The Making Of An Empire

BY Maddison Glendinning / May 25 2017 / 16:44 PM

From humble beginnings to global success, Monica Vinader opens up to Bazaar about risking it all, finding her feet and the support of the Middle Eastern customer through it all

The Making Of An Empire
Mark Luscombe-Whyte
Monica Vinader stands outside the converted barn in Holkham, Norfolk, in the UK, which is now home to her company's ever-growing business.

Imagine that you’d always dreamed of running your own jewellery business, had successfully identified a gap in the market that only you could fill, and had managed to convince your sister to quit her job to come on board and help you run the company, only to find that when you finally launch the global financial crisis hits. This might sound like a stroke of impossibly bad luck, but that’s exactly what happened to Monica Vinader, 48, when she launched her eponymous brand back in 2008. “We launched just before it hit,” she says with a laugh that can only come from the benefit of hindsight. “Gabriela (Monica’s sister and the company’s chief operating officer) and I had done some funding with family and friends but then the crisis came and there was no way that anyone was going to put any money into our company, so it forced us to mortgage our family home, and borrow some money to buy inventory for the Christmas of 2008. Gabby had to approve any expense over £60.” Making the decision to mortgage the house was not one the sisters took lightly. “That was quite scary. That was probably the biggest risk we took at that time, which was not as much money from where we are now, but to us it was a really big risk and a lot of money then. Plus, we were totally unproven.” It didn’t take long, however, for consumers to become loyal devotees, with the brand making back the money they had borrowed against the house within the first year. No small feat, considering the turbulent economic times in which it launched. “I think there was a moment when no one really wanted to be showing off massive wealth and our purchase was the perfect thing because we were more affordable but an equally beautiful and luxury purchase.” 

It is that ethos that has helped put Monica Vinader on the map globally. The brand is shoppable in 44 locations worldwide, from the US to Asia, Australia and here in the Middle East, as well as online at Net-a-Porter, Shopbop, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. Since its launch, it’s grown to an annual turnover of £26.4 million (approximately Dhs124.1 million) and international sales are up 83 per cent from 2015 alone. Additionally, the brand had a £20 million (Dhs94 million) investment last year to help solidify its position and accelerate its growth within the US market. Of the brand’s success, Monica muses, “I think instinctively people were incredibly receptive. Women are now buying jewellery in a very different way so the reception from women who wanted to self-purchase was huge. They wanted to buy themselves every day fine jewellery that could be worn at any time, with no rules, and not necessarily with a partner involved, and that empowering way of buying jewellery took off really quickly.” 

The moodboard for Monica's upcoming Baja Deco collection.

And yet despite the brand’s enormous success, Monica remains incredibly down to earth. On the day Bazaar visits her plush headquarters in the UK city of Norfolk (which doubles as the dispatch centre and design studio), Monica sits and has lunch with us, happily chatting about the renovations she has completed on the barn in which her company is now based and about how excited she is for the opening of her standalone store in The Dubai Mall in the coming year. The Middle East, she explains, is a region that has supported her from the beginning. “They really embraced us originally in London from our stores in Harrods and Selfridges. Then when we opened in Dubai [as part of Boutique 1 in Mall of the Emirates], the store was a success from day one. I think Dubai is a really good place to look after our customers from Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well. We have a growing customer base in the region and they’ve been really loyal and supportive.” So much so, that the brand is expanding its footprint in the region significantly from this year forward. “We’ve got The Dubai Mall store up first, we’re also doing City Centre Mirdif and our counter in Galeries Lafayette in The Dubai Mall is opening in the summer. A store in Qatar will follow later,” the designer tells Bazaar. And although there are no concrete plans, Monica says she’s considering opening a store in Saudi Arabia due to the huge volume of clients from the country. “It’s not on the horizon yet but we’ve been talking about it because we have a lot of Saudi customers in London, Dubai and online. It’s definitely something we’d like to do.” 

1. Siren ring, Dhs500. 2. Nura cocktail earrings, Dhs17,500. 3. Nura teardop pendat, Dhs400. 4. Nura diamond nugget jacket earrings, Dhs2,750. All by Monica Vinader at Boutique 1.

As for how the buying habits of the Middle Eastern woman differs from her international counterparts, Monica explains, “The really interesting thing about the Middle Eastern woman is that she’s buying in multiples much more because there’s a lot of gifting that happens, so she buys a suite of gifts more regularly. She’s also much more likely to buy the more high price point diamonds for self-purchases, as well as for gifts. I think overall our Middle Eastern customer spends more than most others and she comes back again and again. It’s an amazing, loyal customer actually. They really respond well to newness and fresh designs and it’s important for us to look after our Middle Eastern women, which is why we do a lot of exclusives for the region.” Of all of her pieces, Monica says it’s the bracelets that her customer here buys most of. “Bracelets and diamonds are really popular, they’re unequivocally the top purchases for them. They love to stack – they stack really well, they’re experts!” The region’s affinity for accessories is something that resonates with the designer. “There’s an instinctive love for jewellery which I think, coming from a Mediterranean country like Spain, I totally relate to. There’s a real love of adornment that comes naturally.” 

Monica’s pieces have been worn by the likes of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Alicia Vikander and Emma Watson, but she says it’s the everyday woman that’s the focal point of her designs. “Our jewellery is everyday fine jewellery and we very much focus on how everyday women would wear us. That’s what we think about,” rather than which celebrities are wearing the pieces, she explains. Monica admits to getting excited when she sees women wearing something from the brand out in public. “I sometimes have to pounce on them!” she laughs. “It is really exciting. When I spot people on the street in the brand it’s brilliant. That’s why I’m designing jewellery, so people wear it.” Given the intimacy of jewellery, it must be a nice way to be involved in people’s lives? Monica agrees, saying, “Yes and when you ask about the piece they’ll inevitably always tell you a story – there is not one time that I have asked that I have not heard the whole story about how they came to have it. And that’s amazing.”

Monica's sketches for the new Nura collection show the evolution from initial concept to final designs.

When we ask what comes next for a brand that has already experienced so much success in less than a decade since its launch, Monica is endearingly humble in her answer. “I think just to keep doing what we do but better. Good execution is underrated. It’s not an exciting word to say you’re executing well but actually it is really difficult to do that every day and that is a huge goal. To come up with good jewellery, deliver good service, ship everything on time every day – we pride ourselves on the way we look after our customers.” Bazaar comments that she’s well on her way to world domination to which Monica replies, “I don’t know about domination but we’re trying to do a good job where we are.” And she’s certainly succeeding.  

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.