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Luxury Branding Intel From Rony Zeidan Of RO-NY

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(NEW YORK) Rony Zeidan, founder of the boutique luxury branding agency RO New York has worked in creative at places like LVMH, Polo.com, KraftWorks, and L’Oréal. Five years ago, Zeidan decided to go solo, launching his own agency focusing on luxury brands in the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle categories. Luckily for Zeidan, his first client was Ralph Lauren fragrances; business boomed from then on, with brands like Chopard and Swarovski following suit. He sat down with The Daily in his chic Flatiron penthouse office space to discuss how he made it happen, his unique vision, and how branding can include everything from a simple package redesign to a full-on image revamp from the ground up. 
BY PAIGE REDDINGER 

How did you kick off your career?
I started off interning at Donna Karan in New York in the advertising department. That’s when I realized fashion is not what you think it is. I was working seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. They offered me a full time job and I said, “No, thank you,” packed my bags, and moved back to San Francisco. I was still in my last year in school, and I got referred for a job at LVMH when they were launching their first website.

How did they find you?
I got it for the sole reason of having fashion experience, which I find quite comical because I was only an intern for Donna Karan in New York, but at the time there wasn’t much back-and-forth between San Francisco and New York based on fashion talent perspective. I was there for three years of the initial stages of the website, until it wasn’t going in a direction that I thought was cool or beautiful anymore.

Where did you land next?
I packed my bags for New York. I got a call from a friend of mine who’d also been an intern at Donna Karan and is one of the biggest recruiters in New York, and she said, “I have a position available at Polo.com. Can you start in two days?” I went in there as the art director, and I was again reminded of how fashion is—and how it’s not what you think it is. Then, I worked for KraftWorks and within a span of three years I went from art director to partner. I was overseeing 13 accounts from different brands that were all in fashion, like ALDO, Wonderbra, and La Prairie, among several others. I got a call from a recruiter for a position open at L’Oréal, to be the vice president global creative of fragrances. It looked good from the title, salary, and prestige level, but a little scary from the corporate perspective. Nevertheless, I decided to take the leap of faith and lasted three years there.

What were you working on at L’Oréal?
I had the amazing opportunity to work with Mr. [Ralph] Lauren himself. Having great relationships with the Ralph Lauren and L’Oréal teams was essential. We were at a point where business was difficult for both companies, but I got to work on many beautiful products for the brand. I got to help launch the Love fragrance for Saks at the time, we did the Notorious fragrance, and we did the Big Pony collection for men two years ago.

How did you decide to venture out on your own?
I decided to leave when there were readjustments in the creative department internally. I seized the opportunity and got to take Ralph Lauren fragrances in as my first client. I am forever grateful for that! The rest was history. Five years later, we’ve grown to work with a lot of big brands like Swarovski, Chopard, Coty, a lot of fun entrepreneur entities, and smaller interesting brands that have been around for years, like Colette Malouf.

What level of branding and creative do you bring to your clients?
We often create concepts for brands from scratch, which is pretty cool. People will come up to us and explain their product, target audience, and the image they want to create. Then, we create it. We do everything from the logo, the packaging, the experience, and the videos that accompany it. We look at everything from A to Z.  We even craft the words and image of what we want, down to an email blast. We’ve worked with some of the best companies in the industry, and adopted what we learn from big brands to small brands of entrepreneurial companies.  

What kinds of projects have you worked on recently?
We did several packaging brands for Coty beauty products on celebrity fragrances and took them from looking very mass to looking very prestige. That’s new in the sense of the celebrity fragrance category. Everything is launching next year. We worked on Celine Dion, Halle Berry and then Stetson, which isn’t a celebrity brand, but we recoded the brand for a new generation. It was through word of mouth: we started with Celine Dion, and then other groups saw the packaging and loved it. Now we’re talking to a few other brands, but until everything is in writing I can’t say much. But we don’t necessarily just do beauty; we do luxury. Anything that we touch, we make it look 100 times better and 100 times larger. We take brands that do a million in revenue but make them look like they’re $500 million in revenue.

How would you describe your aesthetic?
Whatever we design reflects the look of the brand. But there is a signature flair that goes across the board. Whether it’s a layered look or simple creative, it’s very clean!

Digitally speaking, do you think brands try to overdo their websites?
From a digital perspective, that movement is very important, but don’t do all sorts of tricks at once. For Chopard, we created a video-integrated site with rollovers and an expansion of menus to reveal more products, but it’s just a subtle adjustment. Everything we’ve been doing this past year has been based on responsive designs. We launched a site for a small French luxury brand, Bonastre, and it’s literally just four pages that you scroll through with a mouse effect that reveals the product. Less is more, in my opinion! For a “Passport to Sparkle” for Swarovski we did movement of little Swarovski stones glittering and had fun movement where we integrated the pages based on the destination that we were in. It just brings things to life!

Is digital your specialty?
In 2013, a lot of companies were changing their digital appearances. In the past we’ve focused on packaging, but this year we’ve been doing a lot of visual and branding. I would say currently we are about 50 percent digital, 30 percent packaging, and 20 percent branding and lookbook photography.

Do most clients know what they want to change when they come to you?
It depends. Brands that have been around for a while have specific targets and say, “I have a branding project to do or launch specific sites.” I take a step back and say, “OK, great, but let’s look at your brand holistically. You probably aren’t growing as much as you could, because your logo isn’t right or your email strategy is really off and diluted.” Having been a creative director in-house at big companies, it was my responsibility to oversee everything from launch events, advertising, and online presence to packaging, merchandising, and PR, so it’s natural for me to look at a brand in a big way.

An example, please! 
We worked with this men’s luxury designer named Asaf Ganot. He wanted a website, but we ended up redesigning the logo, the business cards, the whole strategy, and we redid the site completely to act as a main retailer tool. Right now he is producing tags for the clothing based on the logos that we made for him. We really see how retailers respond when a brand is completely thought-out.

How many projects are you working on right now?
Between six and eight projects. We have a team of 10 people who are all creative. We are all very involved with everything, so it’s not like I have a team working on one specific brand. Everyone works on every brand.

How do you see your business growing?
I’d like to keep it niche and small, because I like to be involved with everything that’s happening. We’ve attracted bigger brands with time, which is quite amazing. We’ve gotten them just through meetings, not necessarily pitching. I’m not a big believer in pitching. I think when individuals know what they want, they can recognize the right talent and partner to work with. 

Would you ever want to start your own brand, since you know how to do all of this?
Oh God, no! I am not a product or fashion designer. I’m a branding guy. I know how to take a specific product that I believe in and bring it to life. I wouldn’t want to design clothing or watches. The only thing I might consider doing one day is my own line of glasses! I would do that as a collaboration with someone, though.

How do you maintain your creativity with such a busy workload?
Every two to three months, I need to just disappear and unplug to reenergize and be refreshed. It’s my job to be refreshed at all times. I like to go to Tulum to completely reconnect with nature and relax, and I like to go to Beirut, because that’s my hometown. If my team and I are not energized, there’s is no creativity. 

How often do clients request that you keep an international perspective when branding?
Yes, that’s sometimes brought up in terms of packaging. In Dubai and Russia, the taste is usually much more opulent: the richer the gold the more appeal it has. A more toned-down approach works better in the Western world. In Asia, it’s a mix of different things. China used to be more glitzy, but nowadays China is much more designer and less logo and flash overall.  

Have you ever had to help a designer tone things down considerably?
We worked with Georges Hobeika, whose dresses often appear on the red carpet internationally. He is present at a few specialty stores in the U.S. and we helped him clean up the brand about three years ago when introducing him to the West. We advised them how to modify the designs for the Western world. I sat with them for hours and told them I loved their product and that I am from the Middle East, so I have that flashy side, but you don’t have to have all those Swarovski crystals with the gold. It’s a little too much. The next runway show was more tonal, and I’ve noticed he’s opened up many more doors. You have to work with people that are open to ideas, and to feedback.

How do you know if a client will be open to new ideas?
I know in the first five minutes. I can tell when they walk through the door. I’m able to gage things very quickly. But with designers, I’ll spend more time talking to them, because I want to see how patient they are.

Are there any particular branding platforms you are exploring more of now?
We’ve been exploring video more, because it captures emotion. We produce it, or source existing footage that we can then modify and re-edit. The videos we do revolve around an interactive perspective. You have to be seduced into buying the product. 

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