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From Closet Porn to Big-Time Success: The Tale of The Coveteur

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Images via the Covetur.
Images via the Covetur.

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Christian Louboutins stacked upon kitchen counters, Fendi bags laying by the pool, furs draped over a fireplace mantle: photo blog The Coveteur specializes in images of luxury brands carefully arranged inside eye-popping mansions. The site, which launched in 2011 with a mission to "take you inside the homes and closets of today's tastemakers," has built a successful business doing just that.

Started by a trio of fashion folks as a hobby, The Coveteur employs the same monetization tricks of many other style sites—e-commerce and banner ads—but its founders have also managed to turn their distinctive aesthetic into a creative agency, one that works with some of the most iconic brands in fashion.

Racked caught up with co-founder Stephanie Mark to learn how she went from photographing stylists' closets to working on brand campaigns with Chanel in Paris.

What were you doing before you started The Coveteur?
"I went to Parsons for the Fashion Marketing program, then I worked in New York for about two and half years. I had moved home [to Toronto] from New York for another job that I ended up hating and I was so depressed and sad. It started as a passive thing because I didn't feel satisfied in what I was doing. Jake [Rosenberg] was shooting full-time and Erin [Kleinberg], who isn't with the company anymore, had her own clothing line.

We all thought it was a cool, creative project; we didn't plan to start a business. We all really loved street style, but we didn't want to do that because people had already done it really well. These [street style stars] look really amazing, but what goes into creating their look? There were people who, at that time, weren't getting recognized such as make up artists and hair stylists and editors—the unsung heroes."

How did you meet everyone on your team?
"I had known Erin from summer camp. Jake shot a lookbook for one of her collections and I was the stylist on set. We came up with the idea the next day."

What were the first few months like?
"Before the site launched, we had already shot content for it, so we had a bunch of editors from magazines and PR people who told their friends. We already had collaborations with Vogue and Elle before the site even launched, so once it did launch it got a lot of press and traffic the first day.

The timing of when we launched was also helpful, it was when people were warming up to the idea of the stylist becoming the celebrity or the editor becoming the celebrity. With Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, people were starting to crave more access to people's homes and the two things paired with one another was super-helpful."

How did you gain access to such high-profile personalities?
"When the site first started, we would pitch people and say 'we've recently shot this person and this person.' A lot of times, the initial person that we had shot would refer us to their friends. We still work largely on referral and now people pitch to us, which is great too. We understand that going into someone's home is personal and we're not a tabloid or TMZ, we want to respect people's homes and [make them] feel comfortable."

When did you realize you could turn the site into a business?
"When someone was like, do you have banner ads on your blog? And we didn't, we didn't even have that capability in the beginning. And then we were approached by other brands asking if we did integrated content or if we could work with them on a project. Then we realized that if we all committed, we could turn this into something. After we had gotten a few inquiries like that we all made the decision to quit our jobs and focus on The Coveteur full-time."

How do you monetize the blog now?
"Banner ads, for one. A lot of revenue comes from integrated advertising and editorial, so working really closely with different companies and brands to create content that tells their stories. We have e-commerce on the site and all our stories are shoppable. We also do a lot of consulting and white-label work. One of the first campaigns we did was for a clothing company. They liked our photography and our styling and they used [our photos] in their mailers and their email blasts. We [are a] creative agency so we can help to brand and do social."

What were your favorite shoots?
"The first time any of us have ever gone to Paris was with Chanel and that was for brand storytelling. It was one of the first brands we've worked with, too. We got a private tour of Coco Chanel's apartment and saw where they hand-make all of the shoes and the jewelry salon. It was the first time we realized we could tell all brands' stories in a special way."

Where do you wish you could photograph?
"Our wish list is a little bit quirky. I would love to be able to go to Graceland and go to shoot archives of Elvis's costumes. I'm dying to do the same thing with The Nanny, shoot Fran Drescher—or people like Joan Rivers."

What lessons have you learned along the way?
"Basic business stuff such as don't be naïve and always think of what someone else can gain by working with you. If it's a celebrity who says they want to be on The Coveteur and we go there and then after they pose, well, they have a new show coming out and you have to post it in the copy and you have to mention it in a tweet. Things like that that people won't always be so upfront about. Or when we didn't listen to our gut and did something we weren't comfortable with that we didn't think our readers would like. Defining your brand and trying not to waver from it is a good lesson."

What advice do you have for up-and-coming bloggers?
"There always has to be something that sets you apart. For us, there were a couple of other blogs that went into people's closets but it wasn't in the same way we did. People would just take photos of the home the way it is, but we pulled things from their closet and mixed them in with their interiors—plus, [we have a] mandate of exclusive access luxury content. Also, there might be something else out there that's similar but maybe you can do it better."

· How Two Stay-At-Home Moms Turned Their Bag Obsession Into a Six-Figure Business [Racked]
· How Wildfox Built a Successful Fashion Business Out of T-Shirts [Racked]
· 'Pants Are Complicated': The Alice + Olivia Story [Racked]