In 1905, at the age of 40, Miss Elsie de Wolfe gave up her struggling acting career for good and set up residence at the historic Washington Irving House with Miss Elizabeth Marbury, a prominent theatrical agent. The combination of de Wolfe’s style and Marbury’s connections transformed Irving House into the American version of a European Salon. Perfectly in tune with a small, cultural revolution de Wolfe quickly became known as America’s “first lady of decoration”, literally and figuratively putting the profession of interior decoration on the map. Her innovative and anti-Victorian interiors espoused “plenty of optimism and white paint” and “suitability, suitability, suitability”.
Issuing smart business cards, embellished with a small wolf-cum-nosegay crest that would become her trademark, she started charging her famous friends to dispense her decorative savoir faire. A seasoned self-promoter de Wolfe was a woman who knew her worth and was not afraid to charge for it. She quickly amassed a fortune that she used to cultivate a lifestyle that her clients wanted to emulate. When tycoon Clay Frick hired her to decorate the private rooms of his new mansion on Fifth Avenue, he offered her a 10% commission on everything she bought. The story goes that on being presented with her plans, the millionaire stared at them some time and then asked to see a second presentation. Elsie who did not have one said, “Mr Frick, when I draw up a set of plans, there is no second choice. There is only what I show you. The best.”
A smart business card, uncommon vision and the right connections, have launched more than one interior design career but in a crowded online market, it’s not enough to sustain it. Those design stars we all know, whom you may or may not love, weren’t anointed design royalty by the chief designer in the sky. They started out just like you. They honed their philosophy, created a sought-after experience and then repeated the message of their offering over and over and over again until it took hold and they became known. They had a Visibility Strategy.
But there isn’t only one way to be visible, I was reminded of that firsthand when I filmed interviews with the intrepid Tastemaker Martyn Lawrence Bullard and the “Billionaire Whisperer” Joan Behnke this past Friday for the Business Of Luxury Design. On the spectrum of aesthetic they couldn’t be more different but each has mastered the art of being seen in their own authentic way. Bullard’s strategy is bold and international and Behnke’s is as confident and understated as she is. Yet both have built businesses with vision, diverse teams including interior architects, A-list, influential clients and sustainable profits. When it comes to the right Visibility Strategy, authenticity is key. Can’t wait for you see what I’ve shot. Are you coming to BOLD?