A wise man knows that a good name is more precious than gold.
Likewise a smart merchant. Thus a number of venerable European houses--Faberge, Gucci, Lalique and Waterford among them--are expanding their lines of luxury goods beyond those that made them famous.
"Everybody would like to do it," Patrick Choel says, "but there are very few names recognized everywhere and suited for global use."
Choel, president of Chesebrough-Ponds' USA/Faberge, the Greenwich, Conn., company within the multinational conglomerate Unilever, thinks he has an international winner.
Peter Carl Faberge (1846-1920) was jeweler to the Russian Imperial Court until its demise in 1917. His workshop in St. Petersburg turned out products ranging from furniture to glue pots, but Faberge is best known for the enameled and jeweled eggs commissioned for the royal family--baubles beloved by collectors such as Queen Elizabeth II and the late Malcolm Forbes.
In 1989, Unilever bought the rights to the Faberge name, and Choel has been charged with reviving it as a luxury brand for fragrance, jewelry and home furnishings in Europe and America.
Home furnishings, including porcelain dinnerware, crystal stemware, table accessories and silk fabric, account for about 20% of Faberge sales, according to a spokesman. Picture frames, silver hollow ware, rugs, furniture, bed linens and lamps are on the drawing boards.
Faberge's efforts are among the most extensive, but Gucci, the Italian leather goods firm, and Lalique and Waterford, makers of glassware, are attempting to expand their franchises in luxury goods.
Waterford, which has been making lead crystal tableware and accessories in Ireland since 1783, plans a February launch of table linens. Tablecloths will retail for $40 to $475, a broad range meant to appeal to different markets.
"We feel collectors of Waterford crystal are candidates to buy top-of-the-line linens, and young brides who recognize the name of Waterford are likely to register for the less expensive linens," says Patrick J. McCullagh, president of W-C Designs of Newport Beach, producer of the linens for Waterford Wedgwood PLC of Waterford, Ireland.
Waterford has developed three product levels--cotton sateen prints, damask and linen with cutwork trim or other handiwork. The linens will be made in various parts of the world, including China, Brazil and Turkey.
"These days, you go to whoever has the best skill levels for whatever it is you need," McCullagh says.
In the past two years, Lalique, maker of fine French glass and crystal, has introduced porcelain dinnerware and table linens.
Founded by jeweler Rene Lalique in 1909 in Combes-la-Ville, the company is world-famous for glass ranging from perfume bottles to chandeliers. Lalique's granddaughter, Marie-Claude Lalique, is now president of the company that is focusing on a new generation of products.
"Many of the designs are taken from Rene Lalique's famous jewelry designs," says Jane French, New York spokesman for Lalique in the United States.
Both the dinnerware and linens are made in France. They are available at Lalique boutiques in New York and Beverly Hills.
The dinnerware, in six patterns, is also sold at department stores and specialty shops. Prices range from $310 to $380 for a five-piece place setting. The linens, no price range quoted beyond "expensive," also may be ordered through select department stores.
In early 1995, Gucci introduced in its American stores the first pieces in a large collection of home furnishings. The collection now includes porcelain dinnerware, ashtrays, canisters, stainless flatware with bamboo handles, table clocks, picture frames, desk accessories, candles and potpourri.
While artistry and quality are important, brand recognition helps drive the market, and museum exhibitions enhance it.
Choel is counting on "Faberge in America," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through April 28, to whet America's appetite for things Faberge. The exhibition, sponsored by Chesebrough-Ponds, is scheduled to travel through mid-1997 to museums in San Francisco; Richmond, Va.; New Orleans; and Cleveland.
Choel says a similar exhibit, "Faberge: Imperial Jeweler," funded by Faberge in Europe, attracted huge crowds when it toured Europe through 1994 after opening in St. Petersburg in 1993.