MELBOURNE — Fashion executives revealed the ins and outs of designer collaborations and shed light on the corporate strategies of Hennes & Mauritz, Esprit, Acne and Bally at last month’s L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Business Seminar.

Former H&M executives Jan Nord and Jörgen Andersson — both of whom have since decamped to Esprit, talked about what it was like working with Karl Lagerfeld and Rei Kawakubo and expressed dismay that Miuccia Prada turned down an offer. Her “design signatures would translate so well,” reasoned Nord.

Taking the audience through a journey of H&M’s fashion collaborations to date, Nord and Andersson offered insight on how some of fashion’s most celebrated designers worked. Karl Lagerfeld “asked us how many suits we wanted, in blue or black, and then proceeded to design a collection in record time,” said Nord. He recalled how Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons answered questions with either a “yes” or “no” while Lanvin’s designer Alber Elbaz had the entire H&M team spellbound when he quipped in a meeting, “fashion is just a dream.”

Esprit recently tapped Nord and Andersson to oversee brand and new business at Esprit.

“We plan to build on the roots of what Esprit used to be, that eco-friendly feeling of how it started in California in 1968, that lifestyle fits in very well with today,” said Andersson.

Revealing their first strategy to revive the brand, the duo said Esprit bought the entire clip from Gostwyck Farm, a sustainable fine merino wool producer North-west of Sydney. A trio of graduates from London’s Royal College of Art will design the wool into garments to be unveiled in a fashion show during London Fashion Week in September. The pieces will be part of Esprit’s fall 2012 collection to be sold worldwide.

Mikael Schiller, ceo for Acne Studios opened the seminar with an account of the 15-year-old brand’s history of not playing by the rulebook. He described how Acne racked up a million dollars in debt in the early years, only to claw its way back evolving into a multi-platform brand with a turnover of $100 million in 2010 with plans for further growth.

“We want to grow from being something Scandinavian and niche to being something much larger,” he said. Of the 30 Acne boutiques, Schiller noted all were successful except two. “Hamburg — because we discovered Acne needs to be in a city that we actually like,” deadpanned Schiller, and the multi-level store in Dover Street, London. “We have a lot of respect for multi-level retailing,” he said pausing to add, “now.”

Later, Schiller told WWD Acne plans to move its pre-collection shows to New York. The executive said the company doesn’t plan to add to its 700 wholesale clients in 45 countries this year and instead wants to build on existing clients’ order volumes.

Bally creative directors Graeme Fidler and Michael Herz outlined their new design path for the 160-year-old luxury brand, which has 10 stores in Australia.

“In a sense we are trying to get to grips with Bally’s DNA, pin it down and give it our voice,” Fiddler told WWD.

The duo showed a Bally video meshing scenes from Belle du Jour, a herd of rare European bison in snow and Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti at work with stills of Bally’s archived shoe models. Fidler, who together with Herz has been at Bally’s design helm for 11 months, said some of the imagery inspired the brand’s boutiques redesign to commence next year.


After closing the seminar, Fidler traveled to Sydney to host the opening of a new Bally boutique the next day in luxury shopping mall Westfield Bondi Junction. Australian media and television stars were among the 200 guests at the cocktail party to fete the 1,291-square-foot store, where Aboriginal model Samantha Harris modeled colorful pieces from Bally’s spring 2011 collection.

“I’d never been to Australia and seeing how much the brand is revered here really makes me proud of the super privileged opportunity I have,” Fidler said.

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