Lessons from Dior on Becoming a Premium Brand

Adrian Kosiak
Manager, Chicago Office

“Dior and I (2015) brings the viewer inside the storied world of the Christian Dior fashion house with a privileged, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Raf Simons’ first haute couture collection”- imdb

What the movie also does is give us a look inside how a premium brand works, and provide some insights into what it takes to become a premium brand. Steve Cardwell at Pariveda gave a talk on becoming a premium brand, and I wanted to compare some of his thoughts with what I observed in the documentary.

Confidence and Influence – “Premium is a mindset” – Steve Cardwell

Many customers, fashionistas, and Dior employees themselves strongly believe their product is premium which itself is a key driver of their product’s value and influence. Designers, artists, seamsters, and executives are spending a great deal of time and energy to make sure every detail of their final product is perfect, from initial concept to the final moment of the show. But how can they possibly know if a new design is going to be successful if their potential customers can’t even see it until the final product is revealed on the runway? It’s all about the mindset!

Customers buy Dior couture for its use of elaborate techniques, high quality fabrics, detailed design, and professional craftsmanship. They value the work that was put into the final product itself. Therefore, they don’t necessarily need to see the product because they believe and know that it is premium. They know and expect that level of effort from the brand. Few organizations reach the where a customer has so much trust in the work of an organization that they value the work itself just as much, and in many cases more than, the utility of the product.

Ownership and Tradition – “Premium is a shared vision” – Adrian (Me!)

Confidence also comes from a strong tradition and sense of ownership. Employees feel honored to work at Dior and the same goes for many other premium brand organizations. They know that they are working for a company that did something great and they can expect they will be part of even greater things in the future. There is a lot of value in reinforcing the brand to energize employees by sharing news and details of innovative and interesting projects, to build a tradition, and a brand that people can be proud of. It’s also a recruiting tool that attracts and retains top talent in a talent-constrained economy. Brand is just as important to individuals working at the firm as it is to outside viewers.

Ideas and Outputs – “We must measure ourselves by our ideas and outputs…” – Steve Cardwell

Dior creates ideas! It’s what many individuals refer to as a “Thought Leader”. Their ideas have the potential to influence and define trends. This bully pulpit provides an inherent value to their products. Customers are aware that not all of the high concept ideas generated take hold, but they want to be the first to have the latest to give them an edge, and they trust Dior to provide it to them. Having an edge means setting themselves as the trendsetters among their social groups, ultimately building their reputations as tastemakers. Customers find more value and ultimately pay more for these ideas. In most cases haute couture strives to be different in some way, push the boundaries and move the trend in a different direction. It’s a balance, but it’s something that customers expect and value in the final product. They trust the knowledge of the highly skilled professionals at the company because of their proven track record of success.

Fashion Acumen – “We must develop business acumen to uncover valuable ideas for our clients” – Steve Cardwell

Dior knows fashion. An important aspect of Raf’s design process was the incorporation of art and design concepts from his own studies. Raf studies materials, paintings, fabrics, and more to draw inspiration from multiple sources when crafting a high quality product that is pushing boundaries while still aligning with people’s needs. Employees, and especially leaders, at premium brand organizations have to draw on multiple sources to develop their own business acumen necessary to create high quality products. Premium brands go above and beyond to develop broad and deep skills in a multitude of areas.  This means varying employee experiences and developing external learning while providing opportunities to apply that learning.

These were just a few things I noticed while watching the movie that I noticed could be useful in narrowing down what makes a premium brand and how to become one. I hope you’ve found this useful as well.

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