Womenswear designer Olivia Rubin tells Emily Seares why business acumen is just as important as design credentials
What’s your fashion background?
I graduated from Central Saint Martins College in 2000 with a BA in fashion printing, which gave me a real insight into textile-based fashion design. I worked in Paris with John Galliano for six months designing prints for his mainline collection, and then at Alexander McQueen. After some print freelance work at [contemporary chain] All Saints and with [womenswear and jewellery designer] Jade Jagger, I launched my own label. I had my first show at On|Off last season.
You’ve got quite a celebrity following. Who wears your clothes?
I met [Girls Aloud singer] Cheryl Cole’s stylist at London Fashion Week last season and Cheryl wore one of our dresses at an event. We got an incredible response. We put the dress on sale on our website [it retails at £400]. We’re still making the dress
to sell online. The Cheryl Cole effect has been incredible.
You recently changed your pricing architecture. Why have you done this?
I’m now pitching Olivia Rubin as a contemporary [rather than premium] label. I recently launched a diffusion line of six dresses on etailer Asos which retail at £95. Following the success of the range, I saw a gap in the market for a boutique brand, selling for between £150 and £250, which specialises in prints. The collection used to retail at between £350 and £500. I will still produce some made-to-measure pieces which will retail at £1,000, but they will be more show pieces for the catwalk.
Why have you moved your sourcing?
I now source from China, rather than the UK, which has brought costs down. The factory specialises in silk-screen printing and can produce top-quality prints. We’ve had such a good reaction to simple shapes, like the tunic dress, so we want to expand on this. I am also due to launch my mainline on etailer My-Wardrobe in July.
What is your advice to a new designer starting out?
You’ve got to have a business mind. I did a business course at university, so I was aware of the business side from early on. I also learnt a lot from my dad [Daniel Rubin, owner of footwear multiple Dune], who helped me look at things from a business perspective. He is also a partner in the label. It is 70% about business and 30% about designing clothes. I would also advise designers to have a unique edge; mine is my print background. You’ve got to offer something different.
Is there anything the industry can do to help?
The British Fashion Council helps, but personally I feel it could do more for designers who don’t just want to go down the high-fashion route. [It could do more to show them] how to be more commercial. It should also take this into account when choosing who to offer sponsorship to. It is often given to designers who are high fashion, but who do not necessarily have a viable business. I think it sometimes pigeon-holes commercial designers as boring.
What was the last film you saw?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I loved it.
Which are your favourite designers?
Jeremy Scott, Miuccia Prada and John Galliano (pictured).
Which is your favourite fashion era?
The 1980s. I’m a child of the 1980s and influenced by the decade’s palettes and silhouettes (Soap Studio, left). I like 1920s art deco too.
Where is your favourite place to shop?
Shibuya 109 in Japan. It’s like a market with about 15 floors of different labels.
- Olivia Rubin is owner and designer of the eponymous womenswear label