I received a letter from Marie Gray, CEO of St. John Knit at home this week.
I assumed it would be about the economy. That’s why we hear from CEO’s these days, right?
It wasn’t. It was a 5 paragraph letter about a major change in the staple color of the staple fabric of the classic clothing line: the black Santana knit. For various reasons including the environmental impact of dyes, the fabric color dying process has changed over the years. Marie Gray writes that she had noticed that recent “black” collections had a bluish cast and had migrated far too close to their navy blue color. So, they innovated. They created a new process that would use less water and energy and produce a truer black that will be called “Caviar”.
Why does this matter to loyal customers like me? In short, your old stuff won’t match the new stuff. Part of the beauty of the items is that they last forever and you can mix and match items from lines and years. It is garanimals for grownups. The letter mentions that all stores and consultants have been armed with swatches of old black, navy, and new caviar for people to compare for themselves and prepare for the changes. It also reinforces St. John’s commitment to craftsmanship at a time when other brands are focused on discounting which re-reinforces why this is a brand worthy of of a weekend – as well as my loyalty and respect. While I wont be making any big purchases any time soon, the swatch compare will drive me into the store on my next NYC trip and who knows, maybe caviar will be hard to resist.
Note: This is the first of the “Brands Worthy of a Weekend” series. These are, quite simply, brands that some find inspiring enough that they would make the personal sacrifice of a weekend to spend time learning about the company and meeting other enthusiasts. St. John Knit is one of my selections – today I’ll cover how they create enthusiasts and tomorrow I’ll share my personal story of fan creation. Please go to the Contact or comment her to share brands that you would deem worthy of a weekend.
This year, St. John Knit is celebrating its 45th anniversary. Kelly Gray, daughter of the founders, former face of the St. John ad campaign (before being replaced by Angelina Jolie), and former CEO of the company, was at Neiman Marcus in Houston greeting the faithful this week. One of the women waiting in line to meet her confessed to owning 200 outfits from various St. John lines. That is a fan. And, potentially, someone with a shopping addiction, but a fan nonetheless. St. John Knit has proven itself as a company that can inspire loyalists. But how do they do it?
Product – Despite the wild meanderings of fashion since its founding in 1962, you can identify a St. John item no matter its age because of its basic silhouettes and completely unique fabric. St John is not just a design house, but a manufacturer who spins, dyes and weaves its own blend of materials to make their signature knit. The advantages of the fabric include the way the garments hold their shape for decades, are completely wrinkle-free, and rarely show signs of wear. Another unique element of the cloth is that a qualified dry cleaner can use a product called “blocking” to redistribute the knit in such a way to size them up or down – thus allowing them to grow or shrink with your figure through the years.
Ownership Experience – While St. John does produce certain more “editorial” pieces with each collection, their bread and butter remains classic silhouettes of their signature fabric, accented with their elegant enamel buttons. Because of the easily recognizable looks, fans can easily spot each other and know they share certain values and taste. I think the recognizability of the garments is a key component in the ownership experience. One doesn’t need to wear logoed items (a la Coach or LV) for others to recognize that they are a part of the St. John brand promise and who wouldn’t want to live the promise of beauty and success promised by Angelina Jolie in this shot?
St. John is also known for its remarkable customer service, but I’ll expound on that when I share why I’m a fan tomorrow.