Over the summer, I chatted up an industry CEO off the record about emerging brands and designers and the challenges they face. My source told me, “So many firms don’t understand the basics of branding—or even have a clearly defined look that’s recognizable in the market—that it astounds me.” My response: “I couldn’t agree with you more.”
Having a clearly defined signature style is a building block for a line; it’s a fundamental component of your design business’ foundation. You have to know what makes you “you” in the marketplace in order to catch the attention of a retail jeweler. This is why I routinely ask subjects of my weekly “Get to Know” jewelry designer profiles on this blog to describe their signature styles before anything else. You have to be able to articulate what makes your looks recognizable.
“It is possible to be a successful designer without a signature style, but the rate of your success is so much slower because there’s no way for anyone to wrap their brain around you,” explains Cindy Edelstein, president of the Jewelers Resource Bureau and onetime market editor for JCK. “Beautiful is the base requirement for jewelry, but if it doesn’t have a family around it and a story, how does it differ from anyone else’s work?”
When I talk to designers about their signature style, I often use David Yurman and John Hardy as examples. Their work is instantly recognizable: When I see a cable, I think of Yurman; when I see a Balinese dot, I think of Hardy. While these two firms weren’t the first ones in history to work with those motifs, they were first to brand them in the minds of Americans as their own. And their bodies of work evolve so masterfully, so organically—thus enabling retailers to sell styles year after year to the same collectors, who, in turn, can pair old pieces with new ones because it’s evident that the jewelry belongs to the same family.
Like father to son, or grandmother to granddaughter, you want to see a collection’s DNA pass down from one generation to the next. And while colors, lengths, and silhouettes change with fashion, line roots or signatures remain unchanged because they’re the souls of lines. For example, I doubt that Yurman would ever swap out the cable for a snake, though he may have snake motifs in the line. Every piece of Yurman jewelry bears a cable, in some way, shape, or form; that’s a clearly defined signature style. The Yurman family has mastered the art of marketing, retail planning, and brand longevity; they continue to reinvent that cable—and with human nature being what it is, I imagine they get sick of it some days—and do it well so that pieces from their very first collection likely look pretty good next to items from the fall 2012 collection.
So fledgling designers, what’s your cable? And if you don’t know, spend some time studying the works of the jewelry masters to find one.