The secret behind building Instagram’s favorite luxury lifestyle brand

Chelsea Hansford, CEO and creative director, of Simon Miller on taking the brand from selling denim to a modern and fun luxury label.
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Simon Miller

4 min read

Scrolling through Instagram these days seems like walking through a maze of sponsored content and posts you don’t necessarily care about.

Being a brand, especially a fashion brand, that can stand out in this tsunami of content can be tough. But that’s where California-based luxury womenswear brand Simon Miller shines the most. From colorful and modern ready-to-wear to swimwear and accessories, the brand has a bold yet stylish aesthetic that’s hard to miss.

The brand got its start as a denim label in 2008, but when creative director and CEO Chelsea Hansford came on board in 2013, it bid adieu to both denim and menswear to become the luxury womenswear-only brand it is today.

“I always wanted to build a lifestyle brand,” Hansford told Retail Brew. “That was my main mission, and I have a very distinct aesthetic that I think crosses over way more than just clothes. A lot of my inspiration comes from home and interior and [is] less fine art but more architecture, furniture, sculptures, things like that.”

A lot has factored into Simon Miller’s success. Over the years, the retailer has shifted from a wholesale-only strategy to a mix of 60% wholesale and 40% DTC. While it maintains a presence in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, it is also experimenting with pop-ups across LA and New York.

And while Hansford realizes it’s a challenge to keep the brand going, faced with the ever-shifting economic environment, she has a few strategies on hand. Below, she breaks down her top four tactics that make the brand tick in the age of digital saturation and TikTok dances.

Interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

On pivoting from denim to a luxury womenswear and lifestyle business

I knew denim wasn’t for me, because it’s a tough business. I don’t want to use the word “mathematical,” but it’s a strategic business. It wasn’t the type of business I wanted to have at Simon Miller.

I really wanted this lifestyle, and I wanted to share it…kind of build the whole world around this brand. That was way more my path. So I definitely pivoted; that was a business decision I made to stop doing denim and stop doing menswear and really focus on this women’s lifestyle brand. It made a very intentional, direct path towards that.

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On appealing to its customer demographic

I wanted to make clothes and accessories for the working creative. So I’ve always had this woman in mind: She's creative, meaning she’s expressive; she’s bold; she wants to wear garments, accessories, clothing that speak; but she’s working, so she’s on the go; she’s got to feel comfortable; she’s got to be attainable.

I very much use my life—and that’s from every touchpoint, from interiors, home, and lifestyle and everything—to inspire the brand. But that’s been my mission is to develop this playful luxury brand for the working creative.

On pivoting to digital and maintaining its wholesale business

Our biggest spend is still on digital, for sure. We are pivoting a little bit to putting the money back into wholesale marketing, because I think with all the shifts in digital, paid social, becoming a little bit more of a challenging space. We are working closer with our wholesale partners to make sure that we are actually strong partners and are doing our part as well. Also contributing because they have such great reach and such a great, targeted audience that we are partnering with them more and more, just in terms of getting our brands on the forefront of their platforms.

On keeping up with IRL marketing, collaborations, and working with influencers

I think now more than ever, influencers in the digital community are supporting brands more when they have that face time and they are engaging in communities. So we are making efforts to kind of build that community, whatever that is, in small and big ways here in LA or in New York, and continue to kind of get the product in front of people.

We’re looking towards pop-up stores as well. It was the next move for us just in terms of forward-facing, in-person activations. I’ve actually stepped away from doing fashion shows, if you will, and I’m doing more intimate one-on-one press previews. Because I definitely am trying to steer my focus towards the end consumer…We have our second big collaboration launching in May. It’s with Mango and it’s a 60-piece high summer collection. So [collaborations] are a big part of our communication strategy.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.