Who better to help us reintroduce The Fashion Law Interview Series than designer we love, Devi Kroell! This Austrian-born, New York-based designer is not only a favorite of ours, but an industry favorite, as well. Case in point: In 2006, she won the CFDA Swarovski Perry Ellis Award for Accessory Design for her work at her namesake label, Devi Kroell, which she left in 2010. Lucky for us, she has since returned to the world of luxe fashion and started her successful brand: Dax Gabler, which consists of Kroell's specialty sleek, sexy, and extraordinary designs. Kroell talks to The Fashion Law about studying under Helmut Lang, her die hard customers and not using logos.
The Fashion Law – Tell me a little bit about your brand, since business, now more than ever, is focused on branding.
Devi Kroell – Dax Gabler is about must haves. The way it will evolve is that rather than adding full fledged lines, I want to focus on items I feel strongly about. We started with knitwear, shoes, handbags, but it was always just pieces. I'll add a few new must haves in other categories in the coming seasons. I am personally at a point where I want to focus on items that matter to me.
The Fashion Law – Do you ever worry about others copying your designs, and is this something you have encountered?
Devi Kroell – Sadly, that's a reality. Many "designers" find "inspiration" in the designs of other designers they admire. They'll make a change or 2, but the "inspiration" is pretty obvious. I am just so apalled that this industry is so badly protected. Take music for example, that's another industry that lives off original ideas, but the artist is very well protected.
The Fashion Law – You started the Devi Kroell brand in 2004. You’ve said that at the time everyone was doing logos and you thought there must be a customer that wanted something sleeker and more streamlined. You still don’t use logos. So, consumers must really be responding to your look.
Devi Kroell – Ha, I think now the whole industry has moved to this non-logo approach! It comes in cycles, now the next big thing will be logos again. I think my customer, who is a a very well educated, smart and independent woman, does not need logos and does not want to be a walking billboard. This customer was sort of the "opinion leader," and now everyone else has followed.
The Fashion Law – At the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, you studied under Helmut Lang. What was that like?
Devi Kroell – Our program was a very elitist program: only 5 students a year were admitted, handpicked by the Master himself. I don't think you can get more elitist and exclusive than that!
The Fashion Law – You are no longer with the Devi Kroell brand. Has it been a professional struggle dealing with the fact that the company has your name? Would you recommend designers using their names as their company name?
Devi Kroell – It was definitely a professional struggle, because buyers were confused as to the longevity of Dax Gabler and how serious I was about it (VERY!!) Furthermore, when I was helming Devi Kroell, it was about a really cool woman, and now I am just embarrassed my name is attached to such lousy designs and concepts.
I don't really have any advice for designers, it's a difficult balance to keep creative control, keep your name and raise investments: perhaps not using your name is a solution. The best advice is to never sell your name, but of course, when you want funding, selling your name is usually part of the deal. Get a good lawyer who won't sell you out!
The good news is that 3 years after having left my company, what's left of it has nothing to do with me anymore, it's a totally different brand, and that makes it so easy to move on and focus on my next big thing.
The Fashion Law – How are you personally and/or professionally different now than when you started Devi Kroell?
Devi Kroell – Where do I begin? I've grown sooooooooo much, but at heart, I am still the same hardworking and idealistic designer, now more than ever.
The Fashion Law – Your Dax Gabler collection is amazing. It’s a bit more affordable, has a wider range (ready-to-wear, bags and shoes), and focuses less on the exotics you were really known for. Do you think the Devi Kroell customer would shop Dax Gabler?
Devi Kroell – The Devi Kroell customer who was shopping Devi Kroell when I was still there is definitely shopping Dax Gabler. The Devi Kroell customer now isn't the same as who was shopping Devi when I was still there, let's be clear about that! My first Dax Gabler customers were my most die hard customers at my previous brand. It was so endearing to see their support and belief in me. I was blown away by that loyalty. Fashion evolves, and so do I as a designer. I did python when no one else was, and now I've moved on to new pastures. I think my customer loves my sensibility, and that's really quite independent from the medium I use.
The Fashion Law – I know you have said you want more stores and may even do some menswear. What can we expect from you in the near future?
Devi Kroell – I am taking one day at time, that's another lesson I've learned! Menswear is still something I feel very drawn towards!
The Fashion Law – What are you obsessed with right now? :)
Devi Kroell – I can't tell you, that's all part of spring 2014!!!