Meet the Designers of NET-A-PORTER’s Vanguard Program

by Charles Manning

NET-A-PORTER’s new designer mentorship program, The Vanguard, seeks to nurture and develop new designers by providing them with practical advice and marketing support. For fall/winter 2018, NET-A-PORTER’s buyers have selected Les Reveries, RŪH, gu_de, and Souliers Martinez to benefit from sessions that concentrate on buying, business strategy, marketing and PR, social media, tech, and advice on entering new markets and territories. We caught up with a few of the designers over email to find out more about their brands and what they have planned for the future of fashion. 

1. Julien Martinez of Souliers Martinez

Souliers Martinez shoes, available at Net-a-Porter.

What inspired you to launch your brand?
It acts as a tribute to the shoes that my Spanish grandmother, with her timeless Mediterranean elegance, used to wear. After visiting a hand-lacing workshop near Alicante in 2013, everything started to develop in my mind. I really wanted to perfectly blend the Spanish inspiration and traditional craftsmanship with Parisian style. I use a very traditional craft of Hand lacing  and I investigated the technical possibilities to apply this know-how on modern and timeless shoe styles such as thigh high boots, ankle boots, pumps and sandals.

What is your educational/professional background?
I studied industrial design and I worked in design agencies as a project director for 8 years. I always had this passion for shoes and just before my 30th birthday, I decided to dedicate all my time and my energy studying a masters specialized in shoe design in Barcelona. I started working as a freelance shoe designer right after my masters and I created my shoe design office “La Cordonnerie Générale” in 2011. I’m still working for shoe brands as a creative director.

How has this partnership with NET-A-PORTER impacted your business?
Form a business point of view, NET-A-PORTER ensure a minimum quantity order from the first season, which is really helpful and important (form an industrial point of view). Emerging designers have to face big challenges with production and logistics. At every step NET-A-PORTER expert teams have been really supportive and helpful.

Advice and feedback from NET-A-PORTER buyers on our products are also invaluable. NET-A-PORTER can offer you a real worldwide market vision from customer insights to very detailed weekly reports.

Menorca Woven Leather Pumps, SOULIERS MARTINEZ (Available at NET-A-PORTER), $640; Mahon Woven Leather Ankle Boots SOULIERS MARTINEZ (Available at NET-A-PORTER), $780

Where do you see your business in 5 years?
Of course, I would like to extend my product line with bags, accessories, and objects, but I would like to grow my business sustainably, step by step. I really want to keep a very close relationship with the craftspeople.  All of the shoes are, with a strict selection of leather, hand-laced, assembled, and finished in Alicante.  It is a determined approach to support this local production on the human scale as well as a means to preserve the arts and craftmanship technique.

If you could collaborate with any celebrity or another designer who would it be and what would you want to do
Actresses playing in Pedro Almodovar films such as Carmen Maura, Penelope Cruz and Rossi de Palma, have always inspired me. They are strong, independent, bold and even sometimes eccentric, they accept who they are with humor. I imagine such elegant, passionate, creative, Latin, radiant women and I always want to celebrate them.

What’s the realest advice you’ve ever gotten in this business?
With the growing increase in demand, it is essential to openly listen to the buyers with their advice and feedback.   Growth also brings about new types of customers that once were not imaginable and listening attentively to the buyers can help discover this.  While it is important to remain faithful to the brand’s DNA, the feedback and advice will help open doors to new targets in the big picture of the company.

Pretend you have an unlimited budget to present your next collection, what would you do?
I’m not sure that an unlimited budget would be helpful ! I find it useful having constraints as it helps to be creative and sometimes a limited budget can makes you investigate new directions and find creative solutions that you wouldn’t have explored.

2. Sonia Trehan of RŪH

How would you describe your brand in three words?
Private, layered, intellectual.

What inspired you to launch your brand?
Although I’ve always been artistically and aesthetically inclined, I never considered myself a “fashion consumer”, but rather someone who embraced style as an extension of myself — my thoughts, my aspirations, my identity. I struggled to find a brand that spoke to that part of me that wanted to be intellectually engaged with style, to have meaningful and interesting conversations about clothing and its representation of self. So RŪH is a reawakening to the idea that style can be more personal and private, an escape from the noise and pressures of a world increasingly driven by digital exposure and social validation.

RŪH fall 2018

What’s your influencer strategy?
We don’t have a traditional influencer strategy, insofar as that refers to working with women who predominantly write about/post about style and have large followings. We recognize that our woman, although discerning in her style choices, is multidimensional and equally indulges her interests in art, design, architecture among other disciplines that expand far beyond the fashion world. She is drawn to likeminded women in the public space — established editors, artists, architects etc. — who are rather recognized and celebrated for a certain mastery of their craft. So, we have identified personalities that we feel share our ethos/are influential in these different fields, and are engaging them in the brand through offline events and our online editorial platform. This has been a very fulfilling part of building the brand so far, as it has widened our net and helped us harness the power of digital micro-communities in a more thoughtful and considered way.

What’s the realest advice you’ve ever gotten in this business?
Do not start a fashion brand! Most people I’ve spoken to within the industry, especially those that have run their own brands, cautioned me against starting this project. I often get told the old adage that only one percent of brands make it. Although I clearly did not heed the advice, it’s still sobering to remember just how difficult it is to break through the noise. It keeps me grounded even when things are ostensibly working out and the brand is getting recognition. I know there’s still a long journey ahead and many hurdles to overcome.

3. Ji Hye Koo of gu_de

What inspired you to launch your brand?
From my experience as a designer for more than 15 years at the national fashion brands in Seoul, South Korea, I felt thirsty to create my own brand, so I launched gu_de in October, 2016.

What is the biggest sacrifice you have made to get your business off the ground?
Not being able to spend more time with my family.

What’s the biggest issue facing up-and-coming fashion brands like yours?
To create something to satisfy a customer who is eager to find newness all the time.

Who would you love to collaborate with?
J.W. Anderson executes geometrical and avant-garde silhouette so well, I would be so excited to have an opportunity to collaborate with someone like this.

Fill in the blank: “I want to be the next_______.”
Phoebe Philo. I’m so impressed and looking forward to her next step in this field.

If you weren’t designing right now, what would you be doing?
I like travel very very much as it allows me the time to heal my tired body and stressed mind. In many cases, I’m so inspired by foreign cultures, arts, and people — especially vintage markets. If I weren’t a designer right now, I would be a travel writer and would be happy to let people know about hidden places only a few recognize and small tips for their trips.

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