Now this is a 2019 reboot we did not see coming. With "muses" like model Halima Aden and actress Nathalie Emmanuel, the mall brand has taken on a decidedly modern point of view.

By Zan Romanoff
Sep 04, 2019 @ 10:00 am
Getty Images

At the Hudson Lofts in downtown LA on Thursday afternoon, sunlight poured through thick glass windows and onto a pink wall emblazoned with the question “What Do You Love?” Influencers, models, and even a Chinese TV star, all clad in rosy shades and sparkling with charm bracelets and earrings in the shape of oak leaves, took thick Sharpies to scrawl out their answers, proclaiming their passion for things like fashion and activism, being an individualist, sunlight, freedom, and, of course, FOOD.

If you follow fashion in 2019, this is a familiar scene: waiters carried trays bearing fresh green juice and instructions on how to access the WiFi to young women in camera-ready foundation and thick false lashes. Everyone was absolutely thrilled to be there in support of one of their favorite brands.

What was surprising was the brand in question: Pandora Jewelry, which since its inception in 1982 has been a mall mainstay, a mass-market purveyor of cute, affordable jewelry not exactly known for its hipness.

Pandora started out as an import business: in the late ‘80s, Danish couple Per and Winnie Enevoldsen discovered they could turn a decent profit buying cheap but well-made jewelry in Thailand and selling it in their home country. Eventually they brought in an in-house designer, and in 2000, Pandora rolled out what would become their signature piece: the customizable charm bracelet.

Instead of arriving pre-loaded with themed charms, Pandora sold their bands and charms separately, so that each customer could individualize her wrist piece with trinkets that represented her love of Disney films, say, or nature, dogs, or each of her children. A boyfriend could buy his girl a Pandora bracelet and then gift her a new charm at every holiday. Their business model had a repeat-customer base baked right in.

Pandora charms quickly became collectible; these days, bracelets with vintage charms will run you up to $4,500 on eBay. And Pandora became the third-largest jewelry company in the world, trailing only Cartier and Tiffany. When it went public in 2010, the company raised $2.1 billion dollars. It was the fourth-largest European listing of the year.

Pandora stayed dominant and profitable for most of the next decade, with stock prices peaking at 1,000 Danish krone (about 147 USD today) per share in 2016 before beginning a steep decline that found them 75% lower, at just 254 krone ($37, currently) per share, earlier this year. Charms just weren’t in fashion anymore, representatives of Pandora claimed at the time, though some market analysts suggested that it was their charms that were the problem: “I am not worried about charms business in general, but I am a little worried about Pandora's charm business,” Soeren Loentoft Hansen, a banking analyst, told CNN in 2018.

The brand tried various strategies to reverse this trend; as an initial stopgap, it attempted to bolster sales of other pieces like rings and earrings. Thursday’s relaunch was meant to be a corrective to all of that, CEO Alexander Lacik said. The brand had strayed from its path, he added, just over four months into his post: it had tried to find its way by wandering and expanding, instead of considering core values, and the reasons that it had become so beloved in the first place.

The Pandora that launched on Thursday is all about self-expression: It has doubled down on the customizable aspect of its jewelry, making it more modern without abandoning the brand’s DNA by shifting focus to offering customers new ways of wearing their signature charms.

Getty Images

The centerpiece of this concept is the Pandora O pendant, which takes on charms just like the bracelet did, but can be worn in a variety of different ways: one of the designers, Francesco Terzo, had his pendant hanging from a belt loop at lunch, and at the launch party later that night, one woman had threaded a variety of pendants through the ends of her dreadlocks. In the ad campaign shot for the fall collection, actress Nathalie Emmanuel, one of the company’s six #PandoraMuses, threaded charms onto her shoelaces.

“We want to make the charms feel free to move about your body,” Alessandro Filippo Ficarelli, who, with Terzo, comprises Pandora’s design duo, said. “It's a styling inspiration that comes from the punk idea: really personalized, self-expression, individuality. That was the philosophy behind the punk movement, to create your own style,” and that’s what they’re hoping their customers will do with these new products.

They’re also banking on those muses to introduce the brand to new kinds of customers. The muses range from model, activist, and Rolling Stones spawn Georgia May Jagger to Margaret Zhang, a Chinese-Australian fashion blogger turned “director, photographer, consultant and writer.” They also include model Halima Aden, best known for being the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, and, later, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, as well as dancer and model Larsen Thompson and photographer Tasya Van Ree.

At the relaunch, many of the company’s representatives spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusivity, noting that their muses are internationally based and ethnically diverse. However, it was hard not to notice the dearth of body diversity among the group and the fact that, with the exception of 43-year-old Van Ree, each member is under the age of 30. 

A handful of the muses were familiar with the brand before Pandora approached them about the partnership: Zhang says she and her friends regularly bought each other Pandora charms as birthday gifts in high school, and Thompson says her mother, a Pandora devotee, was thrilled when her daughter came home with news of the gig. But what they’re excited about now is its vision looking forward: what the brand will represent in terms of self-expression for them and women around the world.

“I grew up in a refugee camp; I never had jewelry growing up,” Aden says. “Of all the amazing partnerships that I've been able to have, I think this is the most groundbreaking campaign I've ever done in my life. Cass Bird shot us, and the entire team was all female. That is the epitome of what I want my career to look like: women coming together and celebrating each other. Celebrating our differences, and still getting to wear beautiful jewelry? Check!”

And with Pandora going punk, after this relaunch, "celebrating differences" might as well be the brand's new tagline.

Advertisement