LONDON, United Kingdom — After months of speculation and almost a year of going without a head designer, Halston announced in May that it had appointed Marios Schwab, the half-Austrian half-Greek Lond0n-based designer, as its new Creative Director.
Many in the industry breathed a sigh of relief. Amongst the various names that had been bandied around in the rumour mill, including Olivier Theyskens (apparently the strong choice of Anna Wintour), Schwab's name was the one that seemed to create the most excitement amongst fashion insiders for his potential to develop commercially viable collections in the spirit of the brand's DNA.
Making the final cut was no easy task. Amongst others, Schwab had to pass the muster of board members including Bonnie Takhar, Halston's CEO, Harvey Weinstein, the notoriously demanding Hollywood heavyweight and investor in the Halston brand, and Tamara Mellon, Founder and President of Jimmy Choo. With a vested stake in the Halston brand, each of these big guns also knew that their decision would directly impact the bottom line at a critical time for the newly-relaunched label.
I caught up recently with Marios on a sunny day at London's Shoreditch House to learn more about his decision to join Halston, his plans for balancing two labels, and his advice for young designers just starting out in the business of fashion.
BoF: With your own label to manage and so many other opportunities available to you, why did you accept the Halston role, and why now?
MS: Working with a brand in America was always one of my dreams. I was ready for a new challenge and felt an instant chemistry with Halston; it came naturally to me. It's very challenging to take on a role like this, maybe more challenging than ever before, especially in times like these. All of this was very attractive to me.
BoF: When designing two collections, it's important to ensure they are distinctive enough so they don't get confused and compete with each other. What do you see as the key differences between your own label and Halston?
MS: Halston is a brand with a history and heritage while my own label is based on my own personality and vision linked to contemporary art, culture and science.
When Halston started his label, he created something completely different from anything else available at the time -- it was almost anti-fashion. People didn't want to go for fittings in Paris. They wanted to have something comfortable. Halston came at the right time and he created something beautiful and timeless, that every woman could make her own, to bring out her own personality.
The Halston woman is not a seasonal, trendy girl. She has a contemporary outlook on fashion and wants something more relaxed than what I do in my own collection. Halston is about a lifestyle that people want. It's innovative and has the fun fantasy side of fashion that I think people are really looking for now.
The collaboration and combination of these two roles is both good for me and for Halston. They get the energy of a young designer and I will benefit from the experience of working in a larger, more structured company. It's a win-win situation.
BoF: Why did you choose to split your time between London and New York for the first stage of your collaboration with Halston, instead of just moving to New York right away?
MS: New York and London are the two major players in fashion right now and it's great to have a foot in both places.
I think it's interesting that in London, most of us have experienced an increase in sales in the past season, even while the rest of the industry is struggling. People invested in the London collections because of the creativity that one finds here, and I like that.
BoF: How does working in London influence your design philosophy?
MS: Coming from Greece, obviously there was the element of being surrounded by a culture that to me, in some aspects, is still humble. There is some sort of ancient element in the characters that you meet on an island. As a kid, I [could never go] to a beautiful gallery to see new things. I probably had two to three magazines that I would buy monthly. [I] didn't have the internet, obviously.
Once I came to Berlin, and then to London, it was a completely mindblowing situation...especially London because you see the mixture and the diversity. This is mainly why I was so appreciative of all this information. I like diversity and I think once you have seen lots of things, touched lots of things like textures, your vision grows and you are highly more versatile. And, that's what fashion needs at the moment as well. You need to adapt to certain situations.
I don't mean trends...you need to be creative but you also need to be very aware of what women want to wear. How does she move? What does she aspire to? What does she want to feel attached to? What emotions does she feel at the moment? So, it's very important to have this extensive knowledge.
BoF: Can you tell me a bit about what the business of fashion is for you?
MS: Personally, I like the risk of creating something and making it successful. For example, creating something that people are unaware of and may not be familiar with...something they need to observe and then accept. This is something that fascinates me. This is what a creator should be...challenging himself to create something that people want to observe and learn more about. It's not just fashion, it's also an object that they want to invest in and own, have, look at.
So, I think it's very important that through learning about the business aspects of the fashion industry that you remain true to your creativity. This is what fashion is about. It should move forward. It's an evolution. As our personalities evolve through popular culture and music, we need to do the same in the way we clothe and portray ourselves.
BoF: Finally, what advice would you offer to young designers who are just setting up their own businesses?
MS: The younger generation seems to have different expectations about fashion. When students come to work for us, they often come with this notion that fashion is about glamour. They don't research enough. They don't touch things enough. How can you design a building without knowing how to construct it? The same is also true for fashion. For young designers, I would say make sure you understand the technical aspects of a design.
I would also say that you must be very organised, and you need to carefully balance the business side and the creative side. Find the parts of the business you like and focus on them and for the other things, make sure you find people to work with you. You just can't do everything yourself.
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