Forevermark's Exceptional Diamond Campaign

De Beers, founded in 1888, controls thirty five percent of the world’s diamond production. We recently helped launch The Exceptional Diamond Collection, a selection of their most exclusive stones. Often I’m asked about my work with De Beers, and here are some of my answers. 

How did you land this prestigious account?

A cold call more than a decade ago! De Beers was ruled a monopoly, and antitrust laws prevented them from operating in the States. They opened “The Diamond Promotion Service” as a marketing company in order to stimulate diamond sales without directly selling. I called the marketing manager, and convinced her to see me. I didn’t get any work right away, but I kept in touch. When they worked out their legal issues and went to retail with Forevermark, the marketing manager reached out to me. I hope it was my work that was memorable, but it may have just been my presence and my persistence.


The agency of record is J Walter Thompson, why the switch on their most expensive/exclusive product line?

The job perfectly suits my skill set. The program involves only about twenty five diamonds per year, the best of the best. The design is too specialized to produce with a big agency; everything is personalized.

We created a hardcover Journey Book for every stone, photographically tracking the life of the diamond from mine-site to market. Packaging included a personalized metal name plate with the customer’s name engraved on it. We made a silicone replica of each rough diamond before it was cut. The money spent on the collateral materials, as well as our attention to detail, is unprecedented. See the packaging in the video below.




What was your inspiration for the ads?

I wanted to create a single iconic image that would tell the whole story of the diamond’s journey from mine to market. The idea of showing the cut diamond literally coming out of the rough made perfect sense. We shot a 40 carat rough and a 22 carat Asscher cut diamond and merged the two in post production.

Attached is the pitch deck that won the approval of the corporate office in London. I sold the concept by framing the shoot through the lens of art history. Anyone who pitches business will find it worthwhile. 

Click here to read the original pitch deck. 


Why did you decide to work with Raymond Meier, and what did you learn from him?

I was literally working on the world’s best diamond product; involving one of the world’s best product photographers made perfect sense. Raymond takes his time and never lets you know how hard he’s worked to get the results. He is selling a product (photography) but also a service. He sweats the details in private (via retouching) so you don’t have to. When I walk into a room at the Four Seasons and everything is perfect, I’m not interested in how long it took to press the linens. 


What are you most proud of about this project?

My biggest achievement wasn’t getting the work, it was selling the best possible talent, Raymond Meier, into the job and securing the funds for his inclusion. Yes, I’m proud of having dreamed up the concept but knowing who to go to to pull it off is what is making the program a success at retail.

Top 10 Tips for Luxury Packaging Design

President and Creative Director James Benard has over 20 years of experience in luxury package design and production. Here are some of the things he has learned.

1. Be your own resource.
Keep your tools up to date. Invest in current PMS books, foil stamping color charts, and maintain a complete paper and book cloth library. With the resources close at hand, you can dictate the exact design specifications to vendors rather than relying on vendors to choose for you.

2. Good design is appropriate design.
Find out the production budget (per piece and total), the quantity needed, and the time frame allotted before you start. An appropriate design must consider all three of these criteria up front.

3. Let your materials work for you.
The right paper choice, finishing technique and design detail might be enough. Express your design confidence via your restraint and your subtlety.

4. Understand mechanical limitations.
Learn about production. Go to factories to gain a complete understanding of how the machinery works. Innovative design tends to tweak the production process, rather than investing in costly  new machinery. Great design is reproducible design.

5. Study the brand guidelines.
Big luxury brands have graphic standards within which you have to design. There are often forgotten or underutilized colors and finishing techniques within the rulebook itself. Studying the brand guidelines can afford the opportunity to give a company a fresh look without an extended approval process. Intentionally bending established rules is bold; inadvertently breaking rules undermines your authority.

6. Luxury Design is a service industry.
Clients who work for luxury brands appreciate the finer things in life. Coddle them; let them know you appreciate their business. Act as a concierge and manage the relationship between clients and vendors. Wrap up proofs so that they look like gifts and hand deliver them. Personal contact breeds familiarity and that leads to more work.

7. Details are the key to success.
List all of the production specifications directly in the design file. Never use placeholder information; only include specs that the client has confirmed (print quantity, PMS#, foil stamping colors, paper stock, weight, color). The file can then efficiently serve as a purchase order when the job is released to the vendor.

8. Partner with knowledgable vendors.
Choose a smart vendor over a good price, and do it early in the design process. Have them make comps (mock-ups on the actual paper at the right size) for your reference. Measure the comps carefully, never guess at any dimensions when building your mechanicals!

9. Check hard (physical) proofs thoroughly.
Never accept a digital proof for sign off. Cut the proofs out and fold them up. See how they feel in your hand. Compare them to your comps.  Question every facet. After you' ve reviewed and corrected the proofs, get signed approval from the client.

10. Go on press.
Become a production geek. Learn to love the technical challenges involved with mastering your craft. Your designs can live and die in the pressroom. Design is a collaborative process - if you invest in the project, your vendors will meet you there.


Top 5 Tips for Creating A Dynamic Luxury Jewelry Website

For Todd Reed we created a complete overhaul: branding, packaging, display, advertising, films. Here are some of the things we considered when creating his dynamic e-commerce website. 

1. The brand comes first.

Todd is a true legend within the jewelry industry; it's time for his name to be known worldwide. We've created a virtual home for the brand that is also a view into Todd Reed's world. We romance the viewer through imagery and motion rather than sending them to the shopping cart as quickly as possible. Luxury is never in a rush. 

2. Tell the story with pictures.  

We shot a bold, iconic ad campaign, featured in a carousel on the homepage. The "Raw Elegance" imagery encapsulates the brand's essence and creates an immediate emotional connection with the consumer. When you invest in breathtaking images that help articulate the brand's values, consumers will follow your lead and invest in the brand's offering.

3. Use motion to draw your audience in.

Scrolling down on the Todd Reed site, the consumer lands on the brand essence film. Shot on location in Boulder, the film gives an intimate glimpse into the home of the company headquarters, and introduces Todd himself. The consumer journeys into his world, and becomes intrigued to find out more.

4. User friendliness - less is more.  

Websites can become easily overwhelming. We've reduced the number of choices on the navigation bar to the absolute minimum, and kept the type choices and font sizes elementary. All columns throughout the site follow a carefully gridded template. Simple design is user-friendly design; distill the elements as much as possible to create a smooth, sublime experience for the consumer.

5. Be timeless - be of the moment.

Pure clean lines and elegant proportion never go out of style, but technology changes fast. Be sure that you are up to the minute with vetted tech trends, and always use the latest tools to help move product. On Todd's site, we've included dynamic live inventory, which means that the site updates immediately when a product is sold. Todd's consumers are therefore shopping in real time, and have access to a real time chat option with customer service who can help facilitate and guide their shopping experience.


View the new site here:

View the entire Raw Elegance campaign




Written / Directed By
Katja Haecker and James Benard

Director of Photography
Jennifer Askew

Edited By
Theo Mercado

Music Composed By
Gil Talmi

Post Production
Big Apple Films


Creative Direction
Katja Haecker and James Benard

Horacio Salinas

Creative Direction: Lipstick Queen

Lipstick Queen is by all accounts an international success, now in 1,000 Ulta stores and soon, Sephora. We sat down with James Benard, Creative Director of Benard Creative, to get an insider's look behind the brand. 

How did you meet Poppy King and get involved with Lipstick Queen?

I introduced myself to Poppy King while we were standing in line at Dean and Deluca in 2006. We hit it off immediately, and she asked for my help with her new venture, Lipstick Queen. I drew the original logo by hand and 2 weeks later finished the Sinner and Saint flower drawings for the first round of packaging. 

How did the iconic hand-drawn packaging come about?

Pure necessity! We didn't have any budget for models or photographers, so we got resourceful with the tools we had: Poppy's PR connections, her brilliant nack for concept and color, and my ability to bring them to life with a ball point pen. 

Can you describe your creative working relationship with Poppy King?

It's such a pleasure to collaborate with a genius! We riff off of each other in a way that I imagine songwriting teams do, one being more musically inclined (me with visuals) and the other being more lyrical (Poppy with words). We were born in different countries (Poppy is Australian) and have different abilities, but we see things in a remarkably similar way. 

Some of the product concepts are very obscure. Did you ever worry about losing the consumer?

Our goal was to challenge women to think - to cut against the mostly conventional, boring, conformist ideas of beauty. We knew that if we poured our hearts and creative souls into it, the messages would translate into interest.  

A product like Medieval has so much meaning layered into it, historical references that most women never need to unpack, but the depth of the sourcing resonates. The drawing alone took me 140 hour, and it's still a top seller (see below).

In what ways has the brand changed since it's rise to cult status?  

We have had to simplify our point-of-sale messaging for the mass retail outlets. Additionally, now there is often a digital component, and there is more management. Thankfully the creative process is basically the same. 

What is one lesson that you’ve learned from this account?

You can never look for consensus when doing something new: revolutionary ideas test poorly in focus groups (which is why everything looks the same). A few people will be crazy about a bold idea, but the majority of those polled will dislike it. This is how all movements start: they succeed in creating a small cadre of advocates. It takes a great client to “Think Different” and say yes to something radically new. But in the end we were our own client. 

Any regrets?

That I didn't work for an ownership stake while the company was small. 

The Symbolism of LQ's "Medieval"

During medieval times, when lipstick was considered a sin, women used the acidity of lemons to bring out a natural blood-red stain on their lips. This flattering look has been recreated with Medieval lip tint.

Most people couldn't read in Medieval times, so religious paintings told stories through elaborate symbolism. Plants and animals each had specific meanings, and were ascribed to two realms: the heavenly and the satanic.

For the Medieval artwork, the symbols tell the traditional story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, but we've also assigned a second set of meanings that apply to today's woman. 

Scroll over each aspect of the interactive artwork below to explore the symbolism in the image.

Q + A With James Benard, Founder of Benard Creative

President and Creative Director, James Benard, offers his take on everything from design to his go-to NYC hidden gem.

Describe your style in three words.
JB: Fabian meets Raphael. That is Fabian Baron the the art director (Interview) and Raphael the divinely inspired Renaissance painter. A very high mark to achieve but something to aspire to.

Did you always know you wanted to open your own creative agency one day?
JB: When I was a kid I would tape up fashion ads from magazines all over my room. I was fully aware that they were contrivances using models and sets, but that only made me buy into the fantasy all the more. There was a part of me that was always interested in being behind the camera.

Drink of choice?
JB: Gunpowder green tea.

What are you currently reading?
JB: The Luxury Strategy by Kapferer and Bastien

Favorite Pantone Color? 
JB: Precision Yellow and Reflex Blue. These are both mixing colors, meaning that they are the pure pigments that are blended together to make the formulas with the numbers. I love these colors for their richness, but also for their names - how brilliant are the words Precision Yellow and Reflex Blue? 

Where is your go-to NYC hidden gem?
JB: Kappo Masa. An underground Japanese restaurant on upper Madison Avenue below Gagosian. It's better if you go with a light appetite and full wallet. 

Who inspires you the most?
JB: Children and very old people. I like the fringes.

Where can we find you off-duty?
JB: At the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I live 2 blocks away so I'm there often. My aim is to memorize the Collection, but it's proven challenging. Only one third of it is on display at any given time, and they change it up very often. You might also find me practicing yoga with my girlfriend Elena Brower. Elena and the Met; grateful for good company.

Which project will you always remember?
JB: The brand new Tiffany's packaging that just launched worldwide! It features an embossed interlocking T pattern. I get a charge seeing the iconic blue bags walking down Fifth Avenue. There is a room at The Met that features the jewelry work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (the founder's impresario son). Humbled by his achievements, I'm proud to stand in his long shadow.

What's your best advice to aspiring creative directors?
JB: I have a short list.

1. Pick up the phone and sell, and ask for what you want. You are only as good as the projects you do - and no one is going to give you anything if you don't ask for it. 

2. Never turn down work because you're intimidated by it. Some jobs push us out of our comfort zone. They might be too big, too fast, require a skill set that we haven't yet mastered, or take too much time given your current workload. Take the work, make the commitment, and then figure it out. There's always a way. The times that I've been pushed to my edge are when I've learned the most.

3. Remember that you're an artist first. If a project inspires you and there is no money in it, work for free. Commerce is drawn to artistry - not the other way around. The money will find you if you love what you do. But have a balance too - don't do it all for free.

I can't live without my _________. 
JB: I don't really like "things". A few years back I gave away everything I owned (except my suits). I felt weighed down by material objects and starting over was liberating. All I really need is my eyes, I take great pleasure in looking. Actually, there is one; I can't live without Kevin Sullivan. He is my lead designer. Love him!!!!

Where is your next destination?
JB: I will be in Istanbul next week. Watch out Hagia Sophia, here I come!

If you could spend one day with any artist dead or alive who would it be and why?
JB: This will be a surprise because no one knows about this guy - Abott Suger (1081-1151). He single handedly invented the Gothic style. He was a cultured and charming religious figure who was the friend and confidant of the French kings. This man is highly underrated in the word of design.

He oversaw the reconstruction of the Church of Saint Denis in the north of Paris (the burial place of the royal families). In that one building, he (and an unknown mason) invented and executed the pointed arch, the rib vault, and the flying buttress - which allowed for opened spaces and big stained glass windows. The innovations created a light, airy style that flourished for the ensuing 500 years. 
I would love to talk to this guy about how he got the kings to trust him to take such huge risks on such an important structure. There was no proof that what he wanted to do would work. He must have been one hell of a talker. Probably as good a salesman as he was a designer. 

What does luxury mean to you?
JB: 'Super premium' means that there is a correlation between the cost of the product and the features that the product offers. In the world of 'luxury,' cost comes out of the equation - it isn't important. Luxury is really about time. If you are taking time on a yacht, beach to beach, without worrying about money, food, obligations - that's true luxury. For me luxury is more about lifestyle than product.

One design faux pas you wish would go away?
JB: The typeface 'Trajan.' because it's hopelessly over-used. The new Star Wars movie poster, Rogue One, uses Trajan. I keep waiting for the face to become dated, but it doesn't seem to be happening anytime soon.

3 Lessons from the Set of the New Disney Fine Jewelry Ad Campaign

Benard Creative was recently tasked with branding and launching Disney fine jewelry. Here are 3 keys to success when working on the set of big budget productions.

1. Surround yourself with people who are more experienced than you.
The ultimate proof of your work is in the end product. Never be afraid to hire someone whose abilities outshine yours. Working with big budgets requires a team; so build a strong one and you'll ALL shine through the product you'll deliver.

I gained a lot of respect for Frank Sinatra when I found out that he was known for having the world's greatest band. He didn't care if you showed up to see Coleman Hawkins on Sax, Harry Carney on trumpet or him - he only cared that the band sounded as good as possible.

2. Let creative people do what you hired them to do.
Be an advocate for your creative vision but remember that you have hired a collaborator not a machine. I keep a safe distance from the photographer and model as they do their dance. Hire people who's work you love and allow them the space (and trust) to do what they do.

I was satisfied with the Bell shot, of her leaning on the fireplace, and almost said "wrap, let's move on". I held my tongue for a 1/2 hour and we got my favorite shot of the campaign. I am most proud of that one because I allowed it to happen.

3. Over-prepare so that you're open to spontaneity on set. 
Study your script and scout well in advance so that you know exactly what you're looking to achieve on set. Learn the flow and requirements so well that they become intuitive. Walk on set with everything already worked out so that you are relaxed and have room to incorporate chance, accident and new inspirations. Remember that other crew members take their cues from the director. If you are open to creativity on set, everyone will feel safe to let their imagination and creativity be known in a constructive, productive way. 

We scouted the location late in the day. When we got on set we realized that the sunlight in the Belle room was more conducive to the Cinderella character. You can watch in the behind the scenes video as we rearrange our shot list.