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Desiree Gruber is the model for a multihyphenate career.
The low-key Gruber is the chief executive officer of the public relations, production and management agency Full Picture; runs the scarf brand Theodora & Callum; is the eight-time Emmy-nominated creator and executive producer of “Project Runway,” and counts Victoria’s Secret as a client since the first fashion show in 1995.
This story first appeared in the February 6, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Gruber founded Modelinia.com in 2009, a content platform dedicated to all things modeling, and the site had more than 3 million visits and 12 million page views last year. She also orchestrates the licensing and manages deals for Heidi Klum’s lines for New Balance, Babies ‘R’ Us, QVC and Coty fragrances, as well as her p.r. and digital projects.
“I bring projects and ideas to life. I’m so interested in everything that is happening. I live at the crossroads of fashion, technology, music, hospitality, entertainment and television. When I say TV, I think content and all of those things apply to fashion,” Gruber says. “My original training in p.r. is an incredible master’s degree in creating brands because that is what telling stories is all about.”
Klum, a longtime friend of Gruber’s, said that when Gruber first explained to her what p.r. was, it didn’t make any sense. “We would hang out, and I asked her, ‘What is this “publicist job” — and can you do any publicizing around me?’”
Gruber told Klum that when she had done something of “importance” she would start representing her, and when Klum began modeling for Victoria’s Secret in the late Nineties, Gruber worked her magic publicist powers.
“At that time, it was kind of a big deal to be one of the new Angels because everyone was established. There was Stephanie Seymour, Tyra Banks and Helena Christensen, and I was the new kid on the block,” Klum said. “Desiree said that’s an exciting story, called the newspapers and told people about me — and when they went to the show, they were interested because she created a buzz about me being a new model.”
Gruber and Klum then went on to create “Project Runway” with Harvey Weinstein in 2004 — which wrapped up filming in 10th and 11th seasons this summer. The 11th season, featuring Zac Posen, premiered on Jan. 24.
Elaborating on her TV projects, Gruber steers the conversation in an online direction, noting that Full Picture works closely with Brian Bedol of Bedrocket Media Ventures on Look TV, one of YouTube’s premium content channels dedicated to fashion and beauty. According to industry sources, the agency and Bedrocket’s partnership received $5 million in funding from YouTube to develop the platform, which will see its one-year anniversary in April.
Programming is focused on a group of four women in New York City — Daniella Pineda, Sally Lyndley, Valentine Bureau and Victoria Floethe — and videos explore fashion, beauty, sex, shopping and street style. To date, the channel has seen more than 4 million views and almost 87,000 subscribers.
While Gruber calls it an “incredible journey” to incubate this type of fashion content online, she acknowledges that creating video content, especially on a daily basis, is hard.
“How-to videos is not what is resonating with women out there. They have to connect with the woman who is telling them what to do,” Gruber says. “You need to create a personality before you give them this advice. You have three minutes to capture someone’s attention and have them want to come back and watch again.”
Besides maintaining Look TV, Gruber recently collaborated with Arianna Huffington on another digital project. She worked closely with Huffington on developing an app called GPS for the Soul that measures the heart rate and provides a guide of things that help the user achieve peace.
“My account has pictures of my children, music that I love, pictures of nature and poetry. It takes anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds to help you to de-stress,” Huffington says of the app that launched at 2013’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Users can place their finger on the camera lens of their device to measure their heart rate, and a breathing bar helps breathing return to its pre-stress state. “It’s fine to have stress, but you don’t want it to accumulate,” Huffington says.
Just listening to Gruber describe her various projects is enough to exhaust anyone, but somehow the warm, ever-curious and engaging executive juggles them all while maintaining a family with her husband, Kyle MacLachlan. She seems to know everyone from Silicon Valley titans to A-list actresses but somehow remains relatively under the radar (by choice) in the fashion world, despite her two-year-old collection Theodora & Callum, which she cofounded with Stefani Greenfield.
Carried in more than 350 doors worldwide at retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Shopbop, Scoop and Intermix, the collection contains scarves, jewelry, hats and convertibles (dresses, caftans, scarf tops, pants and a maxiskirt that converts to a tube dress) in colorful prints inspired by Gruber’s and Greenfield’s extensive travels. Twenty percent of sales come from the company’s digital flagship at theodoraandcallum.com, and Gruber added that the return rate is less than 10 percent.
“The dream of Internet retailing is that each person who buys something sells one for me also. If a woman in Dallas buys it, she has the ability to go and sell a scarf for me also. We create a forum for them to spend time and tweet, ‘Here is a photo of me wearing Theodora & Callum.’ I then have a salesman out there,” Gruber said. For her the digital space has allowed for the creation of brand ambassadors all over the world — whether it’s a woman in Dallas or Kerry Washington.
Greenfield, also chief creative officer at The Jones Group Inc., met Gruber 17 years ago, and the two became fast friends. In 2004, Greenfield hired Full Picture to do the p.r. for Scoop, and when Greenfield sold Scoop in 2008, the two wanted to continue working together. Their first endeavor was the HSN shopping show “Curations” in March 2009, followed by Theodora & Callum just a few years later.
“We literally pioneered fashion lifestyle television. We really merged content and commerce on shopping TV [via HSN],” Greenfield said of the coming together of fashion and entertainment, or what she refers to as “fashtainment.” “In the language of brands today, this is the common vernacular, merging what we see with what we sell. We were on to something.”
Greenfield, who started a consulting business out of Full Picture’s office after the debut of “Curations,” said that in the “midst of it all,” she and Gruber wanted to do something on their own.
The duo didn’t want to make clothes, so they decided on founding a line of scarves (named after each of their only children), since they both loved wearing them so much. A scarf is universal and it fits everyone — but the multitude of prints the two use in their designs are what allow wearers to impart their own personal style.
Gruber discusses the brand with the passion she brings to everything. And clearly she’s all about the details — from organizing a truck of gifts for Hurricane Sandy-stricken towns on Long Island during the holidays to the latest cool app being developed in Silicon Valley. She’s all about the minutiae.
Take the trip she made to Bergdorf Goodman last weekend, one of many she makes to the Fifth Avenue store to see how Theodora & Callum is performing. Gruber couldn’t resist merchandising the assortment.
As a confused sales associate in the department’s contemporary 5F floor approached Gruber about her overzealous behavior, the executive charmed the saleswoman with a simple sentence — one that perfectly displayed her reluctance to put herself front and center.
“I’m Callum’s mom,” Gruber said.