'Marking 70 Years of Dior with a New Strategic Archive' runs the headline of yesterday's BofF article by Osman Ahmed. I read on with interest - a 'strategic' archive? What does that mean?
With unique access to the new Dior Heritage archive, Ahmed details how the team at the LMVH-owned brand would be using its contents to underpin future developments and growth. Along with a dedicated team of archivists, the beautifully designed facility has incorporated:
- The story behind Dior the brand - what it was and is, its history, its designers, their impact
- Custom-made storage for each individual Dior item that it owns, whether a garment, jewellery or accessory with clear labelling and an image on each wrapping
- Myriad documents, letters, old business plans, licences, as well as all the other corporate bits and pieces that so many companies fail to keep
- Facilities and capability for garment preservation
- Educational and event space
However unlike the Marks & Spencer archive now open in Leeds, the Dior archive will not be open to the public. It is for internal and guest use only.
With a multi-million pound business to support, the Dior team is likely to call on the archive to contribute ideas and thinking for a range of Dior's diverse commercial operations, with access granted to designers and executives through to retail teams. But they will also use it to highlight and source social media stories, exhibitions, books and other content to support the brand.
Whilst most companies don't have the resources or the collateral like Dior or M&S to house their archive - when my company, Lola, starts looking at the past history of many client companies, there is sad lack of appreciation of what has gone before. The rise of digital, the new disruptors, the speeding pace of change makes much of the past seem irrelevent. It seems to lack value and look a bit grey.
But nothing is further from the truth.
A company's past, its story, its archive, how it got to here is utterly unique. No-one can compete with it, no-one will be able to recreate it - ever. It is one of the most valuable intellectual assets you own. Provided you understand how to interpret, interrogate and allow it to provide a springboard to your future. This is where its 'strategic' importance comes in.
Of course very few companies have Dior's heritage, but you are probably not in Dior's market. So give some thought to where your heritage and archive will be valued. How do you store it, who can see it and access it? And I don't just mean at the start of a pitch deck. It could be that out-moded services and skills, when reframed, would add valuable new business models to tomorrow's bottom line.
When we do an intellectual asset audit for clients, it's intriguing to see how company boards often dismiss this treasure trove. As we delve further looking to originate new ideas and ways of exploiting what they already own, sorting out the archive frequently becomes part of the project. Even if that just means storing it digitally, with any actual items/paperwork or whatever carefully boxed and labelled for the short-term.
I remember working with Vitsoe and the team at the Dieter & Ingebor Rams Foundation... As Braun's lead industrial designer in the 50s & 60s, Rams has kept at least one of every item he ever designed with its packaging, neatly stored on the shelves designed by him for Vitsoe. This visionary designer's archive has been cared for by him at home. Yet the influence of this body of work has reached around the world, and down through the years - with Apple's Jonathan Ives referencing it in his foreword to Phaidon's book on Rams.
So nurture your past, even if you are a new company, store important things carefully where you can access them. And if you know that your archive is in a mess - get it in shape. Recognise that the trajectory, the route that created today's opportunities could be a tremendous strategic resource for tomorrow.