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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

MARCH 2017

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.

APRIL 2017

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.

MAY 2017

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!

JUNE 2017

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!

X

JULY 2017

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.

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