A sit down with Kookai’s director, Danielle Vagner
Tell me a bit about yourself and the role you play within Kookai as Creative Director and Owner.
My main job is as a stylist. I’ve been doing this for a long time – for 25 years I’ve been dealing with not only fashion but styling and putting together a collection in which women can understand the essence of KOOKAI. So my main role really is, on a day-to-day basis, visiting the stores, merchandising the stock that gets dropped in once a week and inspiring the girls [working on the shop floor] to understand the collection in every season. Because if I give them knowledge of the collection for that particular season, they’re confident to not only wear that collection the way it should be, but also to be able to teach their customers a lot more about the collection.
What is the significance of the title and the Istanbul location to the East Meets West Collection?
I had actually gone there [to Istanbul] a few years before and I had such an amazing experience. It was very magical, very cultural. It had a feeling that was very dramatic and brought you back to an older time, even though it was still very modern.
Because there are two sides – Asia meets Europe, east meets west – it seemed to be the right location for this particular collection because we had decided this year that there were two very distinct looks. There was the very elegant and very tailored, sophisticated, pretty, feminine side which was very much European [influenced], and which Josephine showcased really well. And then there was the complete other side, which Talia represented. Something that was a bit more exotic, a bit more playful and a bit more bohemian. So I guess we chose Istanbul because there are those two sides.
I think it’s quite interesting to actually challenge yourself – to look at your collection and choose a location that’s going to marry back to the collection. Because of these two very distinct sides, it is exactly what we wanted to showcase the collection and excite the customer. Every year we have to keep inspiring them – not just by the collection but by where we shoot.
You’ve previously said that KOOKAI is heavily influenced by Parisienne style – how have you incorporated this combination of cultures implied in the East Meets West Collection?
KOOKAI is an Australian brand, but a lot of what’s been inspired by the Parisienne culture from the early days – because its home was France, it was founded in France – comes through much more in the styling.
I’m very inspired by the way that the [Parisienne] women put clothes together – the way they’ve styled it, how they wear it with confidence. It’s not exactly what they’re wearing but how they put it together. And that’s very rare to find. So I think it’s kind of a nice contrast and quirkiness to think of the Australian culture, and what the Kookai woman here wants, to what the Kookai woman was many years ago, and still is, in France and many other places in the world, and how she marries between the two cultures and the two cities.
How do your campaign models, Josephine Skriver and Talia Richman, embody KOOKAI as a brand?
Talia is very exotic, she’s quite dark [in her look]. And then you have Josephine who’s lighter and quite elegant in her style and look and her features. So in that way it was sort of two distinct looks within the collection.
Talia walked for us years ago when she was only 16 or 17. So it’s nice to have ambassadors that have grown up with the label.
How would you describe the “KOOKAI Girl”?
She is very spirited, and she is challenging and she is feminine and she knows what she wants. She’s always strong and she’s powerful in the way that she knows what is going to suit her. And it’s always about how the woman feels – she’s wearing the clothes, the clothes aren’t wearing her. Every season she comes to us, hopefully expecting the unexpected. To have our point of difference and to have something there that she feels no other retailer can offer her. Every season when we design, we think about her.
How do you keep KOOKAI current each season and how has the brand developed?
From the girls in marketing, to our design team, to the buying team. Even through trends change, we still have to be true to who the KOOKAI girl is, and that’s what we do every season. We have to be channelled into always thinking ‘who is she? What does she want?’ We are constantly thinking about how to get her excited and how to inspire her and get her to keep coming back to KOOKAI and loving the brand.
We keep trying different things all the time, and as a company we have got an incredible culture. We’ve got spirit and we’ve got heart. This is a business run by a family – Rob and I, and now our children – but I guess the whole of KOOKAI, we are all a family. We’ve got great people that work for us. Many of the girls have started from the shop floor so they’ve lived and breathed the product and they’ve worked with the product every day. So there’s a real understanding of not only the KOOKAI girl but what she wants. Because they are the KOOKAI girls. The girls that work for us now, know exactly what that KOOKAI woman wants on a day-to-day basis to be able to deliver what she needs.
We are able to do this not only through our collections but with everything that we do with KOOKAI – getting great staff that know how to style and sell, creating a great environment for them to come in to the store and buy and feel comfortable, and just always pushing the boundaries and pushing ourselves and changing.
KOOKAI recently launched their online store – how has this affected the brand and the way Kookai operates?
It’s been hard for us as retailers to think ‘should we go online?’ for so many years. Because when you’re a retailer and you have so many stores the brand is very much about when a woman walks through the store and she gets a real feel about not only KOOKAI but the collection, the merchandising, the colours, the windows, the ambience. We work really hard at creating a feeling that the women will not only walk in but hopefully leave with that feeling by buying things of that collection. So I guess, I was probably the one that was saying ‘will she get that same experience?’ But people are really time poor now, so it seems that there is a real need for it [to be online].
What trends are you loving right now? What can we expect for summer?
I’m very excited about this collection because there’s so much variation. It’s so versatile, wearable. What these two specific looks showcase is that we have elevated ourselves to do not only basics which customers love from us but also fashion. I think the versatile pieces are the pieces that customers are really wanting at the moment so they can change their look without the big price tag.
Especially on myself, I like things that are textured, that give me a bit more shape and that are a bit more contemporary and classic. However, then I love something like what I consider a really wearable jumpsuit, because it is pretty, it’s versatile but it’s on trend. It kind of has that great look where you can make it bohemian or you can make it very high fashion if you want to, depending on how you style it.
It’s a lot about A-lines and the longer midi lengths. A lot of these really feminine, almost 50’s styles are really coming in. Bodices that come in at the waist and then go out and are almost like a ballerina. It’s very flattering. It doesn’t matter about your body type as much so it’s a really wearable piece. We’ve done a lot of dresses like that – to the knee or a little bit longer – and they are very pretty and flirty and feminine. But again, you can wear them with a lot of different pieces.
And of course our denim has been extraordinary. We launched denim a few years ago but we’re now doing a lot of the frayed boyfriend jeans, chaumbre shirts and double denim which is something we haven’t done before. As soon as we bring in the boyfriend jeans, they just fly out the door. We do light denim, dark denim, white, black, colours. And it’s just really wearable again.
I’m very much about occasion dressing and wearing the right outfit to the occasion. As a stylist, I think you’ve just got to love clothes, love styling, love dressing up. And I love dressing up myself and I love dressing up my customer.
What are some of your favourite pieces and what can we look forward to seeing in this collection?
I’d have to say, because they’re so different, because they are contemporary and classical yet versatile, [my favourite] is probably our jumpsuits. I think what you’ll see is something extraordinary and a little different. It’s feminine and pretty, it’s on trend and new. It’s got a wider leg than we’ve done before.
And I love body chains. You’ll see a lot of the shoulder chains and big earrings, something a bit more ethnic and bohemian that you can actually mix in with something that’s very contemporary and classic.
It’s very much about textures and embroideries and jacquards. Not what we have always done before.
Photography exclusively for THE F by Aldeth Mendoza.
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