Eva Jeanbart-Lorenzotti

Eva Jeanbart-Lorenzotti first met Base partner Geoff Cook years ago when her company, Vivre (previously named L’Art de Vivre), was known as a niche catalog. Today the catalog has moved online and Eva herself has become a respected, international arbiter of style. We sat down with Eva to discuss fashion, her personal style, and what it takes to run a luxury company in today’s competitive environment.

Base: Your name is Eva Jeanbart-Lorenzotti, which sounds part French, part Italian. What is your background?
Eva: Jeanbart-Lorenzotti is a mix of my Swiss-Canadian parents’ and my Italian husband’s last names. I’m the eldest of three girls who were born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, where I attended boarding school. I’ve been traveling the world since I was very young, and I spent many summers in the U.S. My obsession with America led me to Barnard College, where I received my bachelor’s degree from Columbia University, and then to Lazard Frères, where I worked as an investment banker.

B: How did you start Vivre? What was your initial idea behind what you wanted the company to be?
E: Ignorance can be a powerful instigator. Having never been exposed to catalogs before moving to the U.S., I didn’t understand them or their business. They just came to your home and people bought. I started thinking about how I could mix the medium with the elements I find so important and fascinating. I wanted to introduce Americans to brands that weren’t mainstream—to the luxury brands I grew up with in Europe. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could combine luxury and catalogs, and bring these brands directly into their homes.” I wanted to create an experience where people could discover these global brands, and appreciate their stories and their tradition as I did. I thought developing the catalog would be easy, and it wasn’t. But I’m all for a challenge, and it worked in the end.

B: You’re always looking for rarefied objects to recommend to your customers. With the world increasingly “small,” how do you stay exclusive?
E: Fulfilling the desire for individuality is my mission. I’m not interested in the “it” thing. I’m curious about the “why” factor. In a world that’s full of “too much” of everything, it’s important to have a curator’s eye; to select objects, both big and small, that tell a story and inspire you. Being passionate about craftsmanship, the human hand, details and the true meaning of things is essential. Vivre is about authenticity and a life of collecting. Maintaining a strong point of view, one that’s focused on originality and discovery is what keeps us exclusive.

B: I’m guessing you travel a great deal. Are you able to fully separate personal and work travel when your company is so linked to your vision?
E: I always mix business and pleasure. But I like it that way, and somehow it works for me. I’m constantly inspired by the places I visit and the people I meet, so it’s hard to separate the two. I have traveled all of my life, and I enjoy bringing my family on my journeys and discovering new treasures with them.

B: What criteria do you use in selecting objects to offer your customers?
E: Vivre is all about that mix, and offering pieces that are both high and low. For me, style has nothing to do with price. What makes something interesting and unique is the story behind the object—its inspiration, originality and authenticity. We’re intrigued by artistry, and look for things that have an intrinsic value and that transcend time. Our collection is about people, places and global treasures that have purpose. It’s meticulously edited to include pieces that are to be collected, and that you will love more tomorrow than you do today.

B: At first, Vivre was a catalog. Now however it’s 100% online. What were the mitigating factors that led to this decision?
E: The Internet has become such a way of life. If people aren’t searching for information or interacting with others on their computers, then they’re doing it on their Blackberrys or other mobile devices. We wanted to be a part of the shift, and offer immediate access to our discoveries, ideas and inspirations. The Internet is an interesting tool. You can play around and change your mind whenever you like. And I get a kick out of the one-on-one interaction I can have with visitors. We get to create a dialogue with them, and explore new adventures and products together.
Even though we changed platforms, our editorial content and point of view remains the same, if not grown stronger and more focused. And you never know, maybe the catalog will find its way back into the mix some day.

B: Are there any advantages of being online compared to the paper catalog?
E: Absolutely! We’re constantly unearthing interesting pieces and artists, destinations and inspirations. The Internet gives us the ability to play around, mix things up as we like, and share our discoveries as we experience them. We get to interact with our audience in a more entertaining and personal way.

B: Corporately, what changed internally when you switched to online?
E: Luckily, switching platforms didn’t require much change. It was a relatively easy transition, as I have always thought globally. Knowing that Internet space needs daily attention, we just shifted our focus to understand the new medium and market.

B: There are so many different types of retailers today in the online space from Net-a-porter to the Gilt Group to the brands themselves. Who do you find especially relevant in today’s market?
E: I think there are many companies who are getting it right and are great at what they do. Staying true to your customer and mission, and possessing passion and originality is what makes and keeps you relevant. Even though we don’t consider ourselves a typical retailer, it’s important for us to offer an experience unlike any other, one that’s entertaining and about discovery. Here are some retailers that are worth checking out: Amazon because there’s nothing you can’t find; 1stDibs for its dynamic selection of unique furniture and lighting; Shopbop because they offer a vast variety of ready-to-wear pieces at all different price points.

B: Although the % of people buying online and the amount they buy continues to increase, most luxury brands still consider it a challenge to sell high-end clothing online. What are your keys to overcoming this obstacle?
E: Shopping is all about the experience. It’s about seeing the clothes up close and how they fit. It’s about touching and feeling them against your skin. So when you remove the tangible element the stakes change, and that makes it challenging to get people to fall in love with the pieces. We set out to bring the objects to life, to tell the story behind them, to help the customer discover why something is unique, and how it can work into their life. We provide an experience that exceeds just shopping, and is rather about the journey and inspiration.

Stay tuned for the second part of this interview next Friday.