David Yurman CMO Carolyn Dawkins On Balancing “Heritage and Heresy” in Luxury Fashion

Taylor Masket
Taylor Masket
Nov 14, 2023

In Ep. 104 of Earned, we sit down with Carolyn Dawkins, CMO of David Yurman, the luxury jewelry brand home to the iconic cable design. The brand recently made waves with its Sculpted Cable campaign starring Sofia Richie Grainge, driving $5.3M EMV in September (of which Sofia contributed $980.3k across 12 posts)—a 156% month-over-month surge. 


To start the episode, we dive into Carolyn’s career trajectory and unpack her learnings from “finishing school” brands like P&G, L'Oréal, Google, and The Estée Lauder Companies. We explore how Carolyn uses data and analytics to understand consumer behavior and build better pattern recognition, and Carolyn discusses her approach to executing fewer, higher impact brand campaigns (like the brand’s successful Sculpted Cable campaign with Sofia Richie Grainge). Carolyn reveals her mission to balance “heritage and heresy” at David Yurman—honoring the brand’s legacy while also surprising and delighting the modern consumer on platforms like TikTok. Next, Carolyn shares her process for getting to the core essence of a brand, and explains how the key elements of David Yurman are its creativity, innovation, commitment to craft, and family-run roots. To close the show, we discuss David Yurman’s approach to working with creators, before Carolyn shares her advice to others looking to achieve a similar career path.

We’ve included a couple of highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, or tune into the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts!

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The following interview has been lightly edited for concision. 

“What are some truths that will consistently come up, regardless of who you talk to?”: Carolyn Dawkins on Getting to the Core of the David Yurman Brand

Conor Begley: We’ve talked about trying to understand the analytics behind David Yurman and what that tells you about the customers. But another thing that you've talked about is the core essence of a brand, and really getting to that. So I'm curious what your process was for understanding the brand component of David Yurman. How would you describe the brand now that you've had a chance to dive into it?

Carolyn Dawkins: This brand was started by two exceptional artists, David and Sybil Yurman, who, through their unique and different modes of art, created this really distinctive design lens that has created a unique experience for consumers. And I think Evan [Yurman] has also continued that because he has a unique, creative lens as well. So I think starting there makes it a lot easier. There is just so much truth and richness sitting in that background. It's not a brand that was thought up in an office. It was two artists smashing their unique creativity together.

I think what comes through, and what I always look for is, what are some truths that will consistently come up, regardless of who you talk to, whether it's people who are on the brand or on the front line, they're in the stores or they’re consumers. I think what comes through constantly for our brand is this idea of creativity, this sense of uniqueness. There are some elements in the brand that are very different to competitors. We use really innovative materials that a lot of other brands have never thought to use. Evan is constantly out looking for new materials that can really be honed and elevated to be part of a prestige jewelry collection. There's an amazing example with forged carbon. It's been honed and treated at extremely high temperatures. It's the same material as what's in a Formula One vehicle. So [we use] unique materials to foster this really creative sense of innovation. 

I think one of the other components is that there is such a commitment to craft. This idea also cues a journey. As artists, the journey is never over. The craft of the journey is never over. And the artisans that are in the business, the artisans that are in the New York atelier, [are] just so deeply embedded in the brand and constantly honing the design. I think they are two really unique truths.

I think the third is, because the brand is family-founded and still family-run, there is an intimacy that is different to other brands. A lot of our consumers, particularly our loyal consumers and a lot of our very important customers, have interacted with the Yurmans, and they feel so deeply connected and deeply intimate with the brand as a result. These are the kinds of truth that I'm constantly looking for. 

And then the other component is, how do you translate that to today? How do you take that forward and ensure that there's longevity? So, are we complete on the journey? Absolutely not. Have we got components of it coming through? Yes. Is there so much more to be done and so many more stories to be told? Absolutely. The thing that I was so excited about when joining David Yurman is there are more stories than I know what to do with. That is a beautiful problem to have. So, lots more to come.

“Who are the creators that reflect the way consumers approach fashion, so that they can see the product in the real world”: How David Yurman Partners With Creators to Reach Consumers

Conor Begley: Creators play a really big role in the luxury space. Whether that's using their content, repurposing it, choosing ambassadors like Sofia Richie Grainge, or just organic conversation that occurs from small and medium creators. What is your approach to this space as a brand, and what have you seen work so far?

Carolyn Dawkins: I think there’s different talent and different creators to serve different roles for the brand at different points in time. We use different talent to fuel awareness. I think there is an equity component for luxury that feels a little bit more static. It's the template, it's the benchmark that we set forward for the consumer, and I think that then holds some consistency throughout the year. So you'll see a very interesting evolution for us in 2024 there. 

I think at the consideration layer, that's where we have to really make sure that we're thinking through our customer psychographic and behavioral segments. Who are the creators that really reflect their interests, and reflect the way that they approach fashion, approach jewelry, approach lifestyle, so that they can see the product in the real world. 

I think one of the key things we know in luxury is that we create this adjacent-to-real-world imagery at the top of the funnel. But as we move on, we've got to bring that product into the real world, into the consumer's life, so they can understand exactly how it fits into their life. And we know in luxury, [consumers] spend a lot of time—particularly at the consideration layer—understanding, is this the right product for me? Is this product something I can style with what I have? And they compare a lot to understand, is this the right next investment? Because these are very much investment items. 

If you've ever worked on auto or other categories, it has a lot of synergies. There is a timeframe where there is an investment period, but it's different at different price points. So we see different interactions at different price points and different creators do different things. 

Then you get down to the conversion layer, and we have some more “accessibly” priced items that are able to bring the consumer closer to conversion. So we definitely think across all those different tiers. And then in those different tiers, we think about, where should we have longevity, and where should we be moving based on creators who are coming up in real time? Where should we be more agile?

Keep up with new episodes of Earned by following the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, or subscribing to our YouTube channel. To catch up on our previous episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Revolve, K18, Instagram, and Roblox, visit our Earned Podcast page.