On Thursday 16th January 2014, Fabryan showed its A/W 2014 collection, La Femme Fatale during Berlin Fashion Week. I recently caught up with its founder and designer, Samatha-Jane Agbonataen to tell me more about the collection and what lies ahead for Fabryan.
What was your inspiration for your A/W 14 collection, Femme Falate?
I was inspired by my mother, who is incredibly strong. The kind of woman I see wearing the Femme Fatale line wears the clothes and not the other way round. She is fiercely irresistible, independent and sophisticated.
How many pieces are in the collection?
Twelve. The entire collection is perfect for several occasions that go from day to evening wear. The clean cuts, sharp structure and high end tailoring appeal to the modern woman; while the strong black and white colour palette that runs through the collection gives it an elegant and timeless edge. I’ve also added splashes of vivid colour like coral red and burnt orange to the collection.
Who do you think are the most iconic femme fatales of all time?
Well, first of all, I should clarify that in naming my collection Femme Fatale, I am not using the word in the typical sense. I.e. depicting the mysterious and seductive woman who manipulates men, leading them to their doom. For me, in the 21st Century, femme fatale refers to strong, independent, successful women who are in charge of their own destiny. With this in mind, my most iconic femme fatales of all time would include Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Her Highness, Sheikha Mozah.
The Femme Fatale collection was made up of luxe fabrics like silk crepe, velvet and chiffon, would you say your designs are driven by a luxurious appeal or the need to create a certain aesthetic or form?
I love architecture and I’m very much inspired by it, so I would say I’m driven by the creation of the shape and aesthetic first. My main focus when I’m at the drawing board, is to create the kind of pieces I would wear and then I think of what my customer would actually want to buy. I make wearable clothes to sell and not for shock value or to show off.
You mention you love architecture, who are some of your favourite architects?
Well from my travels, I’ve picked up quite a few which include the Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi . I really like the way his architectural shapes work with colour, and his work inspired the creation of my scarves, which feature a variety of vibrant colours and mosaic shapes.
I also like the works of Iraqi-British architect , Zaha Hadid. In fact, her use of strong extended shapes translated into the bold shoulder detailing you can see in some of the pieces in my Femme Fatale collection. Strong shapes and designs display confidence and I think it’s great when a woman can pull this off.
Being an eco-fashion label, what challenges do you face keeping up your brand’s philosophy of sourcing ethically produced materials, e.g. the finest fabrics free from pesticide?
Expense mainly. And the fact we source from the U.K adds extra challenges but Fabryan is about value before profit, so it’s worth it for us in the end. I’m very happy to have a small brand where I know my customers can wear beautiful clothes, confident in the fact that no one was harmed or abused to put the garment together.
This is not the first time you have chosen Berlin as a platform to showcase your work, what motivates you to present your collection here?
Actually, it was more of a case of Berlin coming to me. The first time I showed my collection in Berlin was in January 2013 during its Fashion Week and I was fortunate enough to be brought on board by Lavera Showfloor (Berlin). During fashion week, Lavera Showfloor presents various catwalks shows with the intention of showcasing the collections of eco-conscious and sustainable designers to the industry. I enjoyed working with them the first time around, so when they asked again for this A/W 14 season, I agreed.
Do you have stockists in Berlin or Germany?
Well, I actually just gained my first one in Berlin this morning. It’s called www.miwai.de
Congratulations, that’s a great start to the year! You launched your fashion label in September 2010, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
Research, Research, Research! When I started, I pretty much jumped in head first. Looking back, I would like to have spent about 3 to 6 months doing research like chatting with a good selection of up and coming designers, asking them about the problems they faced starting their own business. Also doing an internship would have been helpful. I didn’t study fashion or have a design or fashion internship. It would also have been great to have had a mentor.
It’s great that you mention that because that is something I always wanted, and I’ve never had one either.
Yes, it would have been great to have had one. The funny thing is now I’m acting as a mentor to a few new designers and based on my experience, I end up telling them things like, ‘Don’t do X thing that I did….’ And I wish a mentor-like figure had existed for me years back, it would have saved me a whole lot of money!
Where did your interest in fashion design spring from?
My mother was an amazing dressmaker and I used to watch her work as a child, her passion for her craft was truly inspiring. Also in my older years, even though I didn’t follow fashion, I did love to buy high end pieces and overtime I learnt what to look out for when choosing the right luxurious garments that have longevity, and that’s helped me with my design label.
How soon after you launched your brand, did you start actually selling?
It took about a year, so I started to sell in 2011 and it was online. Also in the beginning I just wanted to get my pieces out there so I focused on the U.K: I contacted multiple shops and sent generic emails introducing myself. It was only when things started to pick up at home,that I began to contact other countries.
What do you look out for when deciding which stores you want to sell your clothes?
There are a lot of things to take into consideration one of that being, if the store or brand already stocks designers who do work similar to mine. I also tend to work with independent boutiques because they are more understanding of things like the fact that I don’t produce mass market. I can only give them small quantities of each piece.
Fabryan’s designs have stockists in all parts of the world including Africa, America and the Middle East. In the Financial Times (September 30th 2013), I read that, ‘more than 50% of most luxury labels now come from Asia’ and that ‘mainland China is both its fastest growing market and its largest geographic growth opportunity’: do you have plans to extend your brand into the Asian market?
Well, I want to go about that aspect of the business slowly. Now I am focusing on growing in North America and to that end, next week I’m travelling to New York for some business meetings. Then I want to turn my attention to Africa. I’m definitely interested in Asia, but I feel to conquer that market as a designer, you have to be more established. Certainly, before I pursue Asia I want to make sure my brand is very strong, and that’s financially as well as in regards to brand awareness.
Your brand caught the eyes of reputable press like Vogue Italia, Tatler, Drapers and Glamour early on, which certainly helps to elevate your label on a high platform: speaking of reaching heights, what one goal do you have for your label this year?
To grow stronger in every area of the business: it’s very important for me that as a label we continue to rise yearly, as opposed to flatline or remain static.
Being a designer and running your label, what would you say are the key things you’ve learnt about the business side of fashion?
Well, I studied business and I believe that has given me an edge in running my own fashion company, because I have the essential marketing knowledge. Also regarding the business side, I learnt there is no such thing as working hours. I eat, live, breathe and sleep my business!
What initiative for new designers do you wish would be set up in the U.K?
When I started out in the industry, I didn’t have access to up and coming designers. So now I would love it if an event could be set up where we all met in a social setting, about once a month.
Really? Aren’t there events like that?
Not that I know of and it would be a great to meet such people as it would be the perfect forum to start collaborations.
Speaking of which, did you collaborate with any designers in your Femme Fatale collection?
Fabryan is proud to say that we collaborated with Wolf London. They produced beautiful cufflinks in white gold and precious stones to compliment my dresses.
If you were in your design studio, and the only pieces that were in the studio were from your A/W 14 collection, and the studio caught on fire. Which one piece would you grab as you ran out for safety? And why?
The crepe black and white piece with cuff links because I’m a very critical person and I can’t find any fault with the outift! I really like it and it’s something I can see myself wearing.
Finally, what trends do you see blazing a trail in A/W 14?
As can be seen from my collection, Peplum is definitely making a come-back!
Click here to see more of Fabryan’s collections.
All pictures are courtesy of Fabryan.