PARIS — Blaming a crowded Paris fashion scene, Damir Doma is moving his company to Milan to get a tighter grip on production, merging his sister line Silent with his main collection and bidding “adieu” to the French show calendar.
“It’s a way for us to turn the page and start a new chapter,” the 34-year old said. “Paris has gotten absolutely extreme,” he continued, echoing the opinion of some industry players, who have been struggling with the city’s bloated schedule.
“The men’s is still mellow, but women’s is an absolute overkill. It’s very difficult for independent companies to breathe, I feel squeezed in between all the big brands, and I get that feeling from the press, too — every season is getting heavier, everyone groans under the pressure,” said Doma, who has spent the last seven years building his namesake label from scratch.
The designer noted that setting up the brand’s main branch in Milan, which historically is his biggest market, was a no-brainer. ”Both in terms of aesthetics and brand positioning it’s a fit. In Milan there are many power brands and then some young designers, but there are not many who are young and have an international appeal like us. I’m really excited about this,” he said.
The brand’s new office on Via Savona, in the heart of Milan’s fashion district, will house development, production and buying, while the administrative departments, including finance and logistics, will be dealt with out of a small new space on Paris’ Rue Montorgueil. Doma sells his collection to about 200 doors and has a boutique on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré here.
The brand’s debut on the Milan calendar is slated for June 22 during Men’s Fashion Week. “It will be more focused,” Doma said. “The idea is to bring it down to four collections a year. In women’s we will have two delivery windows, and I can already see the difference,” he said, following the merger of his women’s main line and pre-collection last March.
“My way of working takes time, it needs certain developments, and I want to fight against this hyper-quick system,” he explained, eager to devote more time to the development of custom fabrics, cuts and patterns.
Also on the to-do list is to “fix the steps from sampling to production,” he said.
The designer, who launched the label with his mother out of a small atelier in Bavaria, Germany, had outsourced development to an Italian partner two years ago. “We were losing two, three weeks after every runway show, which we were badly needing for delivery, and with so much pressure on delivery today, we really couldn’t afford your collections arriving in stores this late,” he explained.
Winning time meant losing control of the process. “I could see myself that there was a difference in terms of style. That was an issue for me. I consider myself a conceptual designer, and I think my collection is a designer’s collection, not a luxury one. What happened is that the main line, which we produce in the most expensive factory in Italy, [along with Chanel, Burberry Prorsum and Givenchy], drifted away from Silent, which is done in Portugal, and we lost control of our price points.”
Moving the epicenter of development to Milan will enable him to employ an in-house pattern maker and be more involved in the process, including pricing.
“We have a big issue between 400 and 800 euros, but we can fix this by changing production and diversifying. Quality is very important, but I want people to be able to afford my clothes,” the designer said.
With these changes under way, Doma predicts that his label could turn profitable within the next year or so. “We had a really good moment three years ago, then there was stagnation, and our sales went slightly down, but we are working on getting back to the numbers from three years ago,” which stood at about 8 million euros, or $9.1 million at current exchange, he noted.
“On-and-off exchanges” with potential investors for the last two years have given him all the more reason to get the figures back on track.
The biggest challenge for an independent brand like his is the growing volatility of the market, he argues. “There is a lot of action and reaction on the market. Seven years ago, you could aim at a certain market and build your collection around it, today because of the political environment there is so much change every season, I went through all the shops we used to sell to historically and it’s really shocking how many retailers don’t exist any more: in Athens, Barcelona, Madrid, Prague, in Zagreb, even France is complicated. Markets come and go,” Doma said, singling out Japan as a particularly tricky example.
In 2012, the Asian nation accounted for five percent of the label’s annual turnover; today the figure is down to 0.5 percent. “It’s a combination of factors: The general crisis in the country, currency issues, import and export taxes and the fact that two, three years ago our prices in the main line went up 30 percent, so now you have a T-shirt for 400 euros [$455], that’s a bit ridiculous.”
Doma has his sights set on the U.S., where his line is present via high-end design stores such as Just One Eye. But in order to penetrate the market he knows he has to build relationships with U.S. department stores. “We are looking for distribution and PR partners. The focus once again is to diversify,” he noted.
As for the overkill: “There are naturally too many things out there and not all of them can survive. I understand that Instagram is fascinating but a lot of things happen on the surface, people forget to look deeper. We need to talk about values again: quality and authenticity. It’s not just fashion — I see it also happening in food. People want to know how it’s cooked and where it’s produced, it’s a movement, and I hope it will bring back values,” he said.