LONDON, United Kingdom — A few weeks back I received an email from Saloni Lodha, who was hosting a quiet celebration for Nomadic Interlude, a book by photographer David Dunan and a fashion film shot by Ruth Hogben in Marrakech. It's always great to catch up with our former Spotlight designers. But walking into Selfridges that evening, where her collection now takes up several rails and sits amongst many much more established brands, I was really taken away by just how far Saloni had come since we first met her in the very early days of her business back in 2008.
It got me to thinking about some of our other Spotlight designers too. Where are they now? How are they doing? And what are the biggest lessons they have learned over the past few years? I checked in with a handful of them to find out.
Saloni, Mumbai and London
When I first met Saloni Lodha, she was still very much figuring things out. What did her brand stand for? What could she be known for? How could she balance her Indian aesthetic with a contemporary sensibility? For a few seasons, she seemed to swerve a bit from style to style, but eventually she settled on being true to herself, rather than trying to be cool. This has really paid off. In the space of a few weeks last year, her colourful dresses were seen on both Samantha Cameron and Michelle Obama.
"These are the sort of successful, real women we envision loving the brand," reports Saloni from Mumbai, where she spends time overseeing her own manufacturing facility. "The brand has really grown-up and found its unique identity and a loyal customer following which has allowed for the development of important relationships with a portfolio of stockists like Selfridges, Harrods, Barneys, Matches and Net-a-Porter."
Over the past few years, Saloni came to "the realisation that it is vital to focus only on what adds real value. This gives you the time and energy to try different things and to keep growing creatively which is extremely important."
Brooke Taylor and Nana Aganovich were our very first Spotlight designers back in May 2009. At the time, they were based between London and Hong Kong and were figuring out how to reset their business after a couple of false starts on the London Fashion Week schedule and a business partnership that had gone awry.
"At our kitchen table we wrote a kind of manifesto, a one page outline of the type of brand we would be proud to build if there were absolutely no outside concerns," Brooke wrote to me when I asked him when things had turned for them. "The image we had was of being in the desert and everyone is sitting around a fire and you just can't seem to find a place. Eventually it's best to just walk off into the distance and start your own fire and see if anyone shows up."
Sometimes a change of location is all you need for a reboot. "We had recently met a few inspiring people (yourself and Amanda Harlech among others) and with these encounters in mind, along with the legacy of our heroes — Martin Margiela, Rei Kawakubo, Alexander McQueen — we decided to prepare a focus on Paris," recalls Brooke."The reception was positive and for the first time gave us a real belief that we could pull this off."
Today, Aganovich is on the official Paris schedule and has an enviable list of stockists including Dover Street Market in London and Tokyo, Joyce in Hong Kong and Blake in Chicago.
"The most important lesson we learned definitely came from Jean Normand, the president of our French factory," says Brooke. "He insisted that beyond a certain point, analysing any of your competitors or heroes is pointless because in his experience no two paths to success in fashion are the same; you could try to replicate point for point everything that Alexander Wang, Phoebe Philo or Rei Kawakubo did and sail straight off your very own 'fiscal cliff.' There is only one path and it's your own."
Palmer Harding, London
"Since first being mentioned on BoF, our business has seen some great successes," say Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding of the London label that has built its brand and business by focusing on getting one key piece right: the white shirt. "We have almost doubled our stockists for Autumn/Winter 2013, adding Curve in LA, The Room in Toronto, Dover Street Market in Tokyo and MyWardrobe.com." This on top of an already stellar list of stockists that includes Ikram in Chicago, Joyce in Hong Kong and Five Story in New York. "Our strongest market continues to be in the United States, but we are slowly growing a presence in Europe and the Far East as well."
Last summer, Levi and Matthew also dressed some of the flagbearers for the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics. "To have been asked by the organisers to make shirts to dress such amazing people for such a historical moment seen by millions worldwide was definitely a 'pinch me' moment," they say. So was their first meeting with Anna Wintour, shortly after their Spotlight moment. "It was brief but definitely a moment we will always remember."
The biggest lesson they've learned? Patience. "Laying solid foundations and growing a business slowly and organically," they say.
1-100 by Graham Tabor and Miguel Villalobos, New York
"One of the hardest and most important things to learn is how to go at the right speed," say Graham Tabor and Miguel Villalobos, reflecting on the experience of building 1-100, a jewellery line that was featured on BoF in October 2010. "It takes a while for retailers to respond to something new. But you have to move forward for both yourself and the press [and find] the right balance between pushing forward into something new, but retaining enough of the familiar that the customer can enter into. We're refining [like this] each season."
The slow-and-steady strategy has been working well. This season, the label was picked up by Barneys New York, which will stock 1-100 in its Madison Avenue flagship. The duo also recently had its first magazine cover moment, when fashion's latest hip-hop darling A$AP Rocky wore one of their rings on the April 2013 cover of Interview.
Tim Coppens, New York
Tim Coppens was first profiled for a Spotlight on BoF by our friend and New York-based contributor Robert Cordero, who has a knack for spotting talent early.
"Since the BoF interview, the past two seasons saw the addition of new stockists globally, amongst others: Ssense, Tres Bien Shop, Louis Boston and Isetan," reports Coppens. "In addition to being awarded the Ecco Domani Best New Menswear Designer in 2012, we received the Fashion Group International Menswear Rising Star Award beginning 2013, and we are currently nominated for the 2013 CFDA Swarovski Menswear Award."
That's quite a set of accomplishments for someone who was featured in our Spotlight less than a year ago. "Timing is very important in this industry," says Tim. "It is important to invest in the moment and seize the opportunities as they appear."
Edeline Lee, London
"My stomach always drops when Hamish Bowles walks into our presentations," says Edeline Lee of some of the most memorable moments since BoF featured her in May 2012. "I respect so much his unrelentingly precise eye. He always pinpoints what I was thinking as I designed even before I speak a word."
Like Saloni, Edeline has also decided not to use traditional catwalk shows to show her collection "We have been developing the idea of performative mise-en-scènes in lieu of catwalk shows," she explains. "I think it is interesting for the press and buyers to experience the collections and the mood of the season in a more intimate and visceral way."
But Edeline, whom I first met back in 2006, when she was designing for Rodnik (who remembers those boys and their umbrellas!?) says "a singular pleasure is seeing the women wearing the clothes and hearing about the compliments that they receive. It is so gratifying to know that all the hard work has resulted in making someone feel beautiful and special."
"I've learnt that the fashion business is a long game," she says wisely. "You don't realise that as much when you are working for someone else as you get caught up in the cyclical nature of it and can dust your hands of a collection when it is over. In fact, every season is a building block for the next one."