Magazine

Luring Luxury Brands To The Web


The typical Fendi ad is beautifully styled and impeccably shot, but totally static-models toting $2,000 handbags are frozen two-dimensionally on glossy pages. That's all changing in late September when Fendi's first video ad goes live on Style.com, the online home of Vogue and W magazines, just in time for the Italian fashion shows. The video will be peppered across the site, jumping out as a full-screen pop-up and rolling as a 15-second clip before Style.com's videos of the collections.

Fendi is just one of a bevy of luxury-goods retailers, including Valentino Fashion Group and Bottega Veneta, that Style.com has recently lured onto the Web. The six-year-old site attracted 88 advertisers to ply next season's swingy spring dresses online during September's New York Fashion Week, a 54% jump over last year. Designers, who rack up $14 billion in sales annually, realize they need to follow the changing habits of customers, who increasingly are snapping up the latest must-haves online.

With Style.com, fashion's icons don't just get an association with two of the world's most popular and recognizable fashion magazines. They also can tap an in-house staff that was created specifically to help them design ads, craft online marketing campaigns, and make the digital transition-while remaining glamorous. "We're helping companies that are just getting their toes in the water," says Dee Salomon, Style.com's senior vice-president and managing director.

Luxe fashion houses have been slow to embrace the Internet, even as high-end department stores rushed online. Some offer accessories and beauty products on their sites or put up ready-to-wear. None sell their couture online, though.

Rarefied brands, such as Prada and Herm?s, traditionally have been family-run and focused on their products, boutiques, and service, says Milton Pedraza, ceo of the Luxury Institute, a New York research group. "They saw the Web as a trade-off instead of an enhancement," he says. Magazines have long been their preferred advertising venue for a few simple reasons, says Kate Sayre, vice-president at Boston Consulting Group: "They're big, look beautiful, and you feel like you're getting the right demographics."

Style.com's Salomon, who previously worked for Anne Klein and Donna Karan, recognized this reluctance early on. To appeal to brands that spend up to $400,000 to shoot magazine ads, the site starts by repurposing the photos so they appear as alluring online as in print. But it quickly moves beyond that, crafting interactive "events" that evoke the magazines' glamour. GRAND SCALE

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Manolo Blahnik, Style.com crafted a stand-alone site that pulled together sketches of famous footwear created by the designer. mac Cosmetics was so taken with an animated ad, which bathes Style.com's pages in bright pink before scrawling "Viva Glam" (its popular lipstick) across the screen, that mac copied the look for its own site. "Chanel is not spending money on Yahoo! for a reason," notes Salomon. "This industry expects things to be done on a grand scale."

Luxury brands are taking the bait. "With magazines, I don't know if I'm better off running four pages in publication A or two pages in publication B. This offers us a more fine-tuned approach," says Alexander Bolen, ceo of Oscar de la Renta. Others are launching sites and want to funnel traffic their way. Michael Kors Inc. says online sales have beat expectations since it began advertising on Style.com in August.

The ad push is critical for Style.com. Revenues are up 58% year-to-date compared with 2005. But its status as the Web's fashion destination is being challenged by the likes of New York Magazine. Style.com has shown that banner ads can be elegant. Now it needs to convince luxury brands it's as important to be on the site as in the pages of Vogue.

For a podcast about Style.com, go to businessweek.com/go/06websmart

By Elizabeth Woyke


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