Designers Dish, NYFW Edition: Nicky and Simone Zimmermann on Celebrity Dressing, Expanding the Brand

Zimmermann NYFW - P 2015
Courtesy of Starworks Group

Zimmermann NYFW - P 2015

The duo from Sydney — whose designs are a favorite among the likes of Solange Knowles and Mary Elizabeth Winstead — went from opening their second L.A. store on Melrose Place in July to planning and presenting their latest collection on Friday. Here, we caught up with the ladies to talk showing in New York as opposed to a different city and dressing Hollywood's biggest names.

Let’s be real — few industries are filled with as many, uh, big personalities as the fashion biz. And that’s rarely more apparent than during New York Fashion Week, when an entire city somehow manages to feel like a middle school playground with the same cliquey nonsense and “you can’t sit with us” mentality typically reserved for very insecure sixth grade girls.

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Which is why we always jump for joy whenever we get to see Nicky Zimmermann, the cool as hell designer behind the Australian powerhouse contemporary label that bears her name. Zimmermann, who helms her Sydney-based company along with sister Simone and husband Chris, showed her latest offering of spring 2016 wares in New York on Friday — an offering of ruffled, sheer, lacey dresses that had a touch of an updated 1960s California commune vibe mixed with high-neck Victorian collars and a dash of old world conservatism that created stellar — and wearable — results.

And a front row of boldfaced fans — Solange Knowles, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aussie supermodels Jessica Hart and Gemma Ward — agreed.

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We caught up with the designer at the opening dinner celebrating her new Melrose Place boutique in Los Angeles on July 29 — an expansive, 3,000 square-foot space that brought out the likes of Miranda Kerr, January Jones and stylists Anita Patrickson and Nicole Chavez. And while there we happened to mention our upcoming holiday to Australia, which prompted the friendlier-than-thou clothier to whip out photos of Bondi Beach, Tamarama — the Sydney suburb she calls home — and other gorgeous, down under delights.

And in typical warm Aussie fashion, the designer invited us to her Sydney studio. So we went and chatted with Nicky and her brand co-founder (and equally as affable) sister Simone about everything from red carpet dressing to growing a company in the Northern Hemisphere when you live on the bottom of the earth — not to mention recs for where the stylish set brunch in Sydney (Jackie’s in Paddington) and which ferry affords a tourist the best harbor views at sunset (Rose Bay).

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Pret-a-Reporter: As we saw in your new store (and on your celeb fans), you guys do a ton of gowns and really go beyond the bathing suit. I don’t think a lot of people realize that about the brand, do you?

Nicky Zimmerman: People assume that L.A. has this slow, casual vibe, relaxed feeling — which it does — but there’s the opposite as well.

Simone Zimmermann: People have occasions.

NZ: Exactly. That’s where we’re sort of finding a customer that sits well with us, with what were doing — they want pretty pieces. On another day they may want to wear their urban casual California outfit if you want to call it that. Another day they may want to wear a full length crepe dress. We’re just finding that you can’t categorize the girl really, and as there is in New York there’s a real mix [in L.A.]. But I think that the personality is that relaxed, cool kind of girl that likes to come in and talk to our girls in the store and hang around is our girl. That’s probably the relaxed feeling that we notice [in our customers].

SZ: And a part of their life is to dress up and they love fashion and they love to look at different ways of dressing and different types of things that Nicky does gives them an opportunity to do something different.

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As you guys have kind of evolved, how has celebrity dressing played into the brand strategy and how have stylists played a part in your growth?

NZ: We recognized a long time ago, particularly with the States, it was an integral part of building the brand was to either be working with our press agent or, what we find in L.A., having the stores in the positions that we do, [stylists and celebrities] are coming in themselves. And its organic and it’s how we like to be. We have a policy of not liking to talk too much about who comes in and what they buy, it’s more of a relaxed kind of relationship that we have. But they drive past and come on in. It’s a pretty cool thing. But that’s also L.A. that’s not uptight. That’s pretty cool. And these guys are pretty big stars.

SZ: And then there’s the other element to it where they do have a stylist and they’re professional in terms if what they do and how they present themselves. And so the stylists are based around where our stores are [Melrose Place and Robertson Boulevard], so even if it’s not directly the individual who will end up wearing it, it’s the people who are working with them.

NZ: It’s definitely a very important part of building the brand. It’s exciting. It’s fun for us. It’s awesome, particularly when these people – who are given whatever they want — actually choose and put it on. It’s very flattering. It’s definitely validating.

You guys started off selling your clothes at Sydney’s Paddington Market in 1991 and now you have 23 stores across the globe. In the beginning, did you set out to build a global business?

NZ: I think Simone and I — we actually, a long, long time ago — set a direction to [build a global business] and the many years of building on it is the accumulation of what is happening now. And the business is built along with us working continuously for over 20 years. There seems to be a lot of motivation and optimization for what we’re doing but its very much a culmination of a lot of years and that we now have the resources to do things like open the store on Melrose Place, that makes a difference. It puts the mind set on the brand when you have spaces like that. It makes people comfortable to buy our ready to wear and runway pieces. And we’re able to create environments that people are able to enjoy and stay in, particularly being an Australian brand in America, we want [customers] to feel at home. We want to translate that to the states.

Melrose Place marks your second Los Angeles store — you also have Robertson Boulevard, which was your first boutique in the United States. That street has gone through a ton of changes since you opened there in 2011…

NZ: It has a very good tourist — and some local —  thing. But it’s quite transient of who comes in and out. I love the street, and it was our first store so we have a bit of an attachment to it. But whether for us as a business it’s necessary for us to have it in such close proximity to Melrose Place…

Melrose Place has always been pretty. You always walk there and think, this is really nice. It’s been nice to see how [the street] is coming together. There’s a nice mix, stuff happening. That’s what people want. Fashion, food – it’s all entertainment. You want to be able to go to one spot and that’s your enjoyment for your day.

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You went right from opening Melrose Place to planning your fashion week show, right?

SZ: Oh yeah. This much of Nicky’s brain is here at the moment [makes “small” symbol with fingers and laughs].

NZ: She looks in my eyes and is like, ‘you’re not really listening to me.’ I’m going, ‘Cut that frill! I need to line that dress!’ She knows. We’re getting close. I’ve got three weeks and the garments need to be sent. So I’m at that real crucial time, particularly having been in L.A. doing the opening and then I was away.

You’re a Sydney-based brand. Why do you show in New York as opposed to a different fashion week city or even in Australia?

NZ: I think with the stores [in he States] and the plan for more stores, I think it’s one of our obvious fashion centers.

SZ: We didn’t have to, we wanted to make a choice to have a fashion home outside of Australia. We’ve been going to New York for a long time and we have a good network of people we know and are friends with and work with so it’s out second fashion home and we’ve got stores on the East Coast, that’s where all of our buying offices are. We’ve got our wholesale showroom there and our permanent showroom in the Meatpacking District. We’ve got quite a lot of staff just in that region. So in terms of the Northern Hemisphere schedule it needed to be somewhere in that region and Europe goes to New York. Paris wasn’t a natural option for us at that time — our French is the best. Shocking.

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NZ: We showed [in Sydney] for a long time, 15 years. They used to bring out incredible people, particularly journalists and buyers. Then it lessened off a little bit. And I think its sort of picking up a little bit. It’s mainly, for us, a scheduling issue. And our business is focused in the Northern Hemisphere.

SZ: The most difficult thing is the timing for us. It’s not of season for us. We don’t have resort ready in February.

NZ: Younger designers can make it work a little bit better because they don’t have to stick to the schedule of when they have to sell like we do. We could never have resort ready that early. We’re incredibly supportive of what it does for the industry [in Australia], though.

SZ: It puts Australia on the map.

There’s some incredible Australian design talent right now. Dion Lee, Mario Luca Carlucci and Peter Strateas…

NZ: I think there is and I think the thing that probably needs to come from here is that authenticity of where they’re from. And I think that will help these brands going forward and pushing them into the Northern Hemisphere, which they know they have to do, can only be done if they have their own point of view. Because you think there’s a million brands here? There’s a gazillion brands in the northern hemisphere that you’re competing with. So you have to be better than ever. And be very, very strong in what you are. Otherwise you can’t compete.

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You guys have done that.

NZ: I think there’s definitely a key to that. We sit within a group of a certain type of fashion, internationally. But we still have our own slant on it and the whole swim thing gives it another slant. It definitely allows us to come in and have a point of difference and we’re lucky that the girl that we resonate with the girl who likes fashion. We’re hitting the girls we want to hit. The Aussie girls here have always liked it. And as you know, they’re the same girls overseas. They’re interested in fashion, they know as much about it and they have access to every brand in the world and they still buy us as well. But it’s that thing – you’ve got to always deliver for everybody. And that’s making sure that what you always do is good and deserved of their attention.

SZ: It takes time as well. It’s hard for someone who has been in business for a limited amount for time to hone in on all of that.

NZ: And we’re still learning. I said to someone the other day, every time I come off of doing a show or a collection I go, ‘Yeah, yeah that was good. But I want the next one to be better.’

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But isn’t that the mark of a truly successful person?

NZ: It helps me when I’m working with my design team and getting them in my mind set to go, ‘that was good but I want to achieve that, I want to get this better, I want to make this better.’ And the thing I see is that it helps people learn, and it helps me learn. We’re all learning out there.

SZ: From an outsider’s point of you, its integral to the brand evolving without changing that you listen to what your audience wants. It’s a real balance.

NZ: It is a real balance but as Simone would know, I can only do what I can do. If I’m ever pushed to do anything outside of what I can do I’m useless. It’s so clear to me, even if they ask me to do a project and I don’t get it, it won’t happen. I have to like it, I have to be into it or I’m useless.