archetype of the glamorous movie star, a woman whose every move—and every over-the-top jewelry acquisition—has been chronicled by the media for more than 50 years.

Their commonality lies beneath their Hollywood personas: Both have successfully translated their names into brands—fragrances for Taylor and fashion and home decor for Ireland—and both recognize the potential to expand those brands into fine jewelry, an industry known for its dearth of recognizable brands.

So, earlier this year, thanks to their shared management company, Sterling Winters in Los Angeles, they forged a partnership with Jack and Monty Abramov, the brothers behind the Techline and Mirabelle jewelry lines, to form House of Taylor, an umbrella for the individual jewelry lines by Kathy Ireland and Elizabeth Taylor.

If the women seem very different, their jewelry—and their price points—will reflect their divergent lifestyles and brands. Ireland's jewelry will retail from $200 to $2,500, while Taylor's collection ranges from $3,000 to more than $1 million. "I think it is an exciting combination," Ireland tells JCK. "Together, House of Taylor reaches everyone across the board."

While Taylor's legendary passion for jewelry brings recognition to the brand, Ireland, who serves as spokeswoman for the House of Taylor brand, has the mom-next-door persona that makes it accessible. The two have a significant team of marketing, management, and jewelry-manufacturing pros, but all parties insist that both women are involved.

"Dame Elizabeth oversees all the design, including Kathy Ireland jewelry," Ireland says. "The opportunity to work with her is amazing."

Whereas Taylor's jewelry will reflect her personal passion for jewelry and cater largely to the upscale market, Ireland's will be fine-tuned for the everyday life of women across the country.

Given their existing products, both see House of Taylor as a natural brand extension, Ireland says. "With Dame Elizabeth, there is instant synergy between her fragrance, White Diamonds, and her jewelry," Ireland says. "For me, with my background in fashion, it kind of feels like coming home."

Kathy Ireland jewelry has a ready-made fan base in the women who have made Kathy Ireland Worldwide—a conglomeration of fashion, home decor, gardening, and cooking products—a billion-dollar brand. Ireland, who quietly reinvented herself a decade ago—going from the sexy-girl-next-door gracing magazine covers in swimsuits to the beautiful-but-busy working mother and wife—is now recognized as one of the country's most successful businesswomen.

Her oft-repeated brand mission statement, "Finding solutions for busy families, especially working moms," has been updated, adding "Finding solutions for people in love."

Kathy Ireland jewelry speaks to women and mothers who buy my brand already," she says. "Now I'm also like a big sister to brides."

Kathy Ireland jewelry will be crafted to suit her established style-guide categories (from Americana and Architectural to European Country and Ivory Coast) and specialty brands (cooking, gardening, and quilts). The jewelry line will expand every quarter to add new merchandise that both keeps up with trends and answers her customers' needs, she says. Like other Kathy Ireland merchandise, the jewelry will have a place on her service-oriented Web site, www.kathyireland.com, where she invites and receives feedback directly from customers.

"Our design research team will keep up with trends. With our other products, we conduct focus groups, we follow color and style forecasts, and we travel the world to collect raw materials for inspiration," she says. "But the most critical part of the design team is the customer. Customers come to the Web site to give feedback and she's very vocal about what she wants and what she needs."

Elizabeth Taylor jewelry, meanwhile, faces a slightly more daunting task: While her established fragrance brand sells at discount department stores, her jewelry line is upscale and higher priced. Taylor, however, enjoys iconic status as one of the world's most glamorous movie stars and passionate collectors of fine jewelry. It seems that customers tuned into that history, rather than those already buying her lower-priced fragrance, would be the audience for jewelry at the collection's price points.

While Taylor was not available for comment, Ireland characterized Elizabeth Taylor jewelry as "very aspirational." "House of Taylor brings Dame Elizabeth's jewelry products to market," Ireland said. "Her involvement, her allure: That brings powerful marketing opportunities."

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