Vianel: a Luxury Brand for Millennials and Social Media Stars

Vianel: a Luxury Brand for Millennials and Social Media Stars

The Millennial-targeted brand breaking into the luxury market, with the full support of social media stars everywhere.

The Millennial-targeted brand breaking into the luxury market, with the full support of social media stars everywhere.

Text: Ian David Monroe

Breaking into the world of luxury goods is no easy feat, and it’s even harder for a man with a background in finance. Just ask Vianel founder Andrew Brooks who went from the world of Wall Street to the floors of Barneys—and in only three years at that.

While his infiltrating of a historically elitist circle of maisons can be attributed to a strong work ethic and focus on quality, Brooks readily admits that social media has played a significant role. In a selfie-obsessed world, there’s no better way to market yourself than to have your logo plastered in the center of every shot? How does he guarantee the placement? Custom phone cases for the world’s biggest stars, for starters. Scroll through your Instagram feed and you’re almost guaranteed to see one of Vianel’s monogrammable iPhone cases, wallets, and hats. It’s that ubiquity that Brooks depends on.

With his business background, he knows full well that future success is built on building brand loyalty with the next generation. In this case, the Millennials, who have—like their predecessors—a certain irreverence for tired traditions and stifling rules. With a desire to make all things there own, this new crowd is happy to buy a $340 wallet, and then promptly ask to have a big emoji printed on it. The long-standing luxury houses are likely appalled, but you better believe they’re paying attention.

Here, V talks to Brooks about tapping into the selling power of the Kardashians, battling against the luxury giants, and always staying one step ahead.

Start from the beginning, when you began this leap into making a luxury brand.

I started Vianel three years ago with a small leather card holder. I was working, and I have a lot of friends in the industry and I was coming up with ideas and asking my friends what they thought. I developed this one cardholder, I went right to market and launched. We were doing fun colors with different ink edgings. We also offered monogramming. Then Barneys called us to do this big nationwide push and ever since then we’ve been growing and growing with different products. We wanted to cater to the millennials that wanted more innovative products than just what simple brands give.

What was it like getting that call from Barneys?

It gave us a proof of concept. In a certain way, we were like, wow, the big department stores are into us. I will always cherish Barneys for giving us our first ever big cosign. They’ve believed in us since the beginning. It was just a mutual relationship; it really helped the brand.

When did you start introducing the monogramming. It’s not something you really see often with luxury products.

I think we were one of the first brands to get it going. We started right away. Come September, October 2013, people were putting their initials on products. That was our idea.

What was the spark of inspiration for that?

I feel like we give people the option to create their own idea. It’s the whole concept of letting them engage with us on the website, letting them pick their initials. Then the monogramming went really well so we began to offer emoji monogramming. We were definitely ahead of everybody on that.

A photo posted by VIANEL (@vianelnewyork) on

One of the things you mentioned is that a lot of luxury brands don’t cater to millennial customers.

We aren’t afraid to do that. We want to do that. We make these products in factories where Chanel makes their products. We see the best qualities in the world and we are like ok, does the customer want a fuck you emoji on it? Okay, we don’t care. We want it to be personal to them, whatever they want because it’s their product. Let them feel connected to their product.

How do you and the team decide which new product you are going to move into? You started with the cardholders, moved onto the phone cases?

It’s pretty organic, but you see that apt for selling millions of phone cases during Christmas. You realize there’s a huge demand for casings and different tech products. It’s more of an intuition. If it works, it works, but let's scale it down.

What has been the most popular material with the millennial crowd?

The thing about lizard is that it’s a very small grain and a lot of the products we make are not, so I like the look of the lizard on a smaller product. It makes the product look more luxurious and is a better touch. We use a lot of crocodile for certain iPhone cases and stuff like that. Honestly, I think the lizard looks the best just because of how rich it looks. It looks like a really strong case, you know?

Was there ever a learning curve where you were like shit I’ve got to figure this all out?

Before I launched the brand, it took me six months going back and forth to Italy, meeting with agents, meeting with factories just to see where we want to make it and just to get the prices and qualities right, to make the skins look perfect. We are going against the biggest brands in the world with these products with these price points. If we are going against them, we better come with the best of the best; we better know what we’re doing. We definitely had screw ups before we made it with factories before we got everything working very well. We are still learning.

A photo posted by VIANEL (@vianelnewyork) on

How does your company approach marketing? Are the celebrity endorsements the main approach?

PR firms introduced us to people but it was more of an organic process. And as we got bigger, celebrities began reaching out for free stuff. Chloe Moretz would hit us up on Instagram. We don’t want to make it look pushy also, so we are low-key on that end. But we definitely have a big celebrity push always.

Do you think the novelty of having these celebrities endorse your products will ever wear off?

We got very lucky with the whole Kardashian thing. Its not like we paid the Kardashians, but a friend of a friend made the relationship for us. Kylie blasted it everywhere; it was a huge thing on our site. We made a special case for Kylie, with a crown on it, and that went viral. All of the sudden everyone was copying Kylie, putting a crown with their names. What happened was Kourtney started wearing it everyday and we got emails from all their assistants saying they needed stuff. And we were on the show and our cases were shown. We aren’t one of those big companies that are paying for this; this is all natural.

Is there an obvious spike in sales from that stuff?

It built traction on the site, and all of a sudden you have these Kardashian fansites that are pushing it and it went like that. It was a frenzy on Instagram and it just grew and helped us tremendously. Cara Delevigne had the case; Kendall had the hat and because Kendall had the hat, she stole the hat.

But I also don’t want to be like a Kardashian-focused brand. We have a million other celebrities that use our products too. Anywhere from Diplo that wears our hats every day to Travis Scott. Rihanna wears our stuff a lot, especially the hats.

A photo posted by VIANEL (@vianelnewyork) on

Is there ever a concern about the price point, given that the exposure from those celebrities is not to a luxury consumer crowd?

I think our price points are competitive. We do charge $270 for a lizard card case, but you go to any other higher end brand, like Tom Ford or Gucci, those things are $400-500 dollars. The iPhone leather case is $70. It’s expensive for an iPhone case, of course, but it’s also a fashion case. I don’t think it's something so out of the ballpark, but I think fans grow with you.

I was thinking that it introduces luxury to an audience that was before isolated from it, on purpose.

100%. Look at Valextra—It’s great quality; it’s a little older; it’s very expensive. But our quality is just the same. We cater to the downtown luxury lifestyle. The new millennials, young professionals, are the target that we are trying to achieve every day.

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