BERLIN – “I feel like this exhibit was handpicked for the collection,” said Agnona’s creative director Simon Holloway as models informally donned his debut fall/winter collection in the two-floor gallery Camera Work here last weekend.
The walls were lined with the works of Louis Faurer, whose street photos of New York and Philadelphia in the 1940s through 1960s have a haunting and lonely grace. However, all eyes on this occasion were on Holloway’s creations, the brand’s core customers in Berlin invited not only to get a first look at Agnona’s new fashion direction but also to meet the designer at the gallery and later at a private dinner he hosted at Le Petit Royal.
Despite Berlin’s reputation as a center of dressed-down style, if not out-and-out “anti chic,” the capital and indeed Germany is a healthy market for Agnona, both Holloway and chief executive officer Alessandra Cara said. “To be honest, this is a country that gets it,” Cara noted. “People understand [the brand’s] quality and warmth and respond well to it.”
Agnona has a store in Berlin, another in Sylt, and wholesales to many German specialty stores and wholesale customers, including MyTheresa, the executive added.
“Obviously we are talking about price tags that imply a certain maturity and spending power,” Holloway remarked. “But there are young women who want to look polished. We had them here today and they go for the more modern, minimal pieces, which just goes to show there is an audience which goes for something more discreet. Fashion has moved on,” he continued, “but not everyone wants to look like they’re Instagramming themselves every five minutes.”
This is not to say Agnona is ignoring the brand’s Instagram presence. The short film “Await” is an indirect case in point, and was also on view at Camera Work. Directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino and featuring the Agnona fall collection and model Malgosia Bela, “the film has exponentially increased our audience,” Holloway said. “We will continue to do such projects, and the web site will also be redone.”
Having just shown the romantic and somewhat Sixties-flavored spring-summer collection in Milan, Holloway is now halfway through pre-fall. “Designers are always kind of sampling, like musicians or painters, always referring back and patchworking into something new. It’s a sort of modernism in fashion.”
His own starting point for next fall, which he acknowledged could disappear by the time the collection is finished, is from an Agnona advertorial from the 1970s “when Walter Albini was designing the women’s collection. It’s this double-page spread with two models walking in the hills of Afghanistan surrounded by cashmere goats and wearing full-length cashmere coats. One is in ivory and one in camel, and they have their heads wrapped in cashmere and the atmosphere is all misty. It’s unbelievable – you just have to imagine how they flew models with a photographer to Afghanistan. Amazing!”
Actually, Albini didn’t just do photo shoots in Afghanistan — Cara said they’d found hundreds of photos with him and the Indians in Peru and Chile “taking care of their animals. That’s really the beginning of the whole Agnona story,” she said, one which both contend “is a secret that has to be told.”
To help get the word out, Holloway and Cara have been making the international rounds, meeting with key retail accounts but more importantly with consumers. “We have been actively endorsing the brand since Simon came on board,” Cara said.
Next stop is Korea, where Agnona is opening its third store, followed by Japan. “We believe for a brand like Agnona, customer closeness is essential, and consumer events like this one in Berlin are more important than a splash of advertising.”
Business is “building,” she said, declining to talk numbers. “In a challenging climate like this one, what we’re doing is paying back nicely and we are very happy. The market is responding overwhelmingly.”