There’s an old rule of thumb in business that goes something like this: there’s always room at top. If you want your brand to stand apart from the crowd, head for the upper end of the luxury market where price is not an issue, competitors are few and customers place a premium on quality, craftsmanship and exclusivity.
It’s a business model that has worked for sports cars and fine scotch and lingerie, too: even through the recent recession, while growth stalled in the worldwide lingerie market, high-priced luxury labels boomed.
It’s also the business strategy behind Rococo Dessous, a new luxury brand whose launch last week included this headline-grabbing boast: with bra-and-panty sets going for up to $7,000 USD, Rococo instantly becomes the most expensive lingerie brand on the planet.
Sure, you can drop $2,000 or $3,000 on some couture underpinnings from Gaultier, Prada or Dolce and Gabbana. And a few premium lingerie labels that have been courting big spenders in the past few years with extravagant limited-edition garments decorated with jewels and carrying stratospheric price tags (think Agent Provocateur‘s $25,000 crystal bodysuit from 2011 or Fred and Ginger‘s $40,000 diamond set).
But those eye-popping examples were custom-order one-offs, more marketing than market-driven and designed to draw attention to the brands’ regular offerings. Rococo takes the opposite approach. Its ‘basic’ sets start at $2,500, but the sky’s the limit if you want to embellish your order with Swarovski crystals or other baubles.
If you can’t quite grasp the concept of underwear that might require a mortgage (and insurance!), consider this: Rococo‘s opulent pieces are literally worth their weight in gold. Thanks to cutting edge fabric technology, the company uses a revolutionary 24-karat gold thread in its panels and in the ornate embroidery that gives the brand its name.
The idea for all-gold lingerie came to Swiss entrepreneur Sascha Hertli a couple of years ago when he was working in the private banking sector in oil-rich Qatar. Dealing with Middle Eastern bank clients, Sascha told Lingerie Talk, “I realized they are totally crazy for gold. It was in everything but fashion.”
Sascha saw a market opportunity for gold-based apparel, but didn’t think of lingerie until he moved to New York and enrolled in Columbia University’s business school and also met Breanna Lee, a former Victoria’s Secret lingerie designer. They conceived the idea for an ultra-luxe brand and developed a business plan as Sascha’s class project.
“We saw a gap in the high-end lingerie market,” he said. “The most expensive pieces in the market were about $1,500 a set. There was a gap at the ultra-luxury end, either because no one wanted it or just that no one has tried it.”
“The idea got two reactions,” he added. “Either ‘this is crazy’ or ‘this could actually work’.”
Business school became an ideal testing environment for the concept, he said, “because there were people from all different countries there so we could test how to position Rococo in different markets.”
Sascha lined up New York investors for the brand and graduated from Columbia the same day as Rococo launched last month — with a couple of former professors on board as advisors.
Rococo‘s appeal is based on a simple, timeless truth: the irresistible allure of gold. The brand offers four style ranges, each named for one of history’s most glittering and indulged women: Russia’s Alexandra, Egypt’s Cleopatra, and France’s Marie Antoinette and Francoise (wife of Louis XIV).
“Kings and queens in ancient times used to wear gold,” Sascha said. “We’re bringing it back for the modern princess.”
What made this all possible was the development in 2011 of a 24K gold thread by Swiss textile manufacturer Bischoff Textil. Gold has been used in fabrics throughout history, but typically it was delicate, hard to clean and prone to rubbing or flaking off.
Bischoff’s patented method uses a vacuum process that applies gold to a polyester base thread “on an atomic level.” The resulting thread is stable, retains the qualities of fabric and — best news yet — the gold won’t come off when the garment is washed.
And, despite their metallic composition, Rococo sets weigh “only a few grams” more than fabric undergarments, Sascha said.
Each Rococo piece is hand-crafted in New York and can be viewed at private trunk shows or sales appointments that can be booked online. The brand is currently available in boutiques in Monaco and hopes to find high-end department store distributors in New York, London, Paris and the Middle East.
While the company builds its distribution network, it’s also developing new style ranges for its next collection. Look for a gold-and-white bridal range as well as a gold-on-red edition designed to appeal to the Asian market.
Here are some more images from Rococo Dessous‘ launch last week in New York.