Working as a fashion writer and stylist in New York City, Catherine Smith saw an opportunity. In the crowded fashion market, most retailers carry major labels such as Gucci and Prada but aren’t willing to risk their business on new talent. At the same time, early-stage designers are releasing their luxury products on Instagram, but lack an avenue to profitably sell their products to the public.
A new niche
Based on these observations, Smith took a chance. She left her job at Condé Nast to get a Masters in Fashion Studies at Parsons and start Plan de Ville, an e-commerce site that showcases high-quality, exclusive pieces from emerging designers—defined as within their first five seasons of work. “I saw a white space in fashion retail, as no one e-commerce site existed solely to carry emerging luxury designers,” she says.
Launched in November 2014, Plan de Ville offers exclusive selections of women’s apparel, fine jewelry, handbags, and footwear from designers’ debut collections. It then pairs these selections with one-on-one interviews which are displayed on the site to introduce the next generation of luxury fashion designers to a global audience. “So if a customer is at a party, the risk is low that other women will have that exact same dress,” Smith says. “And when people comment on her great dress, she can talk about how it was made by this talented designer who just graduated from Parsons, which makes her outfit so much more meaningful.”
The combination of exclusive selections and designer personalization has been a recipe for success. Today, the online retailer carries 50 labels, revenue is skyrocketing, and Plan de Ville has been featured in major publications such as Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle.
Discovering the fashion consumer
Smith’s interest in fashion dates back to her days as a graduate student in Fashion Studies at Parsons Design School in New York. While attending Couture Week in Paris, Smith realized that people love to stand out. “Putting on a beautiful dress from a luxury brand enhances self-esteem,” she says. “It makes the consumer feel special, unique, and part of a community or movement.”
“You need to understand the psychology of the people coming to your site and give them products that represent who they are and what they want—at a price they’re willing to spend.” – Catherine Smith
The future of fashion
The fashion industry is rapidly changing, and Smith’s goal is to be at the forefront of this transformation. She believes the future lies in well-thought out, community-based brands with carefully crafted narratives. “Glossier is a good example – they have high brand equity because of their thoughtful approach to how they communicate and engage.” The luxury consumer is looking for curation, stories, and a sense of meaning, and above that, she wants to stand out yet fit in with the things she wears.”
“Gone are the days of luxury retail of the past, and the new era in retail is all about speed, logistics, and efficiency. Add in expert curation and access to high quality product with a great story, and you've got a winning combination.“ – Catherine Smith
Winning the fashion game
Smith is motivated by a desire to create a product line the company can take to Amazon. “Some designers can be bit a stand-offish in regards to being sold on Amazon directly, and I want to change that perception,” she says.
The company plans to collaborate more closely with Amazon, which Smith believes can help the fashion industry drive revenue growth. “The consumers I’m targeting are already Amazon customers,” she says. “And when I look at Amazon, I see really smart pricing, scale, and logistical efficiency that designers could never build on their own. I truly believe that Amazon will win the fashion game, and I want Plan de Ville to be a part of it.”
Learn how Plan de Ville increased its average order value by 60% with Amazon Pay here.