In 1910, when Coco Chanel opened her first store at Rue de Cambon, in Paris, to sell her avant-garde hats, she started a luxury revolution. The formerly-famous, Belle Époque, gigantic hairpieces, almost like a sculpture on women’s heads, were a sign of richness for the French. The bigger and more complex, the richer the family. According to sociologist Thorstein Veblen and his theory about leisure class, it was a sign that women didn’t need to work, barely moved from one room to another, and were rich enough to have as many employees as it took.
It was right after the Industrial Revolution, where traditional rich families needed to accept the new riches in society, and the new riches wanted to look like the traditional families. Men needed to go to work – a brand new thing for the aristocracy – and use more practical clothing. Women took the obligation to show that the family didn’t actually need to work. Fashion shifted from a men’s world, as created by Louis XIV, to a feminine realm, as they made us believe in the last century.
Back to Coco’s revolution, Gabrielle Chanel was born in the working class, and for her, the huge hairpieces didn’t make any sense. She started her brand designing simple and smart hats, and upon that, all the Chanel aesthetics were built: black, white, and straight lines for the female figure and clothing made with simple fabrics using the leftovers of textile factories from the war period. The luxury revolution needed to handle the crazy 1920s. And Chanel made it.
We are now facing a new luxury revolution, as Coco Chanel did a century ago. New needs and desires are being developed by the new generations and by the new money-makers. The old marketing books don’t have the answers anymore. The simple and chic luxury created by Chanel was overtaken by the big and bold expressions of wealth a long time ago. Trends like logo-mania, and particularly street and sports styles, are showing us one thing: money has changed names and locations. Consumers are not sorry about making money and showing that they have it. Hermés bags collections, private jets to weekends at Saint Barth’s, an infinite number of Rolex watches… you name it, the new luxury consumers have it, and show it on Instagram!
If there is one person who knows how to follow the money, it’s our interviewee. Meet the “Money Chick,” Dr Dionne L. Boyd. She is the CEO and Founder of Image Architects & Management, and a professor at Polimoda and LIM Colleges. As an experiential marketer, brand storyteller, education architect, textbook contributor, and fashion/luxury enthusiast, Dionne is changing the course of luxury brands through education and consumer experience.
Feel the high and inspiring energy from Dr Dionne L. Boyd:
I would like to start with your story. How did you become The Money Chick?
Dionne L. Boyd: I have always had a passion for fashion. Ever since I was in high school back in Alabama, I loved fashion. But I also loved business. When I went to college, a historically black university and one of the best in the country, Hampton University in Virginia, I originally went for design to be a fashion designer. Then, I got into the room, and we were sewing. My professor kept saying to me “you talk too much”. I thought it was too quiet, and I am very energetic, very social. I realised, after sitting there, that was not the path for me. I needed something that I was going to be more involved with. So I asked him to point me to the business department, and I changed my major. Shortly after that, I graduated, moved back to Alabama, and landed my first, only, and last job for Neiman Marcus, an American chain of luxury department stores where I worked for 21 years.
When I came to Neiman Marcus, I started to work in the department of lingerie. There is where I started my career. Long story short, I started with 13 people in a 100% commission environment. And within the first year, I had worked my way up to number five. And within two years I was selling a half a million dollars in bras and panties.
A few years later, I became the first million-dollar salesperson in that area. My book of business was great, and needless to say, this got the attention of a lot of people. So I kind of use that as a platform to interact with other vendors curious about how I was doing it and who wanted to learn the business behind the business.
Then, I started to realise that retail, at that point, was beginning to shift just a little bit. Customers were not coming into the store as much. So I said to myself, I’ve got to begin to think about a career outside of this. I went back to school and got my MBA. Nobody knew I went to school for three years. Right after that, I went to Europe to study abroad for two months. When I came back, I got the opportunity to become a professor in fashion, and I’ve been teaching for 15 years now.
“Why do we have so many creative people working just to give their work to someone else? What if they knew how to sell their work themselves?”
But we were not teaching people to run their own companies, and I didn’t like the idea that we were teaching people to work for other people. As a creative person, I thought: Why do we have so many creative people working just to give their work to someone else? What if they knew how to sell their work themselves? And so, quite honestly, I started to get interested in business, and the school’s business department asked me to join the programme.
But, I had gotten to a point where I felt that I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to do something bigger. Then, I decided to go back to school and do my PhD. So, that was a five-year disappearing act. I say that because I went to school while I was still working full-time, and nobody knew. I was quiet, and I just worked and worked. And then, three years into the PhD programme, I was only working four days a week and still making a million dollars. And I just said to myself: If I can do a million dollars for them, I can do it for myself. And two years into that, when I graduated, I planned and wrote my exit strategy. I was going to do it on my own.
“I want to help people make money and live out their dreams.”
And, I saw my life differently. I said to myself, “I want to travel the world. I want to empower people. I want to talk about fashion. I’m going to talk about business. I want to help people make money and live out their dreams.” I wrote my resignation letter, and I put it on my phone as a reminder. Two years from this day, I’m walking away from everything—all of my jobs, all of my stuff—and I’m going into business full-time for myself.
Four years later, I’ve now been involved with lots of different projects related to business. They know me as The Money Chick because I’m all about making money and helping people realise opportunities that they weren’t able to see.
The COVID-19 crisis hit the traditional retail system very hard. With your experience in the field, how do you see fashion brands recovering from this crisis?
DB: In the retail world, the big stores, even the company that I worked for, all have been impacted financially by this crisis. When I was leaving the store, the one thing I said to them was, “Why do we keep buying stuff that looks like everybody else?” That was the problem I saw at the time, as the industry started to shift. There were too many things that all looked alike.
People appreciate us, as retailers, for our service. They understand that we are known as professional salespeople. We were not just selling clothes, and I was not just selling lingerie. I was selling an experience, I was providing knowledge.
“We were not just selling clothes, and I was not just selling lingerie. I was selling an experience, I was providing knowledge.”
What we’re seeing now is retail failing to evolve the big-box store, from Macy’s to JC Penney to Sears. In the marketplace, those stores are four or five floors, especially in New York City. Think about how retail has changed that landscape. Retail is very expensive right now. To have a building with five floors is not realistic because customers don’t want to shop that way anymore.
I went to the mall where I used to work, which has Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Cartier, Fendi, etc, and all of them had a line outside the door in the midst of COVID-19. Can you believe this? I found it fascinating. People are standing in line, patiently waiting to enter a luxury store where the minimum price point is USD$1,000 and up, and they are all anxiously waiting. But then, when I went to Forever 21 and H&M, I browsed around and I noticed immediately there were no fitting rooms open. So I have to buy it, take it home, and bring it back? I was immediately turned off. And I thought to myself, they’re not going to make it. They’re not pivoting.
In some stores, they’re doing the temperature check, and I appreciate that. It makes me less anxious. I don’t mind supporting brands that are investing in where we are now, to make sure that we, as consumers, can shop safely.
I consulted with some friends who are stylists and said to them, “Why don’t you do videos to show women how to coordinate their mask with their outfit because people still have to go to work?” Like, for me, I have an N95 mask, but I was looking for something more interesting for when I go out because I wanted to have a little bit more fun. And there is not. We’re still seeing this shift in the market, but the opportunities are open for new and emerging designers and thinkers.
I’m all about reimagining and always being forward-thinking. So, for me, as a marketer, I want to see businesses bring a lot of new things into fruition with it, as we’re going through COVID-19 because it is creating opportunities. I’m most excited about the new things that we can now do.
You were already seeing some of those changes coming, mostly based on your PhD research on the millennial generation’s consumption. How are brands pivoting to answer these new demands, based in a different cultural system?
DB: I see coming up more and more the concept of boutique and convenience stores. You’re in your apartment and need to get some essential items and a few clothing items. You don’t want to go to the mall or a big store. You can do it right in your building. You take the elevator and you go. The retailer Target, here in the USA, is seeing the opportunity. It’s cheaper because of the smaller square footage. This is being smart. If you want to shop, you go to the big one. But if you just need a few things, these are the stores that are doing it. They’re going to have the products with the fastest return. Grab and go.
The millennial generation has this approach to convenience. I did my dissertation on car and clothes (Mercedes and Louis Vuitton) and how this generation is buying. I interviewed almost 1000 people in the southeast region to understand what motivates them to buy. What I found most fascinating are things like a student who doesn’t even make US$30,000 in one year. He will still go out and buy a $500 Hermés belt and a $600 Gucci bag because it’s aspirational. It represents the success to them.
The luxury sector knows what they are doing in terms of opportunities. They’re focusing on great products. They know what the consumer wants to buy. It’s an investment. A woman doesn’t want to have 10 bags anymore. She may only want to have one or two good bags. I don’t want to have 10 fast-fashion t-shirts. I want to have two good shirts.
Now that we’re working at home, staying more at home, we realise that we don’t have enough space for all these things. While we go through these difficult days, what do we really need? You start to think about what is important. For me, it is just my family. I would rather spend time and money on my family than buy more stuff. For the retailers, they need to think about what people are going to buy. What are they going to invest in? It’s not fast-fashion.
Now, it’s about the E’s of marketing: to educate, to excite, to engage, to empower, and to offer a great experience.
If the same old strategies for retail marketing are not working anymore, where should we put our efforts? How can the sector truly innovate?
DB: We have to get away from the Ps of marketing. I talk about the Es of marketing: to educate, to excite, to engage, to empower and to offer a great experience. That’s where we have to really pivot to if we want to be sustainable in the long term. That’s what I’m teaching.
We forget that consumers don’t know what they want until we tell them: “You want this.”
We have to do a better job as a brand, and put in place the people who represent what we do. The first person is the gatekeeper. When I go into your store, you are inviting me into your house. I want to feel comfortable, I want to feel relaxed. And I want to know that you really want me in your house. You’re going to fight for me, and you’re going to entertain me. You’re going to educate me, and you’re going to give me a great experience. Remember to ask how people are doing. Do a temperature check, while asking, “How’s your day going?”
It’s so much better, especially in the climate now, because everyone’s nervous, everyone’s scared. A smile, with excitement and enthusiasm, goes a long way. Then you can sell me anything you want, because the wall is down, and I feel comfortable with you.
Have you all felt Dionne’s energy from where you are? This is how you make an experience.
Thank you, Dionne, for taking us into your home and making us feel comfortable. Whatever you’re selling, we’ll buy it!
Get in touch with us and let’s continue the conversation: email@example.com.