PARIS — If there’s a fashion gene, Ivana Omazic surely inherited it. Growing up in then-Communist Zagreb, she announced at age five that clothes would be her career.

Her Yugoslavia-born aunt, Franka Stael von Holstein, has the same make up. A successful couturier based in London, she dressed the likes of Ava Gardner and Ingrid Bergman in the Sixties and has sold knitwear to stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue.

“My mom and my aunt said there was no way to change my mind,” Omazic recalled with a laugh. “After that, I was really following fashion.”

At 32, Omazic is plunging herself into the world of Celine as its first female creative director since it was founded 60 years ago by Celine Vipianas. Succeeding Roberto Menichetti, and Michael Kors before that, she promises a “more feminine touch” and an antiretro policy when she shows her first collection for the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned house Thursday during Paris Fashion Week.

“It won’t be Fifties, Sixties or Seventies. It will be 2006,” she said. “I’m part of the new generation and I want to experiment and to go forward. “

To be sure, Omazic is also a product of what she described as an exhilarating and “intense” seven years working under Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli at Prada Group. It was her second job, after 18 months at Romeo Gigli following graduation from Milan’s European Institute of Design, and she relished the chance to learn from her formidable bosses and Italy’s talented craftsmen.

“At Prada, it was an incredible balance between creativity and the industrial side at the same time,” she said in an interview in her new and spare office, her bulletin board punctuated with a solitary taxi receipt. “This job [of fashion designer] has a lot to do with dreams. We are always trying to create something beautiful and new. At the same time, we are part of an industry. There’s the responsibility of all the people who work for these big [luxury groups]. It’s good to be conscious of both.”

The reality-based approach is one she’s already brought to Celine, where she encourages design assistants, not only fit models, to try on the clothes, and where she’s constantly seeking feedback from employees. “With every style, every piece, I’m asking myself, ‘Why should somebody buy this? Why should someone wear this?’ Being a woman designer, it helps from this point of view.”

This story first appeared in the October 5, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Dressed in a full black skirt with a wisp of blush-toned chiffon blouse spilling out of her gray cardigan, tall and leggy Omazic said her closet boasts a lot of Prada and Miu Miu, rounded out with French labels and lots of vintage, but not a speck of jewelry. “I don’t like it on myself, only other people,” she explained, almost apologetically, gesturing to her bare earlobes, neck and wrists.

Also reticent to talk about her current fashion heroes, she preferred to talk about those from the past: Gabrielle Chanel for her “revolutionary approach”; Madeleine Vionnet for her unparalleled “respect for fabric,” and Cristobal Balenciaga for “experimenting with volume without ever making it look ridiculous.”

At Celine, Omazic said she wants only “to do beautiful collections” and refresh the image of the brand. “This is a very international brand, and I want to continue to make the house grow.”

Unlike Menichetti and Kors, who divided their time between Celine and their own signature collections — Menichetti’s based in Gubbio, Italy; Kors’ in New York — Omazic will devote herself exclusively to Celine.

Describing herself as a “very curious person” and a voracious reader, Omazic keeps up, almost obsessively, with the latest in film, art, music and architecture. She also reads one or two novels a week, focusing on literature and currently favoring American greats like J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

To balance the bookishness, though, she happens to be a sports nut, carefully following not only soccer, but professional motorcycle racing and its demigod, Valentino Rossi. “Plus I ski, swim, do mountaineering and I started to do skydiving,” she said.

Still, picking up an engrossing book can be an equally dangerous proposition, especially at bedtime. “I tell myself only half an hour, and then sometimes I find it is the morning,” she said.

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