Cameron Diaz has a surprising new role.
The actress has taken a stake in contemporary footwear and accessories brand Pour La Victoire where she will assume the position of artistic director.
Although she endorses watchmaker Tag Heuer, the PLV deal marks Diaz’s first real foray into fashion in a position that will allow her to impact the brand’s collections. “I don’t do endorsements really. This is completely different,” Diaz told WWD in an exclusive interview. “Being influential in a brand and in its [advertising] campaigns interests me. I love fashion. It’s a large part of my life. What I wear is looked at. It influences what other people wear because that’s just the world we live in.”
Diaz, who does not have a background in fashion, jumped at the chance to make her mark on the New York-based label, when a PLV board member and friend Dave Baram invited her to the company’s showroom roughly a year ago. Initially, Diaz’s visit was meant more as a meet-and-greet than a business proposition, but according to the actress, she soon realized there was an opportunity for her.
What will be difficult for Diaz is sidestepping the “celebrity-turned-designer” cliché that can quickly fizzle. While Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Victoria Beckham are the strong exceptions, it’s hard to forget Sarah Jessica Parker’s underwhelming stint at Halston or even worse, Lindsay Lohan’s disastrous run as Ungaro’s artistic director. “I can’t speak about anyone else’s work ethic,” Diaz said in response to the Lohan reference. “I know how I work and I know when something is important to me. I’ll try my best and hope for the best. Not everyone succeeds or fails all the time. All I can do is engage with it.”
She also underlined that her role is a “true partnership” with PLV.
Diaz is referring to the fact that she owns an undisclosed stake in PLV Studio Inc., parent company of PLV and its sister brand Kelsi Dagger, a lower-priced contemporary accessories brand targeting a younger-teen-to-twentysomething consumer. PLV Studio, which also licenses bags for French Connection, is owned by VMG Partners, a private equity firm that invested in the company in December 2011.
Even though the A-lister has a stake in PLV Studio, Diaz only has creative control over the higher-end PLV, which sells its wares from $200 to $500. Kelsi Dagger’s prices range from $100 to $250.
“Pour La Victoire gives me the opportunity to create something timeless,” Diaz said, while admitting some trepidation. “There’s a lot I have to learn about the business. I’m interested in learning how collections are created. The word ‘fun,’ I want to say that it’s going to be fun, but it’s deeper than that.”
As artistic director, Diaz will have a hand in the brand’s handbag and shoe collections, in addition to merchandising and marketing and advertising.
For an early sense of Diaz’s style, one need not look further than PLV’s current advertising campaign with Jessica Hart. According to PLV, Diaz was on the set when Terry Richardson shot the campaign, and she provided input. Now that the deal is inked, Diaz will have a larger voice in the direction of upcoming campaigns.
In terms of product, while Diaz’s first collection will not hit the market until the spring, PLV will roll out a fall and holiday campaign called “Cameron’s Picks.” This will essentially take the form of a curated selection by Diaz from PLV’s current collection, and it will be highlighted on the company’s Web site, Twitter and Facebook pages and the e-commerce sites of its retail partners.
Diaz is most looking forward to developing a “functional,” yet fashionable and “quality” shoe collection, first.
“I live in heels 10 hours of the day,” she said with a chuckle. “I know comfort in shoes. There are some shoes you would die to wear but they are painful. When I was younger, it was a fight to the death with my shoes and who was going to win. I want to have really great, functional shoes that are staples of the line.”
Diaz is hoping to do the same for bags by making them “sensible” by adding more pockets, for instance, but also weaving in luxurious touches.
“If you’re spending $500 on a bag, it should be your partner in life,” she said. “That’s what a bag is for women. It holds everything important in your life as long as you’re carrying it.”
She repeated the term “aspirational,” but emphasized the affordable aspect of PLV, which drew her to the brand.
“We want the brand to be accessible for that working girl,” she said. “I work hard for my money. I want it [the collection] to be sensible, whether you have a lot of money or you are scraping together pennies.”
According to PLV chief executive officer Chris Nakatani, who joined the company in January from Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., where he served as president of wholesale, bringing Diaz on was “opportunistic” for the brand.
“She will engage her friends and associates to wear the product. That will be positive,” he said, while explaining that the PLV customer will be able to identify with Diaz.
“Our target customer is 35 years old, she’s affluent, she’s polished casual,” he said. “Cameron is very accessible, very down-to-earth. She earns a lot of money but she likes to know what she’s spending it on.”
Nakatani said that although Diaz won’t be the face of PLV — she does not want to be in front of the camera — her association with the brand will be “subliminal and subtle” and known to the consumer.
For Nakatani, the move is part of a larger strategy for the brand, which is in the process of re-branding in order to reach the next stage of growth.
“The biggest thing I’ve tried to bring is how the footwear and the handbags pair,” he said, referring to similar hardware and other details. “We don’t want them to match but pair, kind of like food and wine.”
Currently, he said the business is evenly divided between handbag and footwear sales. Since he’s joined the company, he has thought a lot about where PLV fits in the accessories market, and cites as competitors Tory Burch, Kate Spade, Rebecca Minkoff, Stuart Weitzman and Michael Kors.
For Nakatani, the next iteration of PLV’s re-branding is all about Diaz.
On the product side, the ceo hopes Diaz’s influence will translate to infusing the brand with a more “casual” style to offset more specialized, event-driven bags and shoes. According to the ceo, Diaz’s personal style will play a central role in the expansion of PLV’s everyday wear.
“When I first met Cameron, I asked her, ‘When do you wear jeans?’ She said, ‘Almost every day,’” the ceo said, explaining that the actress’ everyday wardrobe would be a sort of inspiration for PLV’s new direction.
If successful, other accessories categories, such as jewelry and sunglasses, will likely follow.
Although he would not provide sales figures, the ceo said PLV is looking for aggregated year-over-year growth of 20 percent and its retail distribution to double in the next two years. Started in 2007, PLV is carried at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, among others. The ceo hopes to extend the brand’s reach in Asia and Europe.
While that all sounds ambitious, it assumes Diaz’s appointment will be a growth driver and not viewed as a cynical attempt to bring attention to a scrappy midsize accessories company. And Nakatani is aware of that.
“The word ‘authentic’ is very important,” he said. “As we took a look at a number of brand associations and endorsements, one common theme we saw in the successful ones was the consistent contribution and pulse from the celebrity.”
He explained that the best partnerships had the celebrity engaged in cultivating the brand’s growth.
“We are not going to do a capsule collection that Cameron has her signature on because that doesn’t seem authentic,” he said. “We want her to have her influence on the entire line. This just can’t be another celebrity endorsement deal and that’s why she took an equity stake in the company. She has a vested interest in its long-term success.”
At first, David Giordano, PLV Studio creative director, confessed that the hire “seemed inauthentic.
“I’ve seen it done before,” Giordano said, referring to hiring a celebrity. “But what was exciting was that she wanted to come on staff and be part of the design team. She came in with this unblemished idea of what could be done. She didn’t come in with any preconceived notions.”
Giordano said while PLV wasn’t looking for a celebrity endorsement, it will likely benefit from Diaz’s life experience, which includes her background in film and exposure to travel, fashion and her A-list circles.
Diaz won Giordano over when they spoke about the contemporary market and her vision for the brand.
“Her career and life is about marketing and public perception,” he said. “She brings an expertise and vision for the brand that no one on the team has.”
And Diaz’s involvement will be “real,” said Giordano, who was putting together the actress’ schedule. While juggling a busy film career will be difficult — Diaz is currently shooting a movie and has a handful of films in production — she will take part in meetings either at the brand’s New York office or via Skype.
Whether Diaz will be a game-changer for the brand is still up in the air, but what PLV is currently working on is fine-tuning the product and launching an e-commerce site.
Social media will also play a large role in upping PLV’s platform. The company intends to spread the word about its new artistic director and her work on Twitter and Facebook, in hopes of expanding its reach.
With Diaz’s star still ablaze in Hollywood, PLV will likely accomplish the public relations bit rather easily. But whether the brand, with its new star by its side, can rise above its midmarket contemporaries once the hype fades, is another matter entirely.
“My general outlook on life is, I never try to imagine myself anywhere,” Diaz said, addressing her viability in fashion. “I just end up where I hope to be. I’m sort of focusing on what’s in front of me. It keeps me sane. I don’t worry about the future. It would really be stressful if I were trying to get myself where I need to be. It’s worked for me so far.”