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Month: July 2014

He knows about toes

He knows about toes

In his own words, Christian Louboutin “knows about toes” so it’s not surprising that he wanted nail polish to be his first foray into the beauty world. 

In September this year the world famous shoe designer is launching a range of 31 nail varnishes, a move which in many ways represents the repayment of an old debt, as the initial success of his brand owes much to a bottle of nail varnish.

Louboutin was born in Paris in 1963.  When he was 12, a museum that was situated next door to the family’s apartment had a poster outside with a sketch of a stiletto on it. Christian became obsessed with the poster, he sketched and resketched it and soon realised that he wanted to be a shoe designer. 

He started missing school “I was out every night. I have a piece of paper which says that I missed 92 days in one year.” He spent his time with friends, partying and watching the showgirls from The Folies Bergère and the Moulin Rouge, whose costumes and shoes fascinated him. 

At 18 he got a job at Charles Jourdan. He went on to do freelance work for Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, then went to learn about and work with leather in factories in Naples and Florence. He returned to Paris and went to work for Roger Vivier, a man whom he credits with teaching him much of what he knows. 

Upset when Vivier died, Louboutin decided on a change of direction, and became a landscape gardener. However he was soon missing shoes and started to spend hours drawing them and creating his own designs.

Then shortly after the death of his mother and at the urging of an antique dealer friend he decided to go back to his first love, shoes.

“He said just go for it. That same week, I had dinner with my two oldest friends, Henri and Bruno, and they said yeah, let’s do it. They say don’t mix business with pleasure, but 23 years on we’re even better friends than before. Henri married my sister and Bruno is the president of the company.”

However despite all the drawing and designs he had done over the years, when he saw the first prototype he had a feeling that something still wasn’t quite right.


“My drawing of it was better, I couldn’t understand what it was. Then I turned it over and realised that the percentage of black was huge, but there was no black in my drawing. My assistant was painting her nails, so I grabbed her nail polish, painted the sole and it popped. It gave definition to the heel. It illuminated the shoe.”

His new scarlet soled shoes were an immediate success and Louboutin is now a global brand with stores in over 50 countries. 

Now the brand is planning a new move and soon you will be able to paint your nails the same colour as the bottoms of those soles with a bottle of “Rouge Louboutin.” 

Each 16-faceted glass bottle has an 8-inch stiletto-like cap featuring a red underside, just like its muse. The spiky lid is the same height as the Ballerina Ultima, which is the brand’s tallest shoe so you can not only match your bag and shoes but match your nails too.

“The red sole was born from red nail polish. I am giving back to nails what he shoes took from the nails many years ago.”




Virgin and Sir Richard Branson are past masters at using PR to their advantage, so I wasn’t surprised to see them do it again this week for the launch of their new summer service. This time however it wasn’t based around a stunt which required Sir Richard to dress up, but instead used the power of storytelling.

Bring Rufus Home

@richardbranson @VirginTrains #bringrufushome left on the train today – we are desperate for his safe return  8:24 PM – 8 Jun 2014


When 7 year old Ted McCaffery thought he had left his beloved Rufus bear on the train, he was distraught. His mother was desperate, so she decided to go to the very top and tweeted a plea for help to Sir Richard Branson.

As footage from CCTV was to later show, Rufus hadn’t in fact been left on a Virgin Train after all, and happily Rufus was found and returned to Ted by a neighbour.

A happy ending to a potentially sad event but by no means the end of this story.

It turns out that toys account for over half of the items of lost property left on Virgin Trains and that amounts to a lot of anguish. This fact combined with the tweet and the hurt that Ted had clearly been feeling struck a chord with Sir Richard. He asked his staff to come up with ideas that would help ensure any lost toys would arrive home safe and sound in future.


Their solution was the Virgin Trains Teddy Tracker. Special trackers that can be personalised and tied around teddy’s paw. This means that the bear can be identified and, if lost and handed over to Virgin Trains staff, can be sent on their way home.

“As anyone who has young children will know, losing a favourite toy can be heart-breaking, and we know it can often ruin a family day out. We were so touched by the message from Ted’s mother that our staff have been working hard to come up with a solution. And that’s when we had the idea of creating a tracker that you can tie onto your teddy” said Sir Richard at the service’s launch

“It’s so simple but by promising to return any missing toys we really hope that it will help to ease any stress or anxiety that parents might have when taking a trip with their children and ensure every customer’s journey is that little bit better over the summer holidays.”

To further help ensure the safe onward travel of lost teddies, Virgin Trains has also added extra manpower to its priority boarding team who will be asked to be on the lookout for passengers travelling over the summer holidays who need a bit of extra help, whether travelling with lots of luggage or with young children. 

Dutch Courage

Dutch Courage

All sorts of brands have all sorts of stories, even Dutch brands of pea soup!

Thanks to Sarah Richardson for pointing me in the direction of this one.

Dutch courage

The etymology of “Dutch courage” is most often traced back to the Thirty Years’ War, but there are a number of versions about its exact source. One version states that Dutch gin was used by English soldiers for its warming properties in cold weather and its calming effects before battle; another version states that English soldiers noted jenever’s bravery-inducing effects on Dutch soldiers and dubbed it “Dutch Courage”. 

However, if you were to look for a modern source of Dutch Courage you probably wouldn’t need to look further than the non-alcoholic erwtensoep (pea soup) of Dutch brand Unox. It helps provide the courage and the reward for the now traditional “Nieuwjaarsduik” – New Year’s dive – at Scheveningen, the Netherlands’ main beach resort.

The very first recorded Dutch new year’s dive, which officially requires the participation of a minimum of 25 dive ‘heroes’,  took place on January 1, 1960 in Zandvoort.  A local swimming club decided it would be a good way to start the year, with a plunge in the bracing and refreshing sea.

Five years later, in 1965, the first dive in Scheveningen took place and it became a regular but relatively small annual event with hundreds, rather than thousands, participating. 

All was to change some 20 years later when, in 1997, an insightful Unox employee recognised the potential in linking the brand, which had long been seen as warming and nourishing, with the event. He suggested sponsoring the dive, rewarding every participant with a free bowl of warming pea soup to counteract the often very cold water temperatures.


The first “Unox New Year’s dive” took place on 1 January 1998 and, with the exception of one year when temperatures were deemed to be too low, it has become an annual and national – even international – event. It is front page news, is regularly shown on television and nowadays even attracts tourists from many countries.

So perhaps it wasn’t so surprising that on January 1st 2012, with the sun shining over Scheveningen, the temperature a not unreasonable 7 degrees,  as midday finally arrived, over 10,000 divers set off wearing their brightly coloured and clearly Unox – branded hats and gloves. Some added other assorted fancy dress. They raced towards the freezing North Sea, all wanting to be the first in the water.

In fact 2012 was a record breaking year across Holland with over 36,000 participants in the 80+ “Nieuwjaarsduiks” including ones in Amsterdam, De Meern, Rotterdam and Wassenaarseslag. Thousands more watched, millions saw it on TV and read about it in the papers.

The Scheveningen event remains the most popular and Unox remains the lead sponsor of the event. Nowadays the entry fee is €3 but participants receive a goody bag with the now traditional Unox hat, a commemorative pennant and a special edition pack of Unox pea soup. €1 from every entry fee is donated directly to a local good cause. 

It is therefore both a body-warming and heart-warming event for those brave enough or still hung over to take part in and has further allowed Unox to cement its place in Dutch culture

A fashion fairy tale, a marketing master class

A fashion fairy tale, a marketing master class

Following conversations this week with a client who was wearing a wrap dress, and a colleague who was surprised at what he thought was my sudden interest in fashion, I thought I ought to write the story I talked to them about… 

A fashion fairy tale, a marketing master class

The Diane von Fürstenberg story is a fashion fairy tale and an interesting lesson in branding.

The fashion narrative runs something like this; a beautiful, free-spirited, young, European princess arrives in New York in the early 1970s and makes her fortune, is pictured on the cover of Newsweek before she is 30, but then loses her way in business. She moves to Paris, gets divorced and then remarried thereby losing her entitlement to use the title Princess.

Then in her 50s she stages a comeback and is now running a business that is more successful than ever, with 85 stores worldwide as well as working for numerous women’s causes. She is on the board of Vital Voices, a global organisation to support female leaders.

The lesson in branding begins in her childhood. Looking back she once told Oprah Winfrey that as a little girl she “didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be – an independent woman, who drives her own cars and pays her own bills”.

Then in in 1970, with a $30,000 investment, she began designing women’s clothes; “The minute I knew I was about to be Egon’s (that’s Prince Egon of Fürstenberg ‘s) wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts.” 

Shortly afterwards she met with the then Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland, who declared her designs “absolutely smashing” and so had her name listed on the Fashion Calendar for New York Fashion Week, a vital stepping stone in building her brand.

However at the core of her brand and the fashion narrative is THE dress.


Dubbed “The Most Empowering Dress Ever” by Marie Claire in 2014, 40 years after its launch, it was a wrap over dress made of jersey without buttons or zips.

Her insight into its design came from her own observations, not formal market research, as she explained in her 1998 autobiography, Diane, A Signature Life; “I had no focus groups, no marketing surveys, no plan. All I had was an instinct that women wanted a fashion option besides hippie clothes, bell-bottoms and stiff pantsuits that hid their femininity… The dresses made sense. They were sexy and practical. There were very few businesswomen at the time, and the few in management tended to play down their gender by dressing more like men than like women”

“It allowed women to go to work and still feel like a woman. I scribbled a little something on a white cube in one of my first ads and it is still true today: ‘Feel like a woman, wear a dress.’ Your most authentic self is always your most powerful self.’”

The choice of material was a very conscious one. Asked to explain it she noted that it is female designers – “Coco Chanel, Donna Karan, me” – who dress women in jersey, “because we know it feels great and lets you get on with your day, and we care about that.”

When asked about its undeniable sex appeal she famously replied; “Well, if you’re trying to slip out without waking a sleeping man, zips are a nightmare.”

It was, and indeed still is, a dress for women who choose clothes for freedom, movement and self-determination. “That’s what my brand does,” she says. “We sell confidence.”  And that confidence comes from the combination of comfort and glamour. 

The concept of a wrap design wasn’t something new; it’s a technique which probably pre-dates sewing and is how women still wear their clothes in many parts of the world. Dior had translated the idea into high fashion in the Sixties but what made the von Fürstenberg dress was the cut, the cloth and the neckline – it was pretty, practical and, if required, provocative.

Within two years she’d sold five million dresses and was featured on the cover of Newsweek. The cover was intended to be Gerald Ford, who had just won his first Republican Presidential Primary, but was changed at the last minute. The accompanying article declared her “the most marketable woman since Coco Chanel.”

Talking to The Guardian newspaper recently she admitted that she often “took that dress for granted, even though it paid my bills, paid for my children’s education, my apartment on Fifth Avenue and my house in the country. To be honest, sometimes I even resented it. But now, finally, I see: this dress is actually bigger than me. I am just a conduit for the dress. … It is so much the essence of my brand. I became who I am, because of that dress, because the dress is everything my brand stands for.” 


The old rascal

The old rascal

This week a story courtesy of a bottle of cider, in particular the label on the back of a bottle of Thatchers Old Rascal.

It reads 

Legend has it that every night, under the cover of darkness, a wily old fox crept out of his den at the bottom of our orchard and tiptoed his way to the cider store to help himself to fresh supplies.

No matter how hard we tried we just couldn’t keep the fox away from his favourite tipple.

You’d regularly hear the cry “The Old Rascal been at it again” and so the name “Old Rascal” was born

Short and, like the cider, medium sweet. Whether or not it’s true or a little piece of whimsy developed by the old rascals at Thatchers doesn’t really matter, as either way it’s a tale that helps build the personality of the brand.