Keynote: Turn your customer into a star

Leon Hall, one of the fashion world’s most respected voices, believes this is the year of accessories.

Leon “Don’t Call Me Mr. Hall” dressed up his keynote presentation Friday morning with diamond, jewelry, and red carpet trends in a rousingly entertaining, sometimes catty, mostly insightful look at how the jewelry industry should be accessorizing the nation.

First you need to be a brand. “Branding is how you stay in business,” said Leon. “It’s what makes you different.” Just selling jewelry isn’t enough anymore. “You’ve got to create lust.” Create a reason for people to come to you.

“Redesign your store. Have some place for her to luxuriate,” said Leon, who believes now is the time to do it. His advice: Examine your name, your logo, your service, and your product to create the brand. “It’s what you promote to your customer.”

Get brand-name designer jewelry into the store. Customers no longer come in looking for just a piece of jewelry. They want to see a specific designer label and call it by name. But Leon warned, “Don’t be swallowed up by the designer brand. Just make sure the brand is strong to bring the customer into the store.”

To market your own brand, you may also want to align with some high-end luxury designers. When you’re aligned with popular names, you become less threatening. “There’s a little fright in coming into your store,” said Leon. “Maybe they’re thinking that your brother was a car dealer.” But the brand should be more than a name. Customers are relying on your integrity and the promise behind the name. As Leon explained the notion: “When you come into my store, you get the newest, the best, the most unique, the greatest designer names.”

Hall is the premier expert on “red carpet” fashion. “You really need to advertise immediately after a red carpet event,” he said. “One billion people watch these shows. Put red in your cases. Put red carpet in your windows.”

Where can you find the fashions from the red carpet events? Magazines like InStyle, Us, and Entertainment Weekly, said Leon. “If something is worn by so-and-so, then [your customer] wants it.” Show your customers what the celebrities are wearing and tell them what accessories you have in your store that complement those trends. “The millennium buyer is tough, defiant, and smart. Their tastes are bolder, daring, and more personal. Accessories have never been more important since the time of Louis XIV at Versailles. I love excess! It’s the accessory year!

“When Celine Dion wore that necklace [supplied by Chanel for half a million dollars], it was worth 9 million in publicity,” said Leon. “They had 11 necklaces, and they sold all 11 in two days.” When Catherine Zeta Jones wore H. Stern at a major awards ceremony, three pieces sold within a week. Nicole Kidman (and Fred Leighton) created the chandelier earrings trend at the Golden Globe Awards. Gwyneth Paltrow launched a fashion trend for pink that’s still in fashion, said Leon. “Ben Affleck gave Jennifer Lopez a large pink diamond, and now jewelers are putting pink melee into more affordable jewelry. Even Suzanne Somers is selling pink glass on TV. In 2002, Harry Winston put together a 25-piece Oscar collection and sold almost every piece—and not just to the stars who wore them.

“Why don’t you make up a collection for your local Oscars, Golden Globes?” asked Leon. First, forge a relationship with someone in your town who covers fashion for the local news. Then, look for the special events in your town: a wedding, a prom, a bar mitzvah. “This is their red carpet affair,” said Leon. Try to borrow a local celebrity to wear your jewelry. It could even be one of your best-looking clients or perhaps a local news anchor. Then find someone who can write the editorial.

Your responsibility then is to plan your ads around the events. Journalistic coverage helps sell jewelry and educate the customer. And don’t worry about any wear on the loaned jewelry. “It’s like the patina on an antique desk. It’s the provenance of a great painting,” Leon noted. “You turn your customer into the star she wants to be,” said Hall. “Yes, it’s all about making a profit—but it’s fun!” [sidebar] Leon Takes Your Questions

Keynote speaker Leon Hall also took questions from the audience.

What’s the hottest piece of jewelry? Leon said it’s the right hand diamond ring. Young stars wear it, and it implies only beauty, said Hall.

What about watches? The trend is that consumers look at them as fashion. “It’s pretty, it looks good. Swiss quality is nice, but it has to have flash.”

What would he suggest for brides? Just two accessories: the ring, of course, and earrings. If the hair hides the earrings, then a necklace would do. Bracelets? No.

What if your customer is not into chandelier earrings? Leon suggested something like a small drop. “Get something that moves, put some mobility around her face,” he advised.

What about the person who always wears white gold? Tell your customer, “You should try some yellow gold earrings. They really make your eyes pop.” Romancing the jewelry is what it’s all about.

Does Leon like champagne diamonds? “I love the look of champagne diamonds. And don’t call it anything else. It’s bubbly, sparkling.”

Which young stars are the current trendsetters? Leon named his top five: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Anniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Audrey Hepburn.

Which young stars will be the next trendsetters? “Maybe the next will be Reese Witherspoon,” said Hall. “I’d like to take Nora Jones shopping.” What are the four pieces of jewelry every woman should have? According to Leon, a spectacular pair of gold earrings, good for day and night; a major diamond jewelry piece, the envy of all her friends; a beautiful watch that can be worn for both dressy and daytime; a bracelet that peeks out from under the sleeve.

Who should we use as a role model for older women? Said Leon: Catherine Zeta Jones.