NOW YOU SEE HER
Hello, Turet Knuefermann
The centre of attention isn’t a place designer, retailer and businesswoman Turet Knuefermann is used to being in. “I think I’ve always been a bit under the radar,” she says. “I’ve never really promoted [her Knuefermann and TK labels] heavily, especially using myself, despite the name.”
Indeed, in an ‘always on’ age in which those behind fashion labels are expected to push their own image almost as much as their collections, the chic 45-year-old — who this year celebrates an impressive 13 years in business — has maintained a remarkably low profile. There’s no selfie-heavy, exhaustive social media presence or overly affected personal brand to see here — not because she’s against that particular approach, but because behind the scenes (or behind a sewing machine) is where she prefers to stay. “I could lock myself in a room for days and just drape fabrics and make things — that’s my happy place,” she says.
The past couple of months have seen Turet step out of her comfort zone a bit, though she’s been pretty happy to do so. In July, she was named the Mercedes-Benz Presents designer for New Zealand Fashion Week 2018 — a prestigious accolade that recognises and celebrates designers who are dedicated to innovative design, unique style and high-quality materials. It has thrust the Knuefermann label, and the woman herself, into the spotlight.
Her new role as the public face of her brand has taken some adjusting to, but she’s certainly not complaining. After more than a decade of hard work, a bit of recognition is a nice thing to have. “It’s obviously amazing for brand awareness in terms of new customers, but it’s also been really great having long-time customers come into the store saying, ‘Congratulations, I’m so happy for you.’ It’s actually been really lovely.”
It’s those long-time customers who have been integral to Turet’s business over the past 13 years. From Ponsonby socialites to butt-kicking CEOs and busy mums (and often all three in one), the label has had a devoted following from day one of women who appreciate timeless, versatile and sexy pieces that work just as well for Monday-morning meetings as they do for Friday-night drinks. “I’ve always been about classic shapes and fabrics that stand the test of time,” says Turet. “It’s not uncommon for me to get calls or emails from clients saying, ‘I’ve still got that piece you made 10 years ago and I still wear it all the time.’”
Turet puts her solid understanding of her customer’s needs down to having always been hands-on in every aspect of the business. As she explains, “To really know something, you’ve got to do the time.” Her fashion career started back in her broke student days (she studied languages and computers), when the then party girl would whip up pieces to wear on nights out. “People would ask where I got my outfit from and before I knew it, I was making clothes for friends and friends of friends.” When one of those supporters opened a retail store, she asked Turet to make a few pieces to stock, and when those pieces sold out, she made a few more, “and just kept making them”.
In the early 2000s, Turet met her husband and creative partner, photographer Danilo David, and after two weeks of dating found herself on a plane heading to his home country of Brazil for what she now describes as a life-changing and career-defining trip. “It was mind-blowing in so many senses,” she says. “[Brazil] has the incredible history and old-worldliness of Europe, but in a really fresh way, and the weather’s really hot, so the fashion lends itself to that type of climate. The women are bronzed and glamorous, and wear earrings and heels and short, tight dresses; the men are really polished and refined — that classic beige pants and white shirt with the salt-and-pepper hair. It was just beautiful.”
A LIFETIME OF STYLE
Turet also fell in love with the retail side of Brazilian fashion, including its stores’ “massive courtyards with waterfalls and palms”, and the way customers were encouraged to take their time and peruse the racks with a coffee or glass of champagne in hand — something that wasn’t really being done in New Zealand at the time. Inspired, she opened the now-iconic TK Store on Ponsonby’s Brown Street in 2005, importing not only garments and accessories from her new favourite country, but also its welcoming retail practices. Initially, she stocked only a small selection of her own pieces, but demand quickly grew. Within five years, the majority of garments on the racks were Knuefermann and she was working on the shop floor by day and making garments at night. “That’s when I started to take it really seriously and began expanding into knitwear and other garments,” she says.
After a decade of growing the label organically, in 2015 Turet worked with friends and branding experts Osborne Shiwan to define her output — distinguishing the laid-back and weekend-ready TK from the more corporate and special occasion-wear Knuefermann. That same year, she opened a second store in the historic Kauri Timber Building on downtown Auckland’s Fanshawe Street. One of only three heritage buildings remaining on the Freemans Bay shoreline, the handsome brick property had undergone a redevelopment by multi-award-winning architects Fearon Hay.
A lover of great architecture, Turet knew at first sight that she had to have a piece of the sun-drenched, kauri-floored, soaring ceilinged space. “The Brown Street store will always be a go-to for our clients, but [Fanshawe Street] is such a unique spot, and I want to reflect that with what we stock there — from beautifully crafted shoes from Denmark to handmade perfumes from
Los Angeles,” she says.
The always-put-together glamazon is, as you’d expect, a big fan of all things stylish and interesting — something she puts down to her German parents’ impeccable taste, and the travel she enjoyed throughout her childhood thanks to her father’s job as a university professor. “Whenever we were in a new country, Dad would make me and my sister study the history and architecture of the place before we could go out and explore — which is the last thing you want to do as a kid, but I’m grateful for that knowledge now,” she says.
Fortuitously, her parents’ love of heritage and quality, and no doubt a bit of home-country loyalty too, also primed her for her recent partnership. “Mum and Dad actually had a Mercedes when I was growing up. They were always really careful with their choices; they weren’t particularly materialistic or flashy but a Mercedes was always something aspirational yet practical.”
The brand left such an impression that when Turet headed off to university, she got herself a Merc’ too, albeit a “beat-up old station wagon” that while serving her reliably for 15 years was no doubt a far cry from the impossibly glossy, high-spec Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake she’s currently rolling around in. “Yeah, it’s a bit of an upgrade!” she laughs. “It’s amazing to drive and it’s such an honour to be working with a brand that has such prestige — that epitomises quality, reliability and style. Those are all things we endeavour to do with our garments as well.”
The car’s safety features are also a big plus for Turet, particularly on days when she’s driving around with a bub in the back. Turet and Danilo’s son Ayrton (named after Brazilian race-car driver Ayrton Senna) is two and “the absolute happiness and joy” of their lives. “It’s funny, because we both really enjoyed our freedom and were so maniacally busy that we thought we’d never have time to even think about having kids, but having him in our lives has been such an amazing experience that now I’m like, ‘Hmm, maybe we could have another one.’ I didn’t realise how cool it would be.”
When asked if becoming a mother has slowed her down as she thought it might, Turet pauses briefly before shaking her head. “We’re lucky that we can be flexible and just fit our lives around him,” she says. “For the first 18 months, I kind of just slung him on my hip and went off to production meetings. It’s full-on, and there’s definitely less sleep in the beginning, but you make it work and carry on.”
Call it good old-fashioned German pragmatism, but chatting with Turet, whether we’re talking motherhood or business, you get the sense that knuckling down and getting the job done has always been her MO. At the time of our interview, she’s preparing for her opening show at Fashion Week, and although these days she has a team around her, as well as a network of manufacturers and suppliers, she’s still putting in as much blood, sweat and tears as she did when she was alone, pulling all-nighters to get stock into her first store.
“Being involved in everything is time-consuming and difficult, but it’s the best way to understand your customer and get your head around your business, what things should cost and how long they should take,” she explains of her workaholicish tendencies. “It helps you gain people’s respect.”
If there’s anyone in the business who’s earned that respect — and who deserves their time in the spotlight, even if it does take some getting used to — it’s Turet Knuefermann.
She’s still putting in as much as she did when she was alone, pulling all-nighters to get stock into her first store
Model wears Turet’s Vania One-Shoulder dress.
Turet (right) with the Mercedes-BenzCLA Shooting Brake. “It’s a bit ofan upgrade!”