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Close-Up: Francois Steiner, chief executive, Nicole Farhi

Stand-first: Nicole Farhi’s new chief executive Francois Steiner talks to Drapers about steering the premium brand through a turbulent time and coming back all guns blazing, ahead of the full interview in this weekend’s edition

You started on an interim basis before taking on the permanent role – why were you brought on in a temporary role initially?

I was consulting at the time, and they felt they needed someone like me. Also the situation was very fluid, it meant I could join quickly and while I was at the company I was able to establish the perimeters of the permanent position; which all depended on what had to be done.

What did you decide needed to be done first?

When you join a company like this you don’t need to do very complicated marketing studies – it’s a living thing, it’s been around for 30 years, it has a personality, it has an identity. I can’t decide that. So what was pretty obvious when I joined was that it’s a fantastic brand with great values and heritage, but we had to make sure we were using that every single day. The values had to be reasserted, made contemporary and fresh.

How do you do that practically? How did you explain it to [owners] Kelso for example?

We spent some time defining in our view what this brand stood for. But you do need some checklist to transform that into reality, and you can’t do that before establishing exactly what you want to do. This showroom demonstrates that – simple, allows the product to express itself in a quiet way. There are no distractions or props – the kind of thing you might use if you don’t know who you are.  Once you know that, you can challenge yourself on standards.

Nicole Farhi has seen quite a few changes in the past few months – what do you think has been the biggest?

The single most important thing I have done in the past year is hired Jo [Sykes as creative director in September]. She is an absolute perfectionist – she keeps refining the product until she is happy. I gave Jo full powers to organise the design team and she has completely changed the flow of the team.

How has that affected the people within the team?

Of course when these things happen, not everybody will feel at ease with the new direction, so the design team has evolved a bit, but in a very organic and natural way. Some have left and we haven’t brought on anybody new, so it is a close-knit team now.

What kind of reaction have you had from stockists since communicating the brand’s new direction?

People appreciate when you come to them with open mind, but we knew what we wanted to do with the product and they were excited by that too. Our partners who saw it at an early stage really loved what they saw and loved it again when they saw in the showroom. It’s about us being who we are – it’s a simple statement, the concept is easy, but actually to do it and stay true to it is very hard. Some might say it was a full time job.

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