Esteban Cortázar is a Colombian-born fashion designer. He launched his eponymous line in 2002 when aged just 18. Receiving high praise, the collection sold out at Bloomingdales. After spending time as the creative director at Ungaro, Cortázar relaunched his line with an exclusive, trans-seasonal collection for Net-A-Porter in 2012. Breaking the traditional autumn/winter, spring/summer cycle, Cortázar produces highly coveted capsule collections adopting a see-now-buy-now approach.
Holli Rogers worked her way up the ranks of Net-A-Porter, after working previously for the likes of Chanel and Neiman Marcus, and became fashion director in 2011. Under her direction, the e-tailer uploaded 60 times more stock and doubled the number of countries to which it shipped. In May 2015, Rogers became the CEO of Browns after its takeover by retail-aggregator Farfetch.
Esteban Cortázar I saw a conversation on Instagram between Alek Wek and this guy, they were talking about how millennials really connect with the truth. They don’t buy into fakeness; they realise when things are too systematic. When somebody’s posting something that feels as if it’s too planned out, they know right away. They can tell the difference between what’s authentic and what’s not.
Holli Rogers I think that’s why Snapchat has become really important.
EC Exactly. Because everything has become so systematic, I think twice about everything. I do what I do because I’m passionate about it, not because I want to make money. Of course, I want to be successful, but at the same time I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager and I love what I do. When I have a buyer who comes in and is just flipping through the sales report and the sell-through, it makes me think. I say, “Wow, where’s the passion in this? How are you buying this?”
HR To me, it’s really simple: it’s just about product. I say this to the business all of the time – we could have an amazing e-commerce platform and beautifully refurbished stores, but if we don’t have the right product, none of it really matters. I think if we stop the markdowns happening when they happen, that would be one major solution. The problem is that everybody wants to log last year’s figures. But one of the decisions I made around Christmas time – when you would normally go into markdown for winter products – was to say, “Don’t mark down coats or boots”. These are the things that you’re going to need in February when it actually gets cold, but you can’t find anything except silly chiffon dresses. If we could get away from calling it “spring” and “fall”, I think that would fundamentally help because it’s a ridiculous concept.
EC The whole idea of calling something “spring” and “fall” makes the designers themselves design that way, which then affects the whole thing. I think collections should be everything.
HR Because you’re selling to both hemispheres. Most retailers who are online are selling globally.
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EC There should always be a coat. There should always be a summer dress. There should always be great knitwear. There should always be light stuff. There should always be chiffon dresses, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t also be a great jacket and coat. When we did the first collection for Net-A-Porter the launch dates kept changing, so the climate became irrelevant. The collection just had to be what it had to be. It made me think so much about how I structured my business. I have investors; they’re great and I’m happy with them, but of course, they’re like “What’s next? What are your projections? How are you going to meet them?” Often, I just don’t know. Because I do it for many other reasons, too.
HR Esteban, you were very brave in doing what you did, but now that’s what everybody is talking about. Everyone is doing it your way.
EC What I think is happening right now is that everybody is also just trying to do it their way. It takes time to see which idea will stick. It’s not actually happening exactly how I want, not yet. First, you realise that it’s hard to deal with the factories, then the fabric arrives late. It’s not easy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I keep the delivery window big enough to allow for the fact that I don’t know exactly how it will turn out. It’s hard because the factories don’t actually understand. They are starting to, but it boils down to fabric.
HR How fashion is evolving, the cycles changing, the production capabilities, is exciting. So many people have become stuck in their ways, but the speed of the industry makes them ask, “How do I deal with this?” It’s like they’re re-engaging back into what they do instead of this mechanical, walk-in-with-a-spreadsheet routine. It forces me to look at everything in another way because things are coming at you from different angles.
EC I think retailers need someone to inspire them. I think what’s interesting and exciting about the future is the new generation. When you have a new generation of people who are thinking in different ways, they rethink how processes can work. It’s a millennial thing – kids who grew up looking at a screen instead of a book. It makes you think in a different way and can sometimes alter how you think of the future. I’m working in opposition to most people who show a collection and shoot a campaign with such rapidity. They’re like, “Next, next, next. Boom, boom, boom. Who has the most followers? Let’s shoot her.” We’re living in a time right now where authenticity and integrity feel scarce, so what’s important is keeping that sense of realness. Retailers need to have emotion when buying. Listen to the designer. I’m swimming through, and I do the show, but at the end of the day I have people to answer to, and it’s tough to hold onto my integrity and authenticity…
HR Yes – with all of that investment, try and not let that go because that’s what makes you so special. When I saw your last collection, I was like, “Oh my God, those colours are amazing! And the fur! And all of it is amazing”. I just don’t ever want to see that get watered down just because you’ve got numbers to hit. §