The Dutch designer speaks to Florence Massey about relaunching his own label after taking 10 years out working with other brands
You recently relaunched your own label. Considering the difficult global economic climate, how are things going?
I am optimistic about the economy; during my career I have weathered worse storms and feel that this time around people can see a light at the end of the tunnel. When I returned to designing my own label [for autumn 08], we managed to pick up contemporary to high-end boutiques in New York straight away. Retailers tend to wait and see how you fare when you start
out - that’s why it was nice that they picked up on the brand immediately.
Has the brand been well received in the UK too?
After a good response from a range of small retailers in New York, we have been surprised by the cautiousness of UK retailers. We’ve found that generally they look to Paris,
Milan and New York before they will look at a brand from their own country.
Having designed for labels including MaxMara and Diane von Furstenberg, is it different working on your own?
Yes, it’s completely different. I am very involved in the whole process and enjoy every aspect of it. From the sampling to the look books, I’m absolutely involved in every aspect. At this level you have to be or else it ends up being detrimental to your brand and to your success. When you work for someone else you just have to propose colours, designs, shapes and
fabrics. You don’t have to worry about other things such as production, supply and quality control.
Describe your current collection.
My main focus is on quality. The spring 09 collection is a tight palette of whites and greys, with accents of fuchsia and turquoise. I have been experimenting with and using more technologically advanced options, like wax-coated fabrics. I would say that the look for the collection is sporty luxe - our white bamboo nylon parka is one of my favourite pieces.
What are your views on the British high street?
The British high street is unparalleled, there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. I find retailers such as Topshop inspiring, as it is extremely good at condensing trends. I have nothing but praise for the British high street. I also don’t feel threatened by ‘throwaway fashion’; it is a market aimed at a completely different customer. Cheap fashion is good at a basic level, like swimwear and T-shirts, but the product that I produce, such as coats and dresses, needs good tailoring and they are not product areas which you can do cheaply.
Do you have any plans to launch a transactional website?
Yes, it’s a very complex task and there is a lot of work involved. When you begin to sell at a multi-channel level you can control and gain press attention more easily. It is a way of bringing the business forward. As we are still selling in relatively small quantities, we are in an ideal position to.
How involved are you in putting together the website?
I am heavily involved in the visual aspect of it. It will be an extension of the current website, but of course it will be much more product-driven. I intend to set it up so that the two of them co-exist well together.
- Christian Blanken is a designer and owner of his own label
Who is your fashion icon and why?
Diane von Furstenberg is a wonderful person and a humanitarian designer. When I worked with her I found her to be stylish, charismatic and generous. She
is the epitome of a modern designer.
Diane von furstenberg
Diane von Furstenberg is undoubtedly best known for her knitted jersey wrap dresses, which she introduced in 1973, but her brand was relaunched in 1997.
Today her range includes swimwear, sportswear, cosmetics and accessories. Her spring 09 collection is full of jewel tones and floral prints. The Belgium-born designer opened her first London store in 2003 in Notting Hill, in partnership with one of her first UK stockists, London-based designer mini chain Matches.
In 2006, she opened another store in Wimbledon, and a shop in Mayfair followed the year after. In 2002, von Furstenberg became a naturalised US citizen, and three years later the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award. The following year, in 2006, she was named president of the CFDA.