CEO Talk | Bonnie Takhar, Chief Executive Officer and President, Halston

Bonnie Takhar, courtesy of Halston

NEW YORK, United States The trend for showing collections online, in lieu of runway shows, has been gathering steam in recent seasons. But, perhaps no initiative has been as ambitious as that of Halston, which debuted its own video presentation for Fall 2009 this past week.

Whereas brands like Marc Bouwer and Viktor & Rolf have previously shown online videos of looks going down the runway, Halston instead developed a bespoke, elaborate video presentation featuring Dree Hemingway, complete with signature music and a real fashion-meets-film concept.

Since the launch, Halston has successfully seeded the videos on fashion sites and blogs the world over, and the video has also been aired by major websites like Style.com. Of course, not everyone has responded positively — but that doesn’t happen on the runway either. And, it’s undeniable that the video has created an overwhelming interest in Halston, exemplified by a Google Trends search which shows highest levels of search volume ever on ‘Halston’ in January and February.

I sat down with Halston CEO Bonnie Takhar in the brand’s sleek SoHo showroom to see the new collection, discuss the goals and results of the video campaign thus far, as well as Halston’s plans for the future.

BoF: Tell us about Halston’s new online video initiative and how it was conceived, developed and produced.

Halston has always been considered an innovative brand as he pioneered luxury American fashion. When we launched Halston, we specifically wanted to maintain this groundbreaking spirit and I am personally very much in favor of exploring highly creative avenues especially with marketing strategy. We wanted to maintain the brand’s luxury value but also make them accessible to the new generations and essentially broaden our demographic.

In August of last year, I was thinking about the merger of fashion, art, music and film and just knew that all components were key to the new media environment. A music style video launched via the internet and backed by a viral campaign was the perfect platform to encapsulate and promote the Fall 2009 collection innovatively, strategically and beautifully.

The video was produced by a London based agency called Blink Productions who have won numerous awards for music videos and work with the best creative directors in the business. We wanted to showcase the world of Halston and not just our product. Each vignette within the video is a world within a world and provides the viewer with a myriad of scenarios. I notice something new each time I watch it.

The whole concept was specifically geared towards the online audience starting with an email teaser campaign and culminating with collection images sent all to all. We wanted to offer a real 360-degree view of the collection.

BoF: Given the high-level of production quality, this clearly wasn’t cheap. So why did you decide to launch it now, in the worst economic environment in a generation?

It was the right approach to take and has achieved our objectives at a brand awareness level, demographically and has had a positive impact on our ecommerce partners. In fact, the concept was already completed and we were assessing production facilities in August of last year, several months prior to the global economic storms.

This new economic climate is going to produce an explosion of creativity in all forms, which is especially relevant to the fashion industry. Already we are seeing a marked shift in values that can be positively reflected through the industry.

BoF: You’ve succeeded in creating significant online buzz on blogs and fashion websites around the world. An emerging concept of branding on Internet is that, more and more, brands are owned by the communities in which they are discussed online, not by the companies that own them in the traditional sense of the word. How do you feel about losing ‘control’ of the Halston brand in this way?

Blogs are the most prolific form of new and creative journalism. They are becoming and will continue to be a highly impactful source of information for the general consumer. It’s great that technology allows every one of us to voice our opinion to others, we can only learn from it.

I don’t personally view these online brand discussions as losing control but as a way of garnering consumer opinion and feedback, which will ultimately benefit brands that accept and validate this form of consumer interaction. Knowledge like this is invaluable and key to forming an emotional connection with the target audience.

BoF: With all the online chatter, why don’t you have an ecommerce element to your website to leverage the buzz?

The online market for luxury is a modern day phenomenon and even up till a few years ago, an undervalued resource. Consumer purchasing perception has dramatically shifted in favor of online boutiques. I think that Net-a-Porter.com has really been the leader in the field and has helped to create the online market as it stands today. Here at Halston, we have a great business with Net-a-Porter and it continues to grow season on season. We are also developing our business with Neimanmarcus.com. Many customers genuinely prefer the online experience especially now when many may want to be more discreet about their purchases in such a bad economy.

The video has definitely had a strong impact with our online retailers. Several recent deliveries have now sold out on key styles. It is really interesting to see how the modern luxury shopper has fully embraced the digital age.

We are certainly planning to launch our own ecommerce site and looking to determine the appropriate juncture… We’ll keep you updated!

BoF: How does the video fit with your broader strategy of relaunching Halston and how will you take this forward in seasons to come? Will there ever be a Halston runway show again?

The Fall 2009 video has been an ideal vehicle for our branding strategy. As we build the business we will inevitably launch brand extensions that will appeal to a broader consumer demographic with multiple price points. This initiative has allowed us to out reach to a consumer that is now aware of the Halston brand and lifestyle in a way that a traditional runway show could never have achieved.

But never say never! Halston will always look forward but that’s not to say that a runway show with a difference may yet again resurface.

Halston Spring/Summer 2009

CEO Talk is BoF’s forum for in-depth discussions with the fashion industry’s global decision makers, conducted by founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed.