LS Exclusive: An Interview with Vanessa Friedman


Imran Amed | May 07, 2010

The Financial Times Fashion Editor tells Imran Amed what's in store for the upcoming FT Business of Luxury Conference in LA

The Financial Times Fashion Editor tells Imran Amed what’s in store for the upcoming FT Business of Luxury Conference in LA.

One of our priorities at Luxury Society is to bring you exclusive opportunities
to engage with each other and with thought leaders from our industry and elsewhere.

Thus, we are delighted to announce a specially discounted rate exclusively for Luxury Society members to attend the upcoming FT Business of Luxury Summit in Los Angeles on June 13-15.

To whet your appetite, I spoke to Vanessa Friedman, the renowned Fashion Editor of the Financial Times, to learn more about the upcoming conference and what we can expect to learn there.

IA: The first question that came to mind when I first heard about this year’s FT Business of Luxury Conference was why Los Angeles?

VF: When we were thinking about the theme this year, communication, in all its myriad forms, was one of the most relevant issues… and LA is a centre for communication, and it’s close to Silicon Valley, which is another centre of contemporary communication. There’s a real integrity between the place and the subject. Our goal this year, as with every year, is to pull speakers from outside the traditional luxury industry and there was obviously fertile ground for this in California.

IA: This focus on communication led you to this year’s conference theme, The Medium is the Message. Tell us more about what you think the issues surrounding the theme will reveal for luxury in 2010.

VF: It’s really about how to communicate. I think that there is a sense and consensus as we come out of the recession that luxury consumers are ever-more splintered, and as a brand you have to speak to them in ever-more specific ways. The idea that your brand has one message and you use it everywhere was very popular at the end of the last century but it seems less and less effective. Now, the question is how do you tailor that one message to all the different outlets available, whether it’s new media, social media, film, traditional advertising, direct mail, one-on-one communication. And how do you tailor it to different territories, when consumers are at different stages in their relationships to luxury goods? How do you make decisions about where you put your money?

IA: So it’s about shaping an intelligent approach to the communication channels available now. With this in mind, Social Media and new technologies are a major topic of discussion on the agenda. One of the sessions is entitled “Do 600,000 Facebook Friends equal one sale?” Is this an intentionally provocative response to all the Social Media hype we’ve been seeing over the past year?

VF: Yes, definitely in part; I think it’s a really important question to ask. One of the most relevant issues for any brand or any company is how you decide which medium to invest in. Clearly it’s a waste of money to try everything; you need to think carefully about what the return is, whether it’s measurable, and whether the return is immediate or long-term.

I think this is particularly relevant when it comes to new media because so much is unproven and so much of it is hard to measure. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, how many of all the people you talk to translate to customers? The age breakdowns for a lot of social media is relatively young compared to the average age of a luxury consumer. Is this a relationship that you’re building to pay dividends later or is it a relationship that is producing dividends now?

Another issue is whether social media is a place where all luxury brands belong. What are the considerations? How do you weigh them and what are the differences in brand positioning that factor into this?

IA: On the subject of provocative items on the agenda, you’ve asked Dov Charney, a somewhat controversial figure from outside the traditional luxury industry, to make the closing address. What have you asked him to speak on and why?

VF: We’ve asked Dov because he’s thinking out of the box. If you look at the list of speakers, about half of them are not from the luxury world; we’ve got people like Bob Iger [The Walt Disney Company], Joe Rospars [Blue State Digital], Marissa Mayer [Google Inc] and Bryan Lourd [CAA]. Our feeling is that the more experiences that people hear about, the more they can learn. If you only hear from people just like you, whose experience is just like yours, in the end it’s not that illuminating. We want to surprise people.

IA: But the conference is not all work! I didn’t think anything could top last year’s stunning location in Monaco for the gala dinner, but the Paramount Studios venue for this year’s event sounds like it could. What’s in store?

VF: I’m not going to give that away!
It’s a secret – but it’s going to be fun! Let me just say this: it’s Los Angeles, and you have to embrace the place that you’re at…

Imran Amed