The LFW designer built his reputation on party dresses, but after losing his only UK stockist he is hoping to turn buyers’ heads with a more commercial and varied offer.
When Drapers catches up with London Fashion Week designer Bora Aksu, you wouldn’t think it was less than three weeks before he unveils his collection on LFW’s opening day. His calm demeanour as he sits down to give an exclusive preview of his eponymous womenswear label’s spring 12 range belies the fact he is working against the clock to finish it in time for the catwalk on September 16, the same day, incidentally, as the launch of the label’s transactional website, www.boraaksu.com.
And there’s a lot riding on the collection. After autumn 11, the label lost its only UK stockist – Selfridges – so Aksu is now intent on winning back the UK market with a more commercial range. Known for its signature quirky cocktail dresses, the label will introduce a more separates-led offer for spring 12, including a thick cotton jacket with removable silk georgette waistcoat, a silk satin shirt with silk georgette layering and crushed bead collar, pleated silk satin trousers, and a silk crêpe smoking jacket with silk georgette lining. White, flesh tones, peach, coral, navy and black make up the palette. But as is common with many LFW designers who tend to shy away from the word ‘commercial’ for fear it might compromise their creative reputation, Aksu is careful when using the word.
“I wouldn’t say the collection as a whole is more commercial,” says the Turkish-born designer, who moved to London 15 years ago. “We’ve kept our signature look with the cocktail dresses, but we are introducing some more commercial pieces. We wanted to include daywear options and separates to take the woman from morning to night.”
The separates will also mean the introduction of more lower price point options, including tops starting at £46, skirts at £57 and shirts at £65.
Adding to the commercial clout is the introduction of hosiery, which brings the wholesale starting price down even further to £10 for a pair of tights. Last season, the entry price point was about £80. The exit price point for spring 12 is £800 for a cocktail dress. Aksu has not ruled out expanding into a full accessories offer including bags and footwear.
A new order
Looking ahead to autumn 12, Aksu will launch the label’s first pre-collection with a 30-piece range, offering buyers an increase in product drops to satisfy consumer demand for constant newness. “We’re launching our first pre-collection as part of our strategy to offer a wider variety of products to target buyers in what is now a key stage in the buying calendar [mid-season],” says Aksu.
But satisfying that demand for newness comes at a price. Only last month, fellow LFW designer Richard Nicoll said: “This whole consumer demand for new, now and everything’s got to be renewed every few months – I think that’s got to implode at some point. For young labels, it’s getting impossible to continue making so many collections for the work to be worthy of showing. I’m not sure how you can come up with eight ideas a year and really endorse them and make them worthy of presenting.”
Aksu agrees that the pressure is huge and suggests planning ahead as much as possible to manage the workload. However, he says designers can turn this situation to their advantage: “It will help expand the business because normally you see buyers just twice a year. Now we will see buyers more often, enabling us to build more intimate relationships with them, and help them to gain a deeper understanding of the brand.”
Aksu hopes his decision to introduce separates, accessories and pre-collections will help the label refocus on the UK market, where it hopes to secure key stockists. Bora Aksu has more than 20 stockists internationally including Calypso in New York and Zenta in Paris, but has had no doors in the UK since Selfridges. Aksu hopes his LFW show will change that.
He concedes that the label’s international focus and the change in the economic climate meant it wasn’t meeting the department store’s needs, because increasingly cautious UK shoppers are looking for daywear instead of party dresses. “Selfridges had been a very faithful partner for some time, but the collection was lacking variety. At the time we didn’t feel it was necessary to add that variety because our international customers were still demanding the cocktail dresses,” he says. “However, because of the changes in the economy I think Selfridges wanted to offer more options.”
The label is now refocused on reaching out to UK buyers with its more varied offer, and is eyeing a number of potential stockists (which Aksu declines to name) while remaining committed to its overseas customers.
“There is a fine line,” says Aksu. “Our international stockists still want the more unique pieces, so we had to make sure we didn’t scare them away by changing what the brand is about. But the world and the economic climate have changed and this isn’t exactly a time for partying. We want to keep the signature Bora Aksu look, but appeal to different types of women with different options. Today women are more considered in their purchasing, but they still want to look effortless and chic.”
2011 Launches transactional website and adds more separates and hosiery to collection
2006 Launches in Japanese multi-brand boutique Via Bus Stop
2005 Singer Tori Amos buys entire spring 05 range for her concert tour
2003 Shows at LFW for spring 04; awarded Newgen sponsorship
2002 Graduates from Central Saint Martins College
You’re introducing separates for spring 12. What do you think will be the best-sellers?
Cocktail dresses, shirts and tops. I’m expecting the new, more commercial pieces to do quite well, though we’ll probably only show a few of them on the catwalk at LFW. We’ll show the full collection at the Exhibition at LFW.
What can we expect from your new website?
The site will allow our customers to buy direct from us for the first time and will feature soundbites and visuals including some of my childhood drawings and pieces of scripts from films that have inspired the spring 12 collection.
What markets are you performing well in?
Our opulent demi-couture look seems to lend itself to the Middle East, Hong Kong and Russian markets. We’re also popular in Japan, France, Spain, Sweden, the US and Ukraine.
Where do you manufacture your clothes?
We make everything in the UK (apart from the tights which are made in Italy) so we can have greater involvement. In the past we used manufacturers in Hong Kong but I couldn’t handle the mistakes and delays.
Why do you continue to show at LFW?
Because I studied in London and this is where I started my career. LFW is great for creativity and originality and that inspires me.
Who do you like to see wearing your clothes?
I love it when my friends wear my clothes, because they bring their own personalities to them. It’s when the clothes leave the designer’s studio that they really come alive.