NEW YORK’S DIGITAL FORM DELIVERS BYTES AND SITES WITH STYLE.
Byline: Jessica Kerwin
To many of the refined minds of fashion, the Internet is more food court than five star — a beige-fronted taco stand next to a bland stir fry joint and no way to tell one from the other. But Farhad Farman-Farmaian and his partner, Asa Mader, have set out to change the way fashion snobs view the medium, by creating slick, highly interactive Web sites for some of the industry’s biggest names.
Though the partners are moving their growing company, Digital Form, into the requisite sunny SoHo loft, as many of their Silicon Alley peers have done before them, Farman-Farmaian and Mader, who first met during their undergraduate years at Brown University, are not your average nerds. They’re the kind of entrepreneurs that designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Oscar de la Renta are turning to for their digital needs. Hip companies like Harrison & Schriftman and the Standard Hotel have entrusted the duo with crafting their digital images.
“We view ourselves like a couture designer who wants to limit the number of pieces we produce,” said Farman-Farmaian. “Larger agencies are very competent, but aren’t as sensitive to detail. We put together a different team for every project so the look and feel is different. Sometimes a company requires something conservative and quiet, others want a look that’s bold and audacious.”
Digital Form, which Farman-Farmaian and Mader started up 2 1/2 years ago, first took on Internet and CD-ROM based projects for the United Nations; NASA; New York University, where the partners studied in the ITP program, and the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, before carving out a niche in the luxury fashion and media markets.
Now they’re working on an e-commerce mega-site where Italian luxury houses like Dolce & Gabbana and Moschino will each have their own boutique, each in its own style. And another fashion powerhouse has come to the firm after spending two years working with another Web development company, never launching its site. Mader said they couldn’t yet reveal who that new client is due to a strategy of “super stealth marketing.”
“Designers are starting to realize that a bad site can work against you,” Farman-Farmaian noted. “You’re exposing your brand to a whole new audience of people, and if people see a mediocre site, they’ll think that the company is mediocre.”
Some designers had been quick to put up a site, any site. “A year ago, people in the fashion world saw the Internet as a geek tool,” said Mader. “Now, they see it as an extension of their brand. In the last six months, they’ve embraced it.”
Most of the sites Digital Form is developing will be launched in the next few months, but Oscar de la Renta’s preliminary site, oscardelarenta.com, is already up and running. It hints at the stylish wit that the Digital Form team brings to bear on its projects.
On the site’s home page, the designer’s signature unfurls across a background of gray like a film’s opening credits. While the rest of the preview site is fairly bare-bones at the moment, it has already enticed more than 15,000 visitors to fill out a digital questionnaire.
Each project so far by Digital Form expresses its founders’ penchant for clean, uncluttered space and sophisticated way with animation. Many boast original sound, commissioned from a recent Juilliard grad.
“A lot of [Web site design] companies have nothing to do with the brands they represent,” said Ayshe Farman-Farmaian, Farhad’s sister and the company’s creative director, who earned her master’s degree in MIT’s Media Lab. “We live with a lot of these brands. They’re part of our lifestyles, and we have a shared culture.” The Farman-Farmaians are descendants of the Qajar Dynasty and their grandfather served as Iran’s prime minister in the early 1900s.
“We’re not into the Silicon Alley nightlife,” Mader added, “and we’re setting our company outside of that as well.” The Digital Form crew is more likely to be found dining at Moomba, relaxing at Joe’s Pub or attending a Dia center benefit than swapping business cards at some digital convention.
The partners say they also plan to keep their company smaller than other digital agencies, where employees now number in the thousands. But that might be more difficult than it sounds.
“We’ve been able to transcribe the identity of these brands into a new space,” said Farman-Farmaian. “Right now, there’s so much demand, we’re turning down three to five projects a week.”