I sampled my first Vosges chocolate bar last year when someone brought one into Murky. It was the delicious Red Fire Bar, and from that time on I was intrigued by the company’s exotic chocolates, though price and availability prevent me from enjoying them too often.
Last night I learned that Katrina Markoff, the founder of Vosges, is a Vanderbilt alum. Vanderbilt Magazine just ran a cover story about her. It’s worth reading for its description of the chocolates and as a look at the new face of entrepreneurship:
Katrina Markoff doesn’t look like your typical hard-driving entrepreneur. Her long, wavy, dark hair is just this side of disheveled, and over her jeans she’s wearing an untucked, Western-style shirt embroidered with red roses. Markoff looks younger than her 31 years and seems sweeter than a company president should. She has a natural beauty and warmth that seem to captivate everyone she meets, from journalists to celebrities to the young, hip staffers (who are outdressing their boss by a mile, with their sharp outfits and high heels). But it’s clear that Markoff’s drive, intelligence and charisma are the emotional as well as the creative hub around which Vosges and its staff revolve.
The author gets this one introductory paragraph completely wrong. What is “your typical hard driving entrepreneur?” The past decade should have killed off the cigar smoking Uncle Moneybags image long ago. Markoff is interesting not because she’s so different from the typical entrepreneur, but because she so wonderfully embodies the possibilities that entrepreneurship offers in a world powered by diverse tastes, the Internet, and the demand for infinitely varied brand identities. The real story is Markoff as exemplar, not as outlier. For a creative, driven person, starting a successful business can be just as much about self-expression as it is about making money, as seen in the Vosges vision of its ideal consumer:
Markoff invented a character named Sophie to help embody and market the Vosges ideals. “Sophie is cosmopolitan, but into political action,” says the cosmopolitan, politically aware Markoff. “She can lay down in the dirt and go camping, but she knows fashion. She’s a little granola, a little fancy.” Looking at Markoff (still stunning after a long day of work, though her wrinkled shirt is riding up her tummy and her mascara is descending below her long lashes), one sees a woman who has tramped around the world from market to market, who loves to ride horses, who knows fine cuisine, who looks equal parts Vogue and Mother Jones?and the obvious question is, Where does marketing end and Markoff begin?
The big challenge for Vosges is maintaining the brand in the face of great success. How does Markoff keep the boutique feel of Vosges while doing $4.5 million in sales per year?
Markoff ‘s approach to marketing came out of the fashion industry, and she cites Calvin Klein as a model: “He has a big store on Fifth Avenue that defines his brand. Then he makes volume in perfumes.We create brand in truffles.Volume is in candy bars and cocoas.” But even the candy bars are available only at Vosges stores, through the catalog, and at Whole Foods Markets.
The company also serves as an outlet for Markoff to promote the changes she wants to see in the world:
All the [truffle] collections offer an opportunity for education. Markoff uses her packaging and catalog copy to talk about the countries and cultures that inspire her collections and often are home to the spices. Sometimes the collections offer an opportunity for social action or increasing social awareness. The Aztec Collection carries the message ?Save Women in Juarez,” referring to the epidemic ofmurdered or missing young women in that city. Twenty-five percent of the profits from La Grande Hatbox — a $200 collection of chocolate products –goes to support V-Day, the global movement to stop violence against women and girls.
There’s much more, including a section on how Markoff’s passion for yoga is also integrated into the business and some very enticing photos, in the full article (click on the .pdf).
Vosges chocolates are available here.