A customization station and a VIP virtual reality experience are coming to the Diane von Furstenberg flagship store — a brand complex that is also home to her studio, apartment and company offices — in honor of International Women’s Day.

The in-store tech upgrade is a digital complement to a series of mentoring sessions and panel discussions hosted by von Furstenberg, and featuring guests like The Wing’s Audrey Gelman, author Amy Cuddy and former Glamour editor Cindi Leive, between March 8 and 11. The brand is inviting its top customers as well as a smaller group of walk-ins, who can all shop the new spring collection at 20 percent off through the weekend. Each panel will be live-streamed for the social media crowd.

The event series, which is themed around women entrepreneurs and empowerment, is a way to connect with customers of the brand through both the conversations and the data collection gathered through the tech activations. During a time when customers expect more from the in-store experiences that will get them to shop offline, want personalized customer service, and prioritize brands that they have a connection with, pairing customization, technology and experiential retail is becoming table stakes for luxury brands looking to cater to new customer expectations.

“This is part of our long-term vision for the brand. It’s always been important to have a relationship with customers, of course, but what’s different is the customer behavior,” said Delphine Buchotte, the CMO at Diane von Furstenberg. “We’re able to activate these digital touchpoints without sacrificing the physical engagement, which builds a more personal relationship. It’s good to get back to that. This is meant to be a conversation, and if nothing else, create concrete moments with the customer.”

The flagship event series is the second in-store event partnership the DVF brand has launched under Buchotte. The first, hosted in September with Levi’s, brought customers in San Francisco (where the brand doesn’t have an official store) to a pop-up where they could design customized Levi’s with DVF patterns. It’s also the first time the brand has worked with VR headsets and mixed reality. The headsets, which will be relegated to a VIP area in their limited capacity, let the users view the spring collection presentation, watching the very clothes that surround them in store move on a model. All of what they see in the mixed-reality experience will be ready to buy, and store staff is instructed to guide the users from the experience to purchase.

The goal is to pepper these events throughout the year to offer a high-touch experience, sometimes with von Furstenberg herself, to high-spending customers, and rope in new ones with limited-edition products.

Luxury brands have been embracing personalization and customizable product stations in store as they lean in to a new customer mindset that equates one-of-a-kind items with luxury. Brands like Coach and Gucci have worked with partners to bring customization in house; DVF has partnered with Microsoft for a fully branded experience in its flagship store. During the event series, beanies, T-shirts and tote bags provided by El Salvadorian brand Sequence can be printed with personalized sayings and designs on site.

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The customization station at the DVF store; image credit: BFA for Diane von Furstenberg

“Businesses that embrace personalization have a differentiated proposition that could lead to sustainable growth,” said Celine Finch, Deloitte’s consumer business research lead. “For high-end brands, recognizing that this is the new luxury that customers want is going to prove profitable in the long run.”

To make the most of the in-store activations, the brand plans to work with the event partners like Microsoft to take customer actions, like a run-through with the VR headset or a tote bag design, and translate that insight into customer profiles, whether they’re returning customers or new.

“We’re conscious about data capture, and we’ll be aggregating this data for future use to build out the customer profiles,” said Michael Crooks, senior director of global relational marketing at the brand. “How they choose to design a T-shirt can be added to the psychology of what we know about them.”

In-person events can also drive more anecdotal insights that the brand can then apply to things like content strategy. Buchotte said that after listening to store staff who reported back that customers’ No. 1 question was around how to tie a wrap dress, it created a tutorial video that was used across its social accounts, on the sites and borrowed by wholesale partners.

The technology in stores is temporary, but Buchotte said it’s part of an ongoing program to better build a relationship with customers, particularly the high-spending ones.

“We’re catering to specific top clients, meeting with them and bringing them to our Meatpacking store,” she said. “We want to make sure we can see them and chat with them about the relationship with the brand, and we’ll build stories around technology to give substance to it. It’s long-term. It can’t be just about the product; it’s about the value and the message of the brand that we want to support and spread.”

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