Good Read

Spoonfeedin WOrld

Business – The fall & rise of Fabergé

Sudeshna Sen

Here’s a BEQ question. Which brand can survive 90 years in oblivion, be sold as dime store deodorants, but still be synonymous with uber-luxury ,
and considered a super brand? When Fabergé — as in those Fabergés , the eggs — announced it was launching its first collection of High Jewellery in 90 years, it immediately created a flutter in the luxury market.

Fabergé , synonymous with the last glorious days of the Russian Tsars is the stuff of legends. Not many know that after the House of Fabergé fell and the family lost its rights to the name, a duplicate Fabergé brand was used to sell products like Brut.

Now, a new owner wants to bring the legend alive — and resurrect the original House of Fabergé to its former glory. In 2007, Pallinghurst Resources, an investment company headed by South African Brian Gilbertson, acquired the brand and all its licenses from Unilever. Gilbertson likes to see himself as a Renaissance man, resurrecting a grand master : “It was a fabulous heritage being wasted. After the house of Fabergé fell, the name was neglected , even abused,” he says.

Pallinghurst, an investment company, has major interests in mining and precious gems and metals elsewhere in the world, which naturally helps. Mark Dunhill , CEO of the new Fabergé team, former President of Alfred Dunhill says the power of the brand name worked as a magnet to attract the crème de la crème of the luxury market to work with him. Including IBM. IBM? Wait, we’re getting there. The real Fabergé is back, with only a 100 pieces to start with, and an iconoclastic marketing and business model that’s a quirky mix of 20th century tradition and modern technology.

History and heritage dominates the resurrection of Fabergé , most clearly in the person of Tatiana Fabergé , great granddaughter of Peter Carl Fabergé and now a shareholder and advisor. She doesn’t just provide legitimacy, she also provides the intimate family knowledge. Creative directive Katharine Flohr, formerly editor of Russian Vogue, and Frederick Zaavy, the French designer responsible for creating the jewellery, spent days traveling with her all around the world to absorb the Fabergé mystique. Sean Gilbertson, Brian’s son, recalls that when he first called on her, “I could tell she was wary, there have been so many trying to cash in on the Fabergé name over the years.”

This time, the result is a 100 piece High Jewellery collection, Les Fabuleuses, with “French sensibilities, but a Russian soul” says Flohr, very much like the royal court of Russia itself. Zaavy has retained the flamboyance and fantasy of the original Fabergé designs , as well as the obsession with artistry that made Fabergé’s creations objets D’art and not just precious accessories. Each piece is unique, and handcrafted in Zaavy’s workshops — and of course, prices start from USD 40,000 and go up to USD 7 million. And yes, Indians don’t have to ‘wait’ for any stores to open. It’s immediately available anywhere in the world, and India is an important market.

Zaavy and Flohr hope to make a marketing trip to India “before the wedding season” to do exclusive private viewings — and they hope that the intricate artistry will appeal to Indian tastes, more than the prevalent minimalistic designs prevalent in the west today . Zaavy says he’s been inspired to think about doing men’s brooches and jewellery, to go with Indian traditional attire. Eggs? Not yet. After all, there are no Tsars left to commission such sumptuous gifts.

Maybe later. The rest of the team says Zaavy is quite mad in his passion for perfection, and quirky in his designs. Well, there’s this leaf brooch, turn it around, and there’s an almost invisible jeweled ant nestling in the pin. “That’s just for you to know about, though nobody can see it,” says Flohr. But how exactly do Dunhill and his team hope to challenge the Chanels and Tiffany’s of the world with a 100 pieces, however unique? That’s where Fabergé’s lack of infrastructure helps. No stores. Fabergé has set up an interactive, assisted website as their “shop window” , designed by IBM to allow a live salesperson to be involved at every step.

And then, like Peter Carl himself, the jeweler will come to your doorstep with your selection, and more, anywhere in the world, at any time, just as Peter Carl did with Empresses and Kings all over the world. Says Mark Dunhill, “In some ways, luxury conglomerates have become victims of their own success. Luxury has lost its luster, and consumers are becoming more exacting about about uniqueness and personalization.”

Internet shopping for billionaires? But yes. Dunhill points out that their research shows that 95% of millionaires like the anonymity and discretion of shopping on the Net. Eliminating the investment in fancy stores means more resources to focus on a high-class sales team and to woo and do bespoke orders for a core customer base of 30 to 40 customers a year. And you can’t make the actual purchase online. Adds Tatiana Fabergé , “Peter Carl was a great innovator — he started a mail order catalogue in 1890. If there was internet then, he would have used it.”

Chronologie

1842:

Gustav Faberge settles in St Petersburg, and starts work as a goldsmith.

1885:

Alexander III, Emperor of Russia, commissions Peter Carl Faberge to make the first Easter egg for his empress

1887-1917 :

The House of Faberge, imperial jewelers to Russian royalty, establishes itself as creators of Objets d’Art and jewelers to the rich and the royal across Europe, America, and even Asia. Make jewellery, eggs, clocks, and accessories of all kinds.

1917:

Russian Revolution.The stock of the House of Faberge is seized, Peter Carl, the patriarch escapes to Riga, while his wife and son Eugene escape by sleigh.Two of his sons are captured.They will eventually flee over the next few years.

1920:

Peter Carl dies in Switzerland, where the family takes refuge.

1924:

Eugene and Alexander Faberge set up Faberge Et Cie in Paris, to trade and restore pieces from the House of Faberge

1937:

American Sam Rubin, starts a perfume business, and decides to use the Faberge name.The family sues.

1951:

The family runs out of money to fight the legal battle, and reaches an out of court settlement giving Rubin the rights to the Faberge name for perfume for USD 25,000.

1964:

George Barrie’s cosmetic company Rayette buys Faberge Inc for USD 26 million

1984:

Faberge Inc acquires Elizabeth Arden for USD 700 million

1989:

Unilever buys Faberge Inc, including Elizabeth Arden, for USD 1.55 billion. It registers the brand name as a trademark for a range of merchandise, and licenses it out to third parties.

2007:

Pallinghurst Resources acquires the Faberge trademarks, licenses and associated rights for an undisclosed sum.Tatiana and Sara, great grand daughters of Peter Carl, join as shareholders, Mark Dunhill takes over as CEO.Three major shareholders hold 80% of the stake, while private individuals hold the rest.The multiple licenses for other products have been almost extinguished

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September 23, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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