Luxury Dispatches

Sixth Couture Focuses on Partnering

Partnership marketing was a major focus of the sixth annual Couture Collection and Conference, held Memorial Day weekend at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. The by-invitation-only event featured three days of seminars and special events as well as the exhibits of 150 upscale designers and manufacturers. Two hundred ten retail guests attended.

In keeping with the partnership theme, for the third consecutive year, Mercedes-Benz USA served as official corporate sponsor of the event. New this year was a turnkey promotion package, developed by the show and the automaker, for Couture attendees to use in partnership with Mercedes dealers in their areas. Other partnership initiatives launched during the show included a philanthropic program with InStyle magazine and the Children’s Action Network. The Children’s Action Network was founded in 1990 by six families in Hollywood, including director Steven Spielberg and actress Kate Capshaw. Its goal is to raise awareness of adoption and to encourage the public to respond to the needs of children waiting to be adopted.

Designer and Couture exhibitor Pasquale Bruni created a special flower necklace in 18k white gold, set with a blue topaz or a rhodolite garnet. The necklaces, inspired by actress Kim Delaney of the ABC television program NYPD Blue, bear the Children’s Action Network’s adoption campaign insignia on the back. A limited number will be created for sale exclusively through Couture attendees’ stores, and a percentage of the proceeds from their sale will be donated to the Children’s Action Network. Additionally, InStyle magazine will support the program with public service announcements and local promotions and materials.

The keynote speaker was author and Internet analyst Po Bronson, who discussed “The Dot-Com Advantage.” Other conference speakers included Teri Agins, author and senior special writer for the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Journal. Her presentation, titled “Fashion: The Triumph of Marketing,” focused on consumer trends. Judy George, president and CEO of Domain home furnishings stores, discussed “Retailtainment: Putting the Magic Back Into the Retail Environment.” Melinda Davis, a futurist and president of The Next Group, presented “What Seduces the Luxury Customer Now: The New Primal Desire.”

Jewelry design trends at Couture echoed themes seen at Vicenza, Basel, and other spring trade show events. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Fine jewelry design is characterized by gradual evolution, rather than seasonal revolution, meaning that, aside from subtle shifts in detail, many of the leading trends from last year are still going strong this year. The key looks observed by trade and consumer fashion editors at the event included yellow gold and colored gemstones-especially in warm tones. Necklaces (especially lariats and bibs) and bracelets are shaping up to be important pieces.

Evening galas are another key element of the Couture shows. The opening event, sponsored by the Diamond Promotion Service, featured entertainer Cybill Shepherd. The theme, “Embrace Diamonds,” was used as the kickoff to DPS’s new campaign to rechristen the tennis bracelet as the diamond line bracelet. The British Luxury Marketing Council sponsored a barbecue dinner, and the final gala was the annual Couture Design Awards, sponsored by Town & Country and Harper’s Bazaar magazines.

The design awards featured a number of repeat winners. Designer Yuri Ichihashi again received the Gold Award, Jean-Francois Albert of JFA Designs again received the Colored Stone Award, and Stefan Hafner for Bernard Grosz again received the Diamond Award and the Best of Show award. Designer Robert Lee Morris received the Pearl Award, and Christian Tse won the Platinum Award.

A new Couture Retail Jeweler of the Year award, initiated this year, was presented to Susie Cohn and Susan Jacques of Borsheim’s in Omaha, Neb. The winner was voted by the exhibitors, based on the criteria of innovative marketing, outstanding customer service, and overall excellence.

Color Is Hot at Luxury by JCK

As if the industry didn’t already know it, the inaugural Luxury by JCK Show once again confirmed that the economy is strong, luxury goods are hot, and fine jewelry trends are increasingly mimicking fashion trends.

The high-end retailers who shopped the show at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas bought briskly, according to exhibitors. Among the trends jewelers took to heart were fashion’s big three this year-color, diamond-intense pieces, and yellow gold. There was little resistance to higher price points for high-quality goods, a buying trend established at last year’s Couture Collection & Conference.

The designers and other high-end suppliers at Luxury by JCK said the biggest story of the year is color. Moving away from delicate briolette looks, buyers were instead hungry for larger stones, cabochon cuts, and oval or marquise-cut gems set on the horizontal in rings or necklaces. Along with aquamarine and chalcedony-which have been hot properties for several seasons-reported trends included pink tourmaline and warm-hued gems like citrine and peridot that are a nice match for yellow gold.

Designs generally mirrored those that were popular last year, as suppliers adopted an attitude of “don’t mess with success.” Most reported minor updates and the freshening of previous styles.

At Color Story, New York, for example, colorful floral designs not only got a little bigger but also adopted cabochon stones (rather than faceted ones) for petals and took on new chain styles. Upscale retailers were showing no signs of favoring the petite, and the company’s bold three-stone ring in various color combinations was a big seller, according to designer Robert Leser.

Designer Zoltan David, Austin, Texas, also carried out an extension of previous design styles and noted that retailers at Luxury by JCK were really drawn to large colored stones.

As fashion in general takes on more of a moneyed feel, and jewelry becomes more and more important, jewelers are taking two approaches that were evident at the show. First is a movement toward more fashion-geared pieces featuring semiprecious stones that portray the warm colors of the season. Second is an updating of previous lines with additional touches of texture, gems, or diamonds that offer a richer look.

Barbara D’Oro, New York, was one designer who took the latter approach, unveiling at Luxury by JCK her first collection in diamonds. Designer Barbara Cohen, known for her textured and organic 18k yellow gold jewelry, said diamonds were drawing immediate interest.

Kevork, Los Angeles, meanwhile, went the former route and further pushed an extension of a line featuring semiprecious stones. The design house, established as a leader in invisibly set precious stones, reported strong sales of fashion-forward designs like necklaces with detachable briolette semiprecious stones.

Kevork’s detachable-stone necklace also illustrated a strong interest at the high-end of the market in jewelry geared toward a modern woman’s lifestyle. Convertible jewelry was a strong seller for many at Luxury by JCK, with buyers looking for pieces that their female customers would see practical value in. New designer Jeannette Fossas, San Juan, for example, wooed buyers with architectural diamond pavé stack rings, which can be worn in various configurations, as well as adjustable necklaces with pearls or stones like lapis or coral.