The halls of the Universal Furniture showroom seemed a bit more crowded during the recent High Point Market. Though the Covid-19 vaccine certainly had something to do with the increase in traffic, much of the buzz had to do with supermodel Miranda Kerr making an appearance, touting her new Tranquility line for the furniture maker.
Tranquility is the second line the model and mom of three has collaborated on with Universal, and for the company, partnering with a celebrity from the fashion industry has not only added star power to its business, but also allowed it to tap into the expertise of someone well-versed in the ins and out of fashion.
“It helps showcase who we are, and informs the overall aesthetic and the minute details that are incorporated into every piece of furniture we make,” said Neil MacKenzie, vice president of marketing for Universal Furniture. “It’s also important that Miranda is a mother, a business owner, and an entrepreneur who is not just lending her name—she’s truly involved, and that comes through in the projects we’ve collaborated on.”
Kerr isn’t the only fashion name dipping their toes in the home goods business. While many fashion brands have their own home lines, the trend of traditional furniture and home goods companies partnering with fashion designers, models and others from the apparel industry has grown over the past decade.
Earlier this year, Serta Simmons Bedding launched a Beautyrest by Christian Siriano mattress line and Calvin Klein has a rug collection for Nourison, but the grand dame of fashion and home partnerships is Kathy Ireland, who made her name as a model and now presides over a home goods empire that includes multiple partnerships with furniture and accessory brands.
“What women experience on the runways in Paris and Milan, they want translated into their homes,” Ireland said of her success in parlaying her experiences in fashion to furniture.
“The combination of design and business has always been a passion,” she added.
While many licensed lines in the furniture industry with celebrities are partnerships in name only, Kerr has taken an active role in the creation of her collections with Universal. Upon their initial meeting, Kerr brought a design vision presentation with her ideas for a potential collection. And she has worked closely with the company’s designers since.
“I’ve been in the fashion industry since I was 13, and I’ve traveled the world multiple times, had different experiences with different cultures,” she said. “And I think a lot of it has been absorbed subconsciously—seeing different textiles and fabrics, being in fashion for so long and then also from that cultural travel experience. And I’m very specific about things that I like and don’t like.”
Ireland said there’s an expectation from not only her licensing partners but also the buyers to be more than just a famous face in the showroom. She recalled her first introduction to Irv Blumkin, then CEO of major furnishings retailer Nebraska Furniture Mart, who was dubious she actually had detailed knowledge of the pieces bearing her name.
“Mr. Blumkin saw our team members and believing I had an entourage, he said I needed to take him through the showroom myself, and if I didn’t know my stuff he wasn’t going to buy,” Ireland said. “After taking a deep breath, we walked through the showroom, and to our astonishment, Mr. Blumkin embraced our designs and gave us a chance.”
Focusing on fashion
For furnishings companies that partner with famous names from the fashion industry, the goal goes beyond attaching a celebrity to their brand. In a segment that generally follows fashion rather than leading it, home furnishings companies can give their products a style boost when working with someone who has first-hand knowledge of the industry that sparks the trends.
“When we entered the furniture industry more than 20 years ago, the landscape was a sea of sameness—neutrals and traditional silhouettes,” Ireland said. “Something that our team shares is, ‘Don’t be afraid of color! Unleash your personal style!’ We hope to continue to inspire and transform the furniture industry by encouraging makers to have fun with design and to be alert to fashion and lifestyle trends.”
And though models generally wear fashion rather than creating it, the proximity they have to designers and other creatives in the apparel industry gives them an appreciation and understanding of style that can translate to home goods.
“Being in the industry for so long, that exposure to fashion and working with some of the greatest and most creative people in the industry taught me so much,” Kerr said. “And it really trains your eye for detail. Because everything that I do, I’m like, ‘how could I do better next time?’ And so you really zoom into every little detail.”
Ultimately, these fashion and home partnerships are meant to build business for both the furniture companies and the celebrity collaborators. And if the lines by Ireland and Kerr are any indication, these partnerships can be incredibly profitable.
Ireland has built a multi-million-dollar business with her home furnishings lines with companies like Pacific Coast Lighting, Nourison, Michael Amini, and Bush Furniture. And Kerr’s first collection for Universal has been a big hit, with strong ordering for the new line at its High Point Market debut. And for the folks at Universal, that boost to business and increased reputation as a style leader in the industry has made the partnership with Kerr a great experience.
“We’ve been thrilled with the success of the first collection, Love. Joy. Bliss., and Tranquility has been equally well received at market,” MacKenzie said. “Having Miranda come to market to experience what High Point offers to our customers was an added bonus. We got credit for the intricate finishes and fabric details that give the collection an elevated look and feel.”