Creative director Nicky Zimmermann details the international endeavours of her label over a six-month email correspondence with Vogue.
Across five cities, three collections and during the opening of three new stores, creative director Nicky Zimmermann keeps Zara Wong up to speed on Zimmermann’s international endeavours over a six-month email correspondence. Styled by Kate Darvill. Photographed by Jake Terrey.
Zara Wong: Nicky Zimmermann: Hi Nicky,
Nice to be in touch over email! Are you still in New York? Where are you off to next?
Just saw photos of the autumn/winter ’17/’18 show in New York. How did you start designing the collection? Were there any last-minute tweaks?
It was so beautiful and so Zimmermann. What does it mean to you when someone says something is so Zimmermann?
Zara Hi Zara, I hope you’re well! I’m back in Sydney now – after the show we had a few things on in New York, and then I was in London for a few days for a meeting about our flagship store that we’re opening in Mayfair, which I’m really excited about. But I’m home now – and working on two collections again, so off we go …!
What does it mean to me when someone says that something is ‘so Zimmermann’? It’s funny, because I do get people saying that to me all the time after we present a new collection and I normally take it to mean that it reflects those core aesthetic values that we’ve always had as a brand. It’s feminine, optimistic, there’s those surprising new details, and it’s fresh. At least that’s what I hope they mean!? I always like it when people notice how the collection is a bit different for us too, because I always try to work in that space that delivers those key elements but also challenges what people expect from us. I think that’s why people are able to tell me that a collection has these hallmarks that they associate with us. But what those garments are now is incredibly different. When I look at the collections themselves over the years, they have changed a lot. So much. The time changes, fashion changes, the way we dress changes – and as a designer I’m constantly reinterpreting that. But it’s still us.
The team and I started designing the collection pretty much straight after we showed spring last September in New York. There’s no break these days – all designers are sort of working on their next collection while they’re still finishing their current one. It’s progressive; we start talking about key ideas, then researching and building up a vision of what it might be over time. And once we have a really clear creative direction and visual mood – we just get on and draw garments, develop fabric, create artwork. Our process is fairly set, in that I like to work on the show and build that up look by look, section by section and swapping things around until we literally have our show drawn and up on the pinboards in the studio.
Were there any last-minute changes to the show? Yes, always! There are always tweaks to any collection, and this was the same. We pretty much take the whole collection to New York and then we set up in our studio there for about a week and a half. And we start casting and seeing the garments on the girls and we fine-tune everything. Sometimes we move sections around, sometimes we take out whole looks that don’t feel right. Every now and again we also create something new to build on an idea in the collection that we really love and that feels right when we get there. Every look is agonised over for hours, and we obviously then have to fit each to the right model, which is a huge process in itself and ends in the minutes leading up to the show. Speak soon! Regards, Nicky
ZW: It’s so exciting about the upcoming London store. (Do you ever sleep? Are you jet-lagged? Is it cliched to ask about jet lag and constant travel now?) How do you feel about opening in London compared to when you first started opening stores in the US?
NZ: Do I sleep? Ha! Like a baby. I can sleep anywhere and I’m definitely not woken easily. I travel quite a lot. Sometimes they are quick long-haul trips and I get jet lag like everyone, but I just get on with it. I feel really lucky to be able to travel while doing something I love. If I’m going to be away from home and our kids, then I try to make my time away really count.
It’s been such a long process to find the right space for our store in London. It’s a really different feeling to when we first opened our store in, say, New York or LA, because there was so much unknown back then, even though we had been working in the US for years. We know London, and in particular we have a great connection with it from friends in the city, established business with department stores and a nice online business.
ZW: There’s so much talk going on about the speed of fashion now; you mentioned that after showing spring in September it was straight on to designing autumn/winter, and on and on. Is this something that you think about, or are you more about just getting on with it?
NZ: I think about it sometimes, but it’s been like this forever, so I don’t dwell on it too much. I love what I’m doing and I love working on collections so it’s not a struggle for me. Creatively, you’re sort of over it by the time you’ve shown a collection and you want to move on to something fresh and new.
ZW: Do you think that in Australia fashion designers are only considered to have ‘made it’ when they open a store, or at least have a significant international presence?
NZ: You know, everyone is different. I don’t know if many designers think in those terms, though. Or at least I never have. We’re always too aware of what we want to do better and how you want to do something new. You don’t sort of do one thing and go: ‘Great, that’s it!’ I don’t know about ‘making it’. Maybe when you’ve developed that clear aesthetic signature – that unique path for yourself as a designer – is when you get to that point of feeling more self-assured. I definitely know that for me it took years and years before I was really confident with who I am as a designer and what Zimmermann stands for.
ZW: Thank you so much for taking the time to go through your collection with us this week. I’ve heard that your head offices in Sydney are being renovated. And you’re not travelling anywhere for a while, are you?
NZ: Yes, we’re in the middle of it! Which will be great when it’s finished but in the meantime it’s a complete hassle because it’s being done in stages around us.
I’m not going anywhere for a little while, which is great. This uninterrupted period with the team in the studio when we’re working on the collections is the time I enjoy the most. Everyone else in the office is travelling quite a bit right now – there’s a lot going on, so there’s lots of back and forward right now. Simone has just come back from Hong Kong, and Chris [Olliver, Nicky’s husband and Zimmermann’s CEO] is going to the US for a few days next week, and then to London and Paris for a brief trip in a few weeks’ time. The stores in Miami, the Meatpacking district in New York and London are all opening within three weeks of each other, so we’re finalising our schedules at the moment. It’s a bit of a juggling act.
ZW: Have you started working on your resort collection yet? How is that shaping up?
NZ: Oh yes! Ages ago! We really start forming the ideas behind it through December and January – at the same time as we’re finishing and showing the autumn/winter collection! We’re in the process of developing fabrics and trims in the background, and creating silhouettes for the resort show, which will show in New York, and then there’s the resort swimwear collection, too. We don’t always do a show for resort season, but after talking about it … Resort is such an important season for us.
I think sometimes being forced to do a show can really help a collection. It forces you to be more self-critical about it and to really refine your ideas. You know you’re going to have it come down a runway in front of a lot of eyes and so it gets everyone excited and focused. But it comes at great cost – obviously the financial cost of doing a show is huge, but maybe more that it means everything else in the studio gets pushed aside in that period before your show date. That’s not always ideal – there’s always someone telling me we’re late again!
ZW: Have you always enjoyed doing fashion shows? It was so interesting to read what you said about how it forces you to be self-critical and to refine your ideas – you need to be able to convey what you’re thinking for the collection in the 12 minutes that the runway show goes for!
NZ: I haven’t always enjoyed doing shows, but I’ve grown to love the process over time. I used to find it distracting and I didn’t like the scrutiny. I felt that people are often too quick to come to a view of a collection, which is fine. But when you work on it for months and months it’s hard to be objective about it. These days I’m much more at ease with it and able to think about it more clearly.
ZW: When I interviewed Donna Hay once, she told me that she grew up with you in the Shire and remembers you stayed up late one night to work on a pair of pants (maybe embellished?) that were going to be in Vogue. How do you think you’ve changed? Has your vision for the label become more targeted, or broader?
NZ: Oh, Donna. I ran into her the other day grabbing a coffee in Bondi. I was late for fittings in the studio and she was late on a deadline she had to meet. We were laughing about how we’ve both become more irresponsible as we get older!
In terms of change as a designer? Definitely you become more refined and focused on what your view of the world is. You get comfortable with your aesthetic and once you do that and feel confident with it you can have much more fun, and be more brave to take risks. When you’re starting out you don’t really know what sort of designer you’ll be. There are things that you like and there is the start of some kind of signature but it takes a long time to hone that. I always find it a bit unfair when people talk about young designers as though they are meant to have all the answers now – it’s unrealistic. It’s a never-ending evolution.
ZW: I think so many people think of Zimmermann as such a perennially Sydney-vibe, summery brand and I love how you really embrace that. Has it always been that way?
NZ: It’s always been there to some extent. But I have progressively embraced it over time. When we started doing swimwear in the 90s, fashion designers didn’t do that because you were either a ready-to-wear designer or a swimsuit brand. So I was comfortable embracing that early
on and we ran with it. I think there was also an element of designers from Australia being a bit unsure of their Australian-ness in a fashion sense – because the world didn’t really look at what was going on here. Simone and I were comfortable with it and of where we grew up, and we found when we travelled people liked that we were from Sydney.
ZW: Sorry for the radio silence: I took some annual leave – finally! How are the London and New York stores coming along – and how is the New York resort season show planning going?
NZ: I hope you’re well! Everything is going along really nicely – we’re just crazy busy. There are things buzzing around everywhere. As usual, I’m focused on collections and trying to block out some of the other things that are going on, otherwise it gets distracting. It’s a tricky time, though, from a design point of view, because I’m working with the team to finish resort, but because we have to travel and we’re showing that collection in New York in June, I’ll be out of the studio quite a bit. So we’re also progressing with spring/summer ‘18 collection show for September at the same time. I think last time we spoke I was saying how hard it can be to work with the current fashion schedule. And nothing’s changed!
The store openings are going okay, but as usual there’s always something causing delays here and there. It’s annoying, but it will be fine.
Are you coming to the show? Then I can talk to you about what’s going on rather than emailing you! Speak soon!
ZW: What is your schedule like right before you go on a trip like New York resort? Do you feel prepared? Nervous? How do you feel this resort collection adds to the Zimmermann brand so far? How is the London store going? With all these new international stores opening within such a short period of time, is there a sense of relief, or do you feel like it’s just the beginning of an uphill journey? And with e-commerce and digital being so important now, why are retail stores so important for you? Lots of questions here! It would have been much better if I was in New York!
NZ: It’s a week until our resort show and I’ve just landed in New York so it’s been a hectic few weeks. But it’s a nice time of the year to be here, because I love New York in summer and there’s a great feeling around the city. The collection is complete and is in the process of being shipped to New York so we can start working on prep from this weekend. There is always that stress of making sure it gets here without delays in Customs. There’s never a plan B, because there is only one set of show samples at this point. I try not to think about it. We’ll be fine! And if we’re not, I’ll just blame Simone!
There’s still a lot of work being done on show production. I don’t get too involved in the ins and outs of it all, but just stay across the creative. The set isn’t quite right yet – we’re bringing in all this green foliage and hanging it from the ceiling. It’s being constructed on site in the lead-up to the show – but before we get to that point there is a team of people building a section of it in a warehouse so we can have a look at how it feels. It’s all so much work for such a short show.
Because of the show, there’s always extra work that needs to be done – lots of alterations and edits. I think I’ve been in the studio every day for about the last four weeks. We’re also off and running on future collections that I needed to get set up before I leave.
We’re happy with the resort collection, but sometimes you don’t know what people will think. We just try our best to do something new and fresh that people will love. One of the great things about a resort season is it also allows us to play to some of the core parts of our brand.
I’m never too nervous about a show; there’s not normally enough time to think about it and get too wound up. Maybe I used to be more nervous in the past but I feel more comfortable now. You just sort of work on it and work on it until there’s no more time and then you move on.
Our new London store? Yes, we’re so excited. It will be open later than expected in early July, but Simone and I will go in late June and do a launch event for the upcoming opening, so I’ll have to be satisfied just seeing photos. I’ll get a chance to go back to London in September.
Our Miami store is on track and I’m now going over (for two days!) for the launch event in late July. I saw some progress photos of the store and it’s amazing. Without sounding silly, I love shopping – it’s just one of the things I like to do for fun – and so I want shopping in our stores to be the best it can be.
Anyway, Zara. Nice to email you again! I have to run, though. I’m with some of my girls and we’re doing vintage shopping for a couple of days before we go full steam ahead on show prep next week. Fingers crossed!
ZW: Me again! How was your trip? How did you feel as soon as the resort show ended? And now that it’s had time to settle – how do you feel about that collection?
NZ: Great! Busy. Really busy. We were all really happy with the resort show – the collection was well received but, just as importantly, everyone around our team really loved it and how it was presented. And I also went to Paris with the collection straight after and did a day of press appointments, which I don’t always do, and it went really well.
The whole trip went well really – we had this fun dinner out in the Hamptons with Athena Calderone at her amazing home in Amagansett – partly to celebrate resort but also just to do a fun dinner while we were out there visiting our store at East Hampton.
And then we had a dinner in London celebrating the store in Mayfair, which looked beautiful. Margot Robbie co-hosted with Simone and I and it was a hilarious night. We had about 40 people at 5 Hertford Street, and it was just really fun. The store is only opening this week – there’s been delay after delay but it was great to see it mostly finished and I can’t wait to see it when it’s all done. ZW: Where else did you go? NZ: I had a couple of weeks’ holiday with our kids and friends at the end. And Chris and I went back to America for a few days for the opening of our Miami store.
It’s nice to be home for a while. I just love coming home to Sydney – you get off the plane and the air is so fresh and the light is so bright. It’s just the best city, isn’t it? And we have so much to do. Back on the collection merrygo-round. We have exactly a month before we leave to present spring/ summer ‘18. It’s going well so far and we’re on track, but it does mean that because of the amount of time I’ve spent out of the studio that I’ll have to push hard until we go. But I’m looking forward to it – I always do!
ZIMMERMANN DRESS, $1,100.
NICKYZ IMMERMANN, (LEFT) AND HER SISTER SIMONE ZIMMERMANN, THE LABEL’S CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER.