LONDON — You can take the designer out of Britain, but you can’t take Britain out of the designer.
At least in the case of Jonathan Saunders.
“I miss the pubs,” said Saunders, who decamped from London to New York last year to become chief creative officer of Diane von Furstenberg Studio. “I miss my loved ones and mates — and the industry.” He said Christopher Kane, Roksanda Ilincic and the late Richard Nicoll all helped each other right from the beginning. “We always wanted to stand out and be unique — we kind of bonded as well. The culture, the behavior in America is different, in the way that you do business or the way that you deal with people. It’s a very fast way.”
Saunders was speaking at the DVF store on Bruton Street Thursday, in a Q&A with blogger Susie Lau.
He said he finds it challenging to be a non-American designer working for an American brand. “The communication of the brand, the marketing of the brand is so important. It’s such an intrinsic part of the process. I was intrigued from that perspective. I think what’s really interesting is how American department stores — and many of those who work in the industry — are very product focused and commercially minded.”
He said the challenge lies in how to “expand and grow” and not compromise the brand’s relationship with its audience. “That’s an interesting kind of goal to have. The brand ready for the next chapter.”
Since taking over the label launched by Diane von Furstenberg, he has reworked the aesthetic, created a new logo, and broadened and deepened the product offer — especially the accessories.
He said von Furstenberg herself has been a great inspiration. He talked about von Furstenberg’s apartment, her Balinese tapestries, Andy Warhols and love of bold clashing of prints and colors.
“The way that she speaks, the way she behaves and the body language is quite free. It’s quite sexual, in a way. She’s provocative and she’s, like, hot. She is a fascinating woman. I think that provocativeness and that kind of open-mindedness should be reflected in the clothes. Playing with those ideas but then translating them into a modern module was the goal.”
He said von Furstenberg is supportive and gives him the freedom to design. “I think she understands the importance of having one kind of solid vision for a brand,” Saunders said. “She is also respectful about the new chapter for the brand. Diane is actually quite modern.”
Saunders spoke about Paolo Riva, the brand’s former chief executive officer who left the company to pursue other opportunities last November. “It just wasn’t for Paolo,” Saunders said. “I love him dearly. He’s a really good friend. He has a very talented mind. I don’t think it was the right kind of time for him in that position. I think what’s interesting is that the executives in the company work as a team. That’s what so strong about it. Everybody brings a different element to that. As a team, the company is going from strength to strength.”