BY Fast Company 6 MINUTE READ

It’s an old business truism that the best time to start a business
is during a downturn—and Anina Malherbe-Lan would agree. As founder and CEO of luxury brands marketing firm VIVIDLUXURY, she had some humbling experiences when the recession struck during her first year of business.

But in the time since, by staying true to her passion for luxury goods, the fine-arts graduate has forged a marketing tour de force—securing top names like Gucci, Bentley and Jimmy Choo as a matter of course. Ten years on, during a period when competitors have collapsed, VIVIDLUXURY has cemented its reputation as a leader in luxury brand marketing communications in Africa. In addition to winning the most coveted PRISM Award for its Belvedere campaign, VIVIDLUXURY held the first-ever event at the exclusive R100-million penthouse of the One&Only in Cape Town; achievements Malherbe-Lan professes she is “incredibly proud” of.

To add to an already impressive dossier, she also spearheads VDELUXE: a joint polo venture with Simone de Wet, MD for Val de Vie Events. The prize-winning pair and their team of experts have presented a number of world-renowned polo events including the Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo Cape Town which, on March 4, celebrated its seventh year. It’s a festival of equestrian sport and bubbly which has become a must-attend fixture on the Cape Town events calendar.

What has been the biggest achievement of your career to date? 
My biggest achievement was capturing and owning a niche in the market which, 10 years ago, no other communications agency really focused on as a speciality. Many luxury brands were only then starting to enter the South African market, and we decided to offer a niche service focusing
on localising their brand positioning. Another proud moment was when, after a seven-year joint venture, we decided to launch a new luxury polo brand platform called VDELUXE, which is co-owned by VIVIDLUXURY and Val de Vie Events, and spearheaded by myself and Simone de Wet. Together, our dynamic team of experts have conceptualised and executed more than 18 world-renowned polo events over the last seven years, including the Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo Cape Town, the Cintron Pink Polo, the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup for HRH Prince Harry, the Coburg Polo Classic and many more.
It’s clear you have had tremendous success with your company, but have there been any challenges along the way?
I think the biggest challenge is to sustain the business. It’s easy to have one or two success stories, but to have ongoing success and an impeccable track record for 10 years is not that simple. It’s been a lot of hard work, sleepless nights and a relentless pursuit of excellence. Making the business viable, sustainable, and breaking through the glass ceiling is the most difficult part, but also the part that provides you with the best learning you can imagine.

How do you intend taking this year’s Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo to the next level?

We continue to reinvent and innovate every year, as this is what has made the event successful and one of the top polo and social events in Africa. This year we’re taking our PR and media campaign to the next level, particularly strengthening our media partnerships. We have an increasingly close partnership with our broadcast media partner, E! Entertainment, and this year we’re not only increasing our visibility across the E!, Universal and Studio Universal channels but we’re also for the first time (a first for Africa!) bringing out an E! News reporter from LA, Zuri Hall. E! will broadcast the event globally, and have an extensive E! Africa post-event campaign. In addition, we’re strengthening our digital and social media visibility, and aligning closely with our MC Nomzamo Mbatha, who has a significant following. We’re also excited about a new theme this year called “Clicquot Journey”. In line with Veuve Clicquot’s current global campaign, we’ll be showcasing various iconic cities in which the brand is enjoyed, such as Paris, New York, London and Tokyo to name a few. So, expect some interesting offerings by these cities, nd more, in terms of food, bars, décor and experiences around the polo. There are some exciting new sponsors on board this year— including Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vodacom, Guerlain, GHD and the new Ritz Hotel as hospitality partner—alongside long-standing event sponsors such as Ferrari, ISPS Handa and Shimmy Beach Club.
What is your role in all this? Are you very hands-on?
Yes, I’m very hands-on, as is my polo partner Simone de Wet. I’m a little OCD, so I like to see every little detail, but I’m essentially very involved in the conceptualisation process, sponsorship management and the marketing strategy.
Why Val de Vie Estate? Did you have any other locations in mind?
Our partner Val de Vie Events is based there, and the estate is the number-one polo and lifestyle estate in South Africa—the most beautiful location with all the luxury amenities one could ever hope for. We will never move the Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo away from there. For any Cape-based event, we will use Val de Vie Estate; for any other region, we’ll simply choose the best polo venue we can find in that particular city.
Sunshine and Champagne is a magical combination. How many bottles of Veuve Clicquot do you expect to go through?
We go through record numbers at the Veuve Clicquot Masters Polo every year. You’ll be surprised how much Champagne people can drink when there’s sunshine, exquisitely beautiful people and action-packed polo involved during a five-hour afternoon!
Watching world-class polo sounds like a superb way to spend a day, but how else will visitors be entertained?
We have a full programme of activities. Firstly, the Fashion Show is normally a big highlight, being centre-field, as is the Best Dressed Competition (judged by Elle magazine). The half-time divot stomping and Ferrari showcase, plus the After Party experience by Shimmy Beach Club are other big highlights. There’s not a dull moment during this action-packed day. We’ll also have food inspired by some of Veuve Clicquot’s most iconic cities such as New York, Tokyo, London and Paris, and games on the grass such as table tennis and pétanque.
Why are events like these important?
It’s a natural transition from the luxury communications business we created. With the current global trend for luxury brands to offer more ‘experience-based’ value to their customers, and the need for these brands to engage with high-net- worth individuals (it’s historically difficult to get face time with these kinds of customers and to find a platform to build relationships), it was an opportunity for us to take luxury brand marketing to the next level and to get to interact directly with these consumers. Our polo events offer all the right ingredients: a luxury lifestyle environment where the right people gather (for many, even the super-rich, this is also a networking opportunity) with just the perfect drink, food, décor and entertainment. You have a captive audience for at least five hours.
What attracted you to the game of polo in the first place? 
Getting involved in polo was a major vision for us; a new industry which, I thought, had a lot of potential for growth in South Africa. In the beginning, the industry was typically (as with many sports and industries in the country) dominated by an older white male fraternity—we were looking to change that as well. We furthermore felt that the polo events here weren’t up to standard, and certainly not in line with other top international polo events. If we wanted to change the perception of the industry, we had to make radical changes throughout: firstly, to the general event lifestyle that it offered and the quality of polo events in South Africa; secondly, to the target market that polo was attracting; and thirdly, in the way polo was marketed. Over the last seven years, we’ve generated close to R100 million in PR (media value) and created events that are every bit
on par with some of the best international polo affairs, particularly those in New York, LA and Dubai. Polo is the ultimate deal- making event. Gone are the days
of deals being made in conference rooms. Golf has been a favourite due to the serene atmosphere and the possibility of uninterrupted conversation. But we’re seeing that best of all is attending a polo match. Not only is the setting tranquil
but the premier lounges offer opportunity for conversation, and the sport attracts a wealthy mix of dealmakers.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be? 
Don’t limit yourself. A lot of people think too small; dream as big as you can, and find a way to make
it happen. Put together a solid business plan, make sure it’s sustainable, and go for it. There
will be many naysayers along the way, but just keep focusing on the target, and you’ll eventually achieve success.