Q&A: Showroom owner Valery Demure talks to Amazon

Valery Demure and Julian Exposito-Bader at her London showroom (Kalory.co.uk)

Valery Demure is the jewellery expert known for building some of the most exciting names in fine and fashion jewellery through her eponymous PR agency and jewellery showroom. with a base in trendsetting East London, Julian Exposito-Bader takes the role of interviewer, asking what it takes to run a showroom, how retailing has evolved and what makes an emerging brand hot property.

Housed on the third floor of a nondescript building behind London’s trendsetting Broadway Market is the Valery Demure showroom.

This space, a softlylit, serene den of jewellery, showcases collections from costume and fine jewellery designers from around the world.

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Inside is Fernando Jorge and his Brazilian heritage, colourful Parisian costume jewellery from Shourouk, and fine and stone-set creations by New Yorker Monique Péan peeking out from cabinets and showcased on white shelves.

The collections are carefully curated by Valery Demure herself and presented to buyers from high-end concept stores, fashion retailers and jewellery shops, enabling them to browse pieces, ask detailed questions about each brand’s background and message and place those all-important orders.

The Valery Demure business is a three-fold firm that’s nearing its 10th birthday. Over those years it has evolved to offer an online shop boasting trendsetting fashion and fine jewellery, PR and consultancy services for jewellery designers and a showroom for the aforementioned buyers.

Demure, recognisable in her bold glasses and swathes of mixed-metal gem-set jewellery, has become an expert in what’s hot, what’s now and who to watch. She has supported some of today’s most inspiring jewellery talent, advised them on their business direction and has working relationships with the jewellery buyers at leading stores and websites including Net-A-Porter, Colette, Bon Marché, Saks, Harrods, Barneys and Liberty.

Impressed by her entrepreneurial spirit, Julian Exposito-Bader chose Valery Demure as his interviewee of choice, noting her knowledge of cutting- edge jewellery designers and her understanding of the fine-meets-fashion market — a growing area of interest for many buyers. Sitting down in the Valery Demure showroom, Exposito-Bader takes the reins as interviewer, asking what showrooms do, what buyers are looking for and what trends are in store for 2015.

Julian Exposito-Bader: Valery, how does your jewellery showroom work? Who comes to you and what’s the purpose of a showroom?

Valery Demure: I set my showroom up nine years ago, following a role as a buyer for a London jewellery shop. At the time I realised there was no showroom for jewellery designers, no PR company, no structure, no knowledgeable person to help them to promote their work. I went to a party and met [Vogue fashion editor] Francesca Burns who told me to set up a jewellery agency. People said I was crazy and that I wouldn’t make money with jewellery, but in my first season I met with about 25 influential stores including Colette and Barneys, and had clients such as Scott Wilson and Florian who knew me as a buyer before and trusted me. The showroom is an alternative to trade shows — it is more intimate and edited, and I nurture and mentor the designers I work with. Valery Demure will never be a super commercial showroom — that’s not my thing. Trade shows can do that, but I don’t want to work with jewellery unless it has a strong aesthetic.

JE-B: How do you decide which retailers to work with?
VD: Mostly they come to me but I go for the top. For me, it’s about quality over quantity. I don’t go so much for the middle market because my price points are not going to work for them. We work with retailers all over the world; Nigeria, Portugal, Dallas, Greece. I like to work with clients who pay their bills but that’s getting more and more difficult.

JE-B: Do you ever work on consignment?
VD: Very little, which I’m known for. If you place an order, you buy, and you might get a few things on consignment, but we monitor you and watch what you do with it. I have done it with a few stores in the US and Net-a-Porter because they buy fine jewellery collections, but we also decide which pieces shops can and can’t have.

JE-B: What’s your view on stores wanting exclusive collections?
VD: The thing that’s difficult with exclusivity is that if they drop you as a designer, you’re left with nobody but as soon as you’re with one store, they all want you. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to give exclusivity for the first season but after that it should be a big conversation. You should also make sure the retailer is promoting the brand, because if you get exclusivity and they are not promoting it, what’s the point? How do you grow business?

JE-B: How do you maintain the balance between a brand being niche but also well known?
VD: It’s hard and a lot depends on the designer. If the store is behind the brand, fine, but the brand has to develop its marketing. A lot of young designers are really bad at marketing; they don’t see the point in investing in it and think 90% of the sale is the product. They are completely wrong. It’s 50% marketing and 50% product. You can have a rubbish product and with excellent marketing you can last. You can have a great product with no marketing and fail. I’ve seen so many examples of that.

JE-B: Who has done it well?
VD: Fernando Jorge is a great example. He’s good at marketing, he’s good at listening. This year we have had growth of 170% for him. He goes to trunk shows, he travels, he’s behind his brand but he’s not trying to be everywhere. He could be pretentious but he’s not. Fernando knows that he doesn’t need to be everywhere, just with the right shops.

JE-B: What do you look for in a jewellery brand?
VD: One word: soul. There are far too many soulless products in the world that we don’t need. I get so many lookbooks now that make me laugh; people take what’s working right now from others’ collections, put them together and call it a brand. It’s shocking.

JE-B: Do you see designers copying other peoples’ work regularly? As a retailer, it frustrates me when I see high street stores copying designers’ work…
VD: Yes. There has been Valentino ripping off Shourouk, Aurelie Bidermann stole Alyssa Norton’s business with the braided bracelets. That design got Alyssa a CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) award, but Aurelie had the money needed for marketing to promote her bracelets and that killed off Alyssa’s business.

JE-B: What makes a designer hot and how do you keep them hot?
VD: It’s a mix of things: very good design, wearability, good quality and good craftsmanship. They need strong, finely- tuned marketing and a designer who is social. Brands stay hot because of the talent of the designer. We look at whether they can grow and develop their work; will they make it commercial but keep it interesting? It is also about two other things: knowing who your customers are and who your competition is. Too many designers do not know who their customer is and when they know, they are often shocked.

JE-B: A lot of designers I know worry when their new collection is different from their brand DNA. How do you strike that balance?
VD: It’s difficult to do that as designers need to evolve but shouldn’t lose their signature. Look at what’s happening with Dior. Galliano was there, he’s gone and the brand has lost clients. Yes, they are also gaining new ones, but that’s because they have a signature style.

JE-B: When you see designers moving away from their DNA, do you advise them?
VD: Yes. I work closely with my designer clients and I’m very careful with what they do. They can’t always have amazing collections, but you need newness each season. It’s good to have 20% to 30% core product but the rest has to be new.

JE-B: What’s your advice to young jewellery designers — should they pursue showrooms or try trade shows?
VD: It’s a bit complicated. When they start on their own it’s good because although they make loads of mistakes and often lose money, they learn a lot. But it can be very dangerous; I’ve known companies blow thousands and have nothing at the end. I often say, go and work for a brand that makes the mistakes. Do it for a while, see how difficult it can be and start making contacts. Don’t just start your own brand like that.

JE-B: But so many young designers are told to launch their businesses right away…
VD: Some of them don’t even have a business card; they don’t even put their bank details on an invoice. They go to trade shows without order pads. I always feel that a designer should work in the industry, learn from other people making mistakes, because if your parents give you money to launch your own brand it will be blown in no time. Also visit trade shows, get some feedback and do your homework in depth.

JE-B: From that, how can a new jewellery designer capture the interest of a showroom?
VD: A strong signature. Be gold, original and have business sense. I’m not just going to take someone creative; you should also be able to have good conversation and be ready to take criticism. Designers are extremely sensitive and I can be blunt, but I’m also here to help.

JE-B: In which areas of the market are you seeing growth?
VD: Fashion-fine jewellery. It’s one of the last bastions of luxury and is still fairly untouched. Women are more independent today and are able to buy themselves a piece of diamond jewellery. If they like it, they will buy it. The price of fashion has gone up, meaning a seasonal Christopher Kane dress is £1,500, but that money can be spent on a diamond ring that you’ll give to your daughter one day.

JE-B: What do you mean by fashion- fine?
VD: It’s the jewellery where the client doesn’t care about the carat weight or quality of a diamond. Designers working in this way include Sophie Bille Brahe, Lito, Elise Dray, Loquet London or at the higher end, Irene Neuwirth and Monique Péan. They are not brands but designers. Many fine jewellery stores are not ready to buy into it yet, but they are looking at it. They know their clients but they don’t know enough about the fashion-fine sector. But then you have the fashion stores that also want in but don’t know how to sell fine jewellery. It’s interesting too that a lot of high jewellery brands like Cartier, David Webb and Tiffany & Co. are working with younger creative directors and fashion photographers now for their campaigns.

JE-B: Who do you think does it better — bricks-and-mortar stores or online retailers?
VD: Ohh la la. The thing is, you cannot compare how Net-a-Porter sells jewellery to how a concept shop like Colette sells. I know that Matches is doing very well online, which is a lot to do with its great customer service. Liberty’s jewellery room is also doing well, so I think it’s more about how you approach it. In truth, the shops that should be doing best are the fine jewellery stores. If they can get someone working for them who knows about fashion, they can bring in a fashion client. It is also about personal shoppers — they know their customers and sales come from offering these experiences and building good relationships .

JE-B: Which country do you think has the best jewellery stores?
VD: I’d say the US. Everything about it amazes me — how the retailers are so on it and how the trunk shows work, considering it’s a massive market. For my business, the US is where I am going to see growth so I’m planning to open a New York office. It’s also the level of business they do. When I work with American clients, the first thing they ask is whether we can do a trunk show for them. The US designers are also wonderful — they do personal appeances at stores, they tour the retailers. It’s interesting, because many of the designers that work in the US just don’t translate here in the UK. It’s also tough for them to sell in the UK with the duty, shipping and hallmarking fees on top. The UK retailers also struggle with the trunk show concept. As a result, I would love to host a trunk show of my own in London.

JE-B: Finally, tell us your key jewellery trends for 2015?
VD: In terms of silhouettes, there will still be playfulness, with earrings where things come from behind like a stone or floating pearls. Pearls too will still be around and there will be a lot of floral motifs in my opinion, which links back to the floral prints and romance seen at the Dior Couture show. There will be more pastels and fewer brights and fluoro. There will be more fashion-fine jewellery but the minimal look is starting to wane. There will also be a lot of coloured diamonds, but less focus on beautiful coloured stones.

This interview was initially published in the January issue of Professional Jeweller. Read more here.

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