Building a designer jewelry collection using pre-vetted vendors is catching on
Back in the day, small, unknown designers could wrangle an appointment with a high-profile buyer—whether through a connection or by simply refusing to take no for an answer—and sell a collection based solely on a few samples and a dream. But in today’s oversaturated market, where open-to-buys are conservative and memo is at an all-time high, emerging and even established designers are looking for ways to gain an edge over the competition.
Enter the concept of multivendor showrooms, a haven for retailers looking for the complete package: a designer already schooled in the art of merchandising, customer service, and brand identity.
“Retailers don’t want to invest in a new designer these days because they aren’t sure the designer will be around for a second year,” says Andrea Hansen, founder of Luxe Intelligence, a 2-year-old New York City–based jewelry business development firm. “We teach our brands to think about how their collections are evolving, and to have an overall vision of what’s next.”
Inside Valery Demure’s London showroom
When a designer has a showroom as a mentor, there is often a proven track record of success. Luxe Intelligence, for example, is led by Hansen, a former executive at H.Stern and Ivanka Trump and current president of the Women’s Jewelry Association. Her jewelry Rolodex brims with industry connections.
“When I realized how little designers understood the retail world, I wanted to help businesses on both sides of the aisle,” Hansen says. “I found I couldn’t make the introductions unless I knew the designers understood what their responsibilities would be and what their role was in making that retailer successful.”
Besides mentoring designers, showrooms act as a prescreener. At ViewPoint, where founder Jim DeMattei has built businesses including John Hardy, Philip Stein, and Sevan Biçakçi, the emphasis is always on the real-world logistics that help make a line successful.
Handmade cuffs with 18k rose gold hinges and clasps in Zebu horn with cognac diamonds, $11,225, fossilized wood with diamond accents, $10,900, and polychrome jasper, $8,350; Federica Rettore at Rock House, NYC; 917-553-5360; firstname.lastname@example.org; federicarettore.com
“It’s not just about if the product is pretty,” DeMattei says. “Will it be shipped? Is there integrity to the collection? We are giving the retailers a sense of security that we have vetted this designer and that they are going to be able to market properly and deliver within a time frame that is acceptable.”
With the recent closure of high-profile New York City showroom Fragments, the showroom concept and its place in the industry is a hot-button topic. Read on to learn how retailers can reap the benefits of one-stop shopping.
The Art of Curation
While curate may be an overused word on today’s luxury scene, showrooms distinguish themselves by their ability to do just that: pull together a set of brands that blend seamlessly and work with, not against, each other.
“We put together our showroom like retailers buy for their own store or jewelry department,” says Jennifer Shanker, founder of Muse Showroom in New York City. “If a retailer likes one of our lines, they will probably like more than one.”
Rugiada collection bracelet in 18k rose gold with titanium core and 4.38 cts. t.w. diamonds; $19,400; Mattia Cielo at Rock House, NYC; 917-553-5360; email@example.com; mattiacielo.com
For a retailer, being able to walk into a showroom and pick up several lines at once—collections with complementary aesthetics that don’t cannibalize each other—is smart shopping.
“We really enjoy working with Muse,” says Nadine McCarthy Kahane, founder and CEO of online retailer Stone & Strand. “They handpick the designers and work closely with them to develop a successful commercial collection. As a retailer, this means the designers have already taken feedback on the key elements, from price point to range, that make a great collection.”
At Valery Demure’s eponymous showroom, based in London, her trained eye is what sets her apart from competitors. “Retailers understand that we are quite niche, we value quality and craftsmanship, but tend toward lines that are highly influenced by fashion in one way or another,” she says. Demure’s big-name roster—which includes Lizzie Fortunato, Fernando Jorge, and Monique Péan—represents the perfect mix of fine and fashion to please contemporary buyers’ tastes. The selection secures the showroom about 300 appointments during its Paris presentation.
All in the Details
Izel single earring in 14k yellow gold with 0.35 ct. t.w. white diamonds; $3,380; Lito at Valery Demure, London; 44-207-254-9735; valerydemure.com
Looking to bring a hot new international designer to your store? Here’s hoping you’re trained in tax and shipping regulations. For many busy retailers, entering into an agreement with an overseas brand is more logistical work than they can handle.
Tony Goldsberry, founder of Rock House in New York City, works primarily with international designers including Mattia Cielo, Shaun Leane, and Federica Rettore and is tasked with navigating the complex waters of carnets, bonds, and freight boarding. “Without an American representative, many stores aren’t interested in working with these brands,” Goldsberry says. “I’m the liaison between the two, bringing directional collections to retailers and qualified stores to designers.”
Electric drop earrings in 18k white gold with 2.28 cts. t.w. diamonds and opals; $20,460; Fernando Jorge at Valery Demure
While some showrooms have a hands-off policy with regard to product, Muse takes it a step further by offering a full-service import and distribution model. This means that a retailer can engage directly with Muse about every piece of inventory, which is cataloged, invoiced, and billed through the showroom; Muse even tracks repairs, special orders, and memo shipments.
The Cost of Doing Business
Whether or not a product has innate aesthetic value is not, surprisingly, the biggest concern for a successful showroom. A much larger issue is the long-term financial viability of a line and the business plan put in place to create value for a retailer.
Marry Me ring in 18k white gold with 0.36 ct. trillion diamond and 0.23 ct. t.w. white diamonds; $6,750; Delfina Delettrez at Valery Demure
“On a practical level, we have to have a money conversation before we can commit to a brand,” Hansen says. “What trade shows are you going to do, what’s the cost of insurance, how will you get your brand out there? We need to figure out how a designer plans to finance a business for the next three years.”
DeMattei often looks past the building stage and focuses on what happens next. “The likelihood of a jeweler who builds magnificent jewelry to compete in today’s retail environment is very rare,” he says. “I see organizations like myself becoming more important because of this reason. I have to feel comfortable that the business will be sustainable, and that question has me leaving a lot of incredible talent on the side of the road.”