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The Cools: Selling the Personal Touch

Olivier van Themsche’s new project is a social network, a platform for style and an e-commerce site with a market curated by "ambassadors."

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NEW YORK — How about a forum where your trendy society friends could sell their own creations and vintage castoffs while recommending brands or items to other like-minded types?

This story first appeared in the June 27, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That’s the idea behind Olivier van Themsche’s Web site, The Cools, debuting today.

The Cools is a social network, a platform for style and an e-commerce site with a marketplace curated by “ambassadors” such as Maripol, Lola Schnabel, Dree Hemingway, Eugenie Niarchos, Lauren Santo Domingo, Fernanda Niven, Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, Agyness Deyn and the granddaughters of skin-care legend Jacques Courtin-Clarins, Virginie, Claire, Jenna and Prisca.

And the network’s “advisers” include Antoine Arnault, Lapo Elkann and Erin Fetherston.

“These are people we like,” van Themsche said of the network’s ambassadors. “We like their style and their voice. The objective of the site is to have a lot of different voices. The ambassadors were early adopters of the site. We’re working with them to make the site better.”

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The Cools has more than 10,000 registered members and 50,000 people have visited, van Themsche said, adding, “We’re targeting 250,000 at end of the year and 1 million users by the end of 2013.

“Brands, designers, creators and artists have the opportunity not only to sell their stuff but to tell their story,” van Themsche said. “And not just through a paragraph. They can use the site as a blog, with photos, videos and links.”

Van Themsche claims that there’s no other site quite like The Cools. “Some sites are close to it,” he said, “but there’s no site that does exactly what we’re doing.” Pinterest has 11 million unique monthly users that curate boards, but no marketplace for selling. Copious, an online marketplace where buyers and sellers are linked by Facebook, offers no content. “We’re basically trying to combine these two, the self-expression you’d have on Tumblr and the full true marketplace,” van Themsche said. “On The Curation, you have [inventory] and people doing pure curation, but products are not for sale. In terms of expression, there’s Facebook and Twitter. In a way, we’re trying to be like a form of Twitter — a Twitter for style, where people follow each other but get visual content with the opportunity to sell and buy stuff.”

The Cools uses member profiles to put users in touch with bloggers and sellers that share their tastes. New members are asked a series of sartorial questions as part of the membership process.

Products for sale on The Cools are eclectic. “We want to chase all the small designers and really interesting brands,” van Themsche said. “At this point, we’re not the best platform for big, huge brands. It’s great for stores that don’t have a big Web site with e-commerce functionalities. People come to The Cools to discover designers or artists. We already have thousands of products for the site, and really interesting products.”

Examples include a creepy rattlesnake bowler hat, $285; a vintage Chloé necklace, $317; a Versace blue crocodile handbag, $1,700, and oil paintings by Francoise Watin, $1,000. The Cools doesn’t handle any selling or fulfilment functions. Like eBay, that’s left to the sellers themselves. Transactions will be conducted through PayPal. Van Themsche said most of The Cools’ revenues will come from professional sellers.

Van Themsche, who was a night-life entrepreneur and owned a video-game development studio in France 10 years ago, received financial backing from private investors such as Bob Pittman and Julio Santo Domingo. Antoine Arnault, son of LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, van Themsche’s classmate in Paris, offered to advise the fledgling Web site.

“He’s always been hyper-creative and involved in cultural events,” said Arnault, “always the one to want to create new things, meet new people. He was the ‘It’ guy from age 10 until now. When he said, ‘I have a project,’ I was in charge of Louis Vuitton’s communications at the time. I thought [The Cools] was so interesting that I proposed to be on the advisory board.”

Arnault said The Cools is smart to build on social networking. “The user needs a bit more content and wants to be enabled to shop, discuss and discover.” he said. “It’s a platform where anything can be discovered, seen and bought.” Asked if Louis Vuitton would collaborate with The Cools or create exclusive products for the site, Arnault said, “Louis Vuitton is a brand that has its own retail network and has always been very prudent. But for other brands, definitely. If it’s successful and it works, it will be good for some of the smaller brands in the group.”

Erin Fetherston, another adviser, said, “I thought it was a brilliant and unique concept. Lately, since I’ve been aware of The Cools, social commerce is being talked about more and more. I haven’t seen any comparable site. The Cools comes from a fashion perspective. What they’re creating is an experience. You can build a mood board and shop and see what other people are collecting. The mood boards help you relate to people as tastemakers.

“Bigger brands are going to happen,” Fetherston added. “It’s very modern and forward to have a platform where the individual can participate and share the same amount of space as a corporation. I definitely am working with Olivier to look for interesting ways to partner with The Cools. I could foresee me participating in many categories.”

Von Themsche projected retail sales of $30 million in 2013 and $120 million in 2014. The Cools’ revenues will come from a 12 percent commission charged on product sales. “It’s going to take a little time for us to get bigger designers and bigger brands, but they will follow. We’re going to continue to grow our community of style-conscious people.”

Today, The Cools will present the first edition of its Jamboree at the Old School on the corner of Mott Street and Prince Street, with music, food and 15 rooms of product curated by Adam Greene and Anna Sheffield of Big Bang, Selima Optique, Untitled Art Ltd. and What Goes Around Comes Around.

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