PARIS — Sidney Toledano, Christian Dior’s chief executive officer, fielded plenty of calls in recent years from cell phone makers eager to partner with the French fashion firm on a stylish Dior-branded mobile.

Instead, Dior opted for a couture approach, creating its first technological product from scratch, including a miniature “twin” of the phone that a woman can clip to her purse or wear on a pendant, eliminating the need to dig through a handbag to answer a call.

This story first appeared in the May 21, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“This is a luxury approach,” said Toledano, unveiling the jewel-like device, which will retail from 3,500 euros, or about $5,100 at current exchange, in Dior boutiques starting next month. A deluxe model studded with 640 diamonds, which comes with an alligator sheath, runs up to 18,000 euros, or $27,000.

Toledano said Dior expects to sell between 30,000 and 60,000 units over the next year, limiting distribution to its 225 Dior boutiques and 300 select watch and jewelry specialty retailers worldwide. In an interview, he said he expects cell phones — for legions, a cheap, functional device — to move upscale, just like watches and handbags, for which well-heeled women now think nothing of shelling out thousands.

The French fashion house partnered with Paris-based firm ModeLabs, a custom design specialist, to create the clamshell-style Diorphone, which is targeted squarely at women. For example, the miniature companion phone — which boasts impressive sound quality despite its matchbook size — has a mirrored display screen than can double as a compact.

The main phone is loaded with subtle branding, from the “cannage” pattern etched into its scratchproof sapphire crystal casing to the icons on the high-definition display screen: a Lady Dior handbag for tools; an oval-shaped mirror for images. All the software, built-in videos and imagery are exclusive to Dior.

The same in-house team that created Dior’s Christal watch with couturier John Galliano was charged with the phone’s design. It will be unveiled tonight at Dior’s flagship on Avenue Montaigne here.

Citing positive feedback for the product in focus groups, Toledano said he anticipates strong demand worldwide, particularly in emerging markets where a young customer base and strong economic growth are fueling a boom in luxury products. This includes Russia, the Middle East, China and Hong Kong, along with tourist destinations such as Paris and Monte Carlo, he noted. Because of technological barriers, Diorphones that work in South Korea and Japan will be launched in a second phase.

Toledano said he expects the mini My Dior phone, which functions like a Bluetooth, will be a key attraction. Dior has an exclusive on the feature, conceived by ModeLabs, for more than a year. “It’s a real breakthrough,” he said.

Dior plans to sell the phones within its watch departments, starting in France on June 16, and has developed point-of-sale fixtures and display units for specialty retailers. An advertising campaign is being readied for the holiday selling period, and Dior is plotting a series of events and celebrity tie-ins to promote the phone.

A battalion of fashion firms lately has unveiled cell phone ventures, including Giorgio Armani, Levi’s, Ted Baker and Tag Heuer, following Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, each of which have sold around 500,000 units of their signature cells.

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