Now ZIMMERMANN ON SHOWCASING A LOCAL LABEL ON THE WORLD STAGE
Zimmermann has long stood for Australian ease and clothes made for chasing the sun, but their formidable global success has rendered them symbolic of something else: the unstoppable modern super-brand. By Edwina McCann.
IT’S HARD TO overstate the success of the house of Zimmermann. Sisters Nicky and Simone have been part of Vogue Australia’s narrative for almost half of the 60 years it’s been published, but in the last decade their global expansion has made them world renowned, too. Their signature style has catapulted them into a league of their own, making them one of Australia’s most successful luxury fashion brands ever, both locally and in terms of export sales.
If Australians are recognised internationally as friendly and fun with an envied lifestyle, the Zimmermanns embody that spirit both in person and through their designs. They don’t take themselves too seriously, which, frankly, is refreshing in the fashion world, but I think means on occasion they are underestimated in terms of talent and business acumen.
During the most recent couture season in Europe I travelled with the Zimmermann family and friends to celebrate the opening of one of their latest boutiques, in Capri. They now have 38 stores globally, including newly opened doors in Paris, Madison Avenue (their fourth in New York) and London, which opened in 2017, stores in the Hamptons and Saint-Tropez, a Milan boutique set to open in 2020, and 21 locations in Australia. They are also stocked in more than 250 stores worldwide, including Harrods and Saks Fifth Avenue, and are one of Net-A-Porter’s most successful Australian brands (with their own significant e-commerce offering, too). It’s all fuelled by a social media presence with 1.8 million followers on Instagram and a feed that is both perfectly and professionally curated, while remaining authentic – courtesy of being overseen by Nicky herself. The scale of their success is mind-boggling.
In 2016 they secured a minority investment from growth equity firm General Atlantic, which also has investments in Uber, Airbnb and Tory Burch. A representative of General Atlantic joined the board, but the firm remains strategic partners and does not have an operational role in the company.
At the time of investment, Andrew Ferrer, principal of General Atlantic’s retail and consumer sector, told Business of Fashion that they had been actively researching and meeting a number of brands. “They really stood out to us,” he said. “While Zimmermann’s roots are undeniably and proudly Australian, we view Zimmermann as a global brand.” Back then, there were just 22 standalone stores (18 in Australian and five in the US), so the growth in the last three years has been phenomenal. And successful.
The week we are in Capri, the store is jampacked with customers. Many have come straight from their mega-yachts anchored off the island to buy the perfect resort wear and swimsuits for which the designers are renown. The temporary store manager, who has been sent from Bondi to help with the launch, tells me quietly that sales are exceeding even their wildest expectations.
Back home I visit Zimmermann headquarters in the fast-gentrifying former industrial suburb of Rosebery in Sydney. Their operations are housed in two buildings on opposite sides of the road. Simone has always taken care of operations and gives me a brief tour of the sample production factory, while Nicky is ensconced in the design room upstairs. Nicky’s husband, Chris Olliver, who has a background in law and been a partner alongside his wife and sister-in-law in the business since the early 2000s, is taking a meeting for 10 employees in the nearby showroom and generally avoids any limelight.
Zimmermann remains very much a family business led by three people with equally balanced skills and a healthy culture led from the top. While their thinking is undoubtedly strategic, the design process for Nicky is organic and often inspired by her Australian childhood growing up in the beachside suburbs of Sydney’s Sutherland Shire.
“When I do a collection, and particularly a show, if I have some kind of personal connection with where the inspiration is from, it always helps,” Nicky explains. “The collection that’s in store at the moment is called Super 8. We were subjected
to our father and his Super 8 camera for literally our entire childhood [but] most of the footage ended up being of the ground. He tried really hard, and, god love him, he was really quite persistent with it,” she says, laughing.
“Then we would have nights where we’d have to watch the film. I remember the beautiful kids’ birthday parties – nothing like I’ve ever put on for my children. Everyone is dressed beautifully, no-one is running in with 10 minutes to spare. Mum was immaculate, Aunty Judy beautiful. Everything had such a lovely beautiful kind of feel, so that collection was about my memory of having to watch all of those Super 8 films.”
Like these past moments captured on film, the origins of Zimmermann weren’t planned but instead focussed on fun. The two sisters joined forces after Nicky graduated from design school in 1990 and Simone left her job in publishing.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Simone admits. “We were just trying to make some money to basically fund whatever fun we wanted. From ’91 to at least ’96 or ’98, we were probably just surviving and having fun.”
They started selling their designs at Sydney’s Paddington markets, and a stylist working for Vogue Australia presented fashion director Judith Cook with Zimmermann hand-embroidered shirts, which she then photographed.
“That was really the turning point, where I was like: ‘Oh my god, I need Simone’, because I had a full page in Vogue and I started getting stores in Australia wanting to order it,” says Nicky. “So the growth was extremely organic. From then on Simone’s role was making stuff happen. Simone is the mechanics of the business and, you know, I get to work up in my area in the creative.”
The sisters say the secret to their success remains their complementary but differing skill sets. “We’ve been able to have separate areas,” says Simone “and apart from being sisters, we get on.”
“Simone’s just been extremely supportive of what I do and obviously I trust her to do what she wants to do,” agrees Nicky.
As with many successful people, all roads – or rather seas – seem to lead to Capri. So it is really no wonder to find them all in a villa at the top of the island lunching in the gardens with celebrities, including Katie Holmes and Laura Dern. Models Karolina Kurkova, Jessica Hart and Gemma Ward swan past in their beautiful floral dresses and swimsuits. It’s a social media feast, and designed to be so, which might sound a little elitist, but that’s not the Zimmermann style. Both the laughter and rosé flows easily and Nicky and Simone’s friends, some of whom they have known for as long as they have been in business, almost outnumber invited guests.
I ask them if they ever feel the need to pinch themselves and wonder how they got here. All the time, they both agree. “But we only invite people we like,” Nicky says of such occasions. “I’m way too old to surround myself with difficult people.” And therein lies the secret to their ongoing success: they are still having fun.
“When I do a collection, and particularly a show, if I have some kind of personal connection with where the inspiration is from, it always helps”