They’ve rummaged inside the closets of the likes of Christian Louboutin – so what does it take to get the ultimate ‘in’? We uncover the secrets to success (and skeletons in the proverbial) of Coveteur’s co-founders.
When your brand-new website crashes on launch day due to a digital traffic jam, you can probably rest assured this won’t be just your side gig anymore. Yet as Stephanie Mark and Jake Rosenberg pressed live on coveteur.com on January 21, 2011, the pair remained blissfully unaware that their passion project would strike quite the chord it did. But almost 30,000 page views later, the site crashed before COB – and a sartorial powerhouse was born.
“I have been lucky enough to spend countless hours with inspiring people all over the world.”
It seems the venture had tapped into a niche just begging to be filled by aesthetes with a voyeuristic bent everywhere. Founded by Stephanie (a stylist), Jake (a photographer) and their since-departed co-founder and creative director Erin Kleinberg, Coveteur launched as a platform for showcasing the fruits of the trio’s curious foragings into the homes of their fashion industry contacts, resulting in sneak peeks into rarefied lives that audiences rapidly found irresistible. Style-minded folk from Paris to Perth began breathing sighs of relief into their Chanel Boys: with the curtains of exclusivity finally pulled back on the style set (and their red carpet cousins), the site catapulted the street style phenomenon to a new level by venturing off the streets and into the bedrooms (and closets) of those in possession of that elusive sartorial je ne sais quoi.
And readers followed. Coveteur soon bloomed from creative side project to fashion industry force, and by October 2012, had received more than 5 million visits. Fast-forward to 2016 and in just five short years, the brand has ascended to the upper echelons of fashion authority, with an Instagram following hovering just above the 1-million mark, and an ever-expanding list of illustrious fashion types and folk-about-Hollywood willing to fling open their closet doors for its photographers.
After fortuitously meeting on a lookbook shoot in 2010, Jake and Stephanie sketched the outlines of what would become Coveteur the very next day. Jake’s living room served as the company’s first offices, and the venture was entirely self-funded for the first eighteen months. In July 2012, an initial round of funding – with investors including Drake – saw the co-founders secure close to US$500,000. The move allowed them to bring on a chief executive officer, Janet Bannister (who has since departed the company) followed by a website redesign in 2013 in order to accommodate advertising.
“I want to create and capture unique moments with my subjects.”
Today, Jake (who got his start in photography after tracking down the email address of photographer Chris Nicholls, which landed him his first assistant gig) is the creative director and head of photography, while Stephanie (a Parsons School of Design graduate who cut her teeth in PR, marketing and styling) is head of business development and strategic partnerships. And in the wake of its early incarnation as the showcase for behind-the-scenes closet peeks, Coveteur has since morphed into a go-to corner of the interwebs covering everything from beauty and interiors to wellness and travel for its audience, about 80 per cent of whom are women aged 25 to 34.
In addition to its own digital content (through which the company now brings in additional revenue via affiliate links), Coveteur has now grown into a large multi-media brand canvassing creative direction, video production, consulting, campaign production and digital content for brands (including the likes of Gucci and Chanel).
So how does a living-room project grow into an industry powerhouse in under half a decade? A combination of clever copy, eye-snatching photography, smart hiring decisions (employees have been brought across from powerhouse publishers Hearst and Conde Nast) and industry contacts has no doubt boosted Coveteur’s rise up the industry ranks. Stephanie has also previously credited having a “good attitude,” and believes that being a geographical outlier – based in Toronto, miles from fashion’s epicentre in New York – was advantageous in that it lent a unique perspective to their content (though the company did open an office in Big Apple in early 2016, citing the need to facilitate growth as the company continues to scale).
In celebration of its fifth anniversary, this October saw the release of the brand’s first book, The Coveteur: Private Spaces, Personal Style, which features a compilation of interviews and closet sneak-peeks with 43 style makers from across the globe (including Jessica Alba and Cindy Crawford, no less). Writing and producing the book was a two-year process, which culminated in a bidding war between rival publishers – no mean feat.
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who contributed the foreword for the book, perhaps sums it up most eloquently: “Coveteur gives me this voyeuristic feeling, similar to the fluttering pleasure I experienced as a young girl when my mother allowed me to go into her wardrobe to borrow one of her best purses for my first date… The Coveteur grants us an exclusive look into someone else’s very personal world… There is just something about peering inside somebody’s private spaces that fires the imagination.”
Here, we sit down with Stephanie and Jake to talk the brand’s evolution in recent years, getting published and the ultimate fears faced (and overcome) along the way.
You’ve been approached to do a book previously and said no – how did you know this was the right time?
Stephanie: When we were first approached for a book, the company was still very young and in the process of growing and scaling – which took up all of our time. Once things felt a bit calmer and we finally hired staff, we felt like we were ready to take a project like this on.
What was the biggest hurdle of the book production process?
Jake: One of the biggest hurdles was scheduling and the logistics of shooting. We wanted the book to be made up of people all over the world, so it was challenging to keep the casting diverse and global, while accommodating people’s schedules and still running a website with daily content at the same time.
And the biggest triumph?
Jake: Getting into Christian Louboutin’s home was a great triumph for us. He’s a private person, and getting the opportunity to sit down with him and visit his home was an amazing experience.
You guys are only the second people ever to shoot inside Christian’s home – how does it feel to be granted this privilege by some of the world’s biggest influencers?
Stephanie: It is truly an honour. Spending the afternoon with Christian was an afternoon we will never forget. Being able to share these moments with our readers makes it even more special.
Proudest moment from creating the book?
Jake: Getting the first copy! I’d put in countless hours of redlining, image and design revisions and overseeing the entire creative process. Sitting in the lobby of the Sunset Tower and opening the manila envelope which encased the first copy direct from the first publisher was incredible. Flipping through all the pages, from front cover to back cover, was surreal, and I couldn’t have been prouder than in that moment.
Let’s rewind back to The beginning; the site launched (and crashed) with only six profiles, how did you gain traction so quickly?
Stephanie: We began to shoot for the site about two months before it launched. In that time, we had shot a lot of people and word got out about the site, so by the time it launched people were excited to finally see it. Also, we profiled people from a bunch of different brands and publications who promoted the launch of the site on their social platforms and websites, which also drove a lot of traffic to the site.
Coveteur started as a project that morphed into both of your full-time jobs – how did you know it was right to jump in whole-heartedly?
Jake: I was 23, had just graduated from an industrial design program, had a huge passion for branding and photography, and this was the perfect opportunity to bring those two together. It was a full-time decision right from the beginning for me.
Street style has been around for a while, but your niche is really getting a more intimate look inside people’s homes – what is it about this angle that appeals so much?
Stephanie: I think people love having access and a behind-the-scenes look into a world that would otherwise not be obtainable. It makes them feel like they can participate and connect with people that they admire.
How do you get your subjects to open up to you in such an intimate situation?
Stephanie: We are very respectful of people’s homes and privacy. If you look at the images, they are all tight shots of the house, so we’re not coming in and showing everyone what this person’s whole house looks like. Doing this allows us to work with talent if there are spaces or rooms they want to avoid.
You’ve seen inside literally hundreds of the world’s most stylish figures’ closets – what’s your biggest takeaway?
Jake: I’ve developed as a person, both personally and style-wise. I have been lucky enough to spend countless hours with inspiring people all over the world and learning from them in all aspects of life. I have taken away amazing inspiration that has helped me grow as a person and as a photographer. I have learnt so much about fashion, style, design, and certain cultures around the world – and that I want to create and capture unique moments with my subjects.
This year is also your five-year anniversary, How did you celebrate?
Stephanie: We celebrated with a great party during New York Fashion Week. The theme was house party, of course!
How has the site, and brand as a whole, evolved over the last five years?
Jake: It started as a passion project, and has grown into a luxury lifestyle media brand with a very specific perspective and identifiable aesthetic on everything that we cover. There are many components that go into our perspective, but the main identifier is exclusivity. It can come in the form of insider access to people’s homes, a look behind the scenes, exclusive images or interviews. The photography, using a bright flash, has become a signature. The styling is a mix of clothing and environment with quirky aspects or accessories added in.
What started as a website has grown into a multi-channel brand – was this your strategy from the outset?
Stephanie: This happened more organically. As the site grew, so did our social channels. We realised that there were different channels and touch-points we could grow so our users could interact with us in various ways and places, and the book is one of those ways.
You’ve forged partnerships with numerous big brands, including Chanel and Bulgari – how vital have these been to Coveteur’s growth?
Jake: They’ve been extremely vital. Having support from the world’s biggest luxury brands has given us credibility and builds a reputation from an early stage of the company. It’s also helped us grow our reach.
The biggest learnings you have gleaned from working with each other?
Jake: Stephanie has taught me more about fashion and style than I could have ever imagined. Not coming from a fashion background, she’s given me a glimpse into a world I didn’t know. She also constantly makes me excited about the future of what we’re trying to do with the brand.
Who have been the most influential people on your business trajectory?
Stephanie: Definitely Warren Webster, our CEO. He has helped in so many ways: moving the business to New York from Toronto, hiring, scaling. He does it all!
Biggest fear you’ve had to overcome in your entrepreneurial journeys?
Jake: I think there’s fear every day when you’re an entrepreneur, but you always have to be looking forward. Growing too fast is always a fear – diluting your content and losing the vision that you first started with… Growth is always a challenge and learning process. We’re lucky to have such a great team that lives and breathes a vision we could not accomplish without them. The more we grow, the more we’re able to do; but the more challenges that come up along the way… This will always be something that I think about but it makes me more excited as well to work even harder to make sure we grow properly and stay true to what Coveteur is all about.
Best career advice you’ve ever received?
Jake: Do what you love.
Advice you’d give to others wanting to follow an entrepreneurial path?
Jake: Work every day as hard as you can, meet as many people as you can, surround yourself with people you want to work with, who inspire you and who you can learn from. If you can’t do something yourself, find the best person to fill that role.
Photography by Erik Tanner (profile) and Jake Rosenberg.