Well Heeled: DARMAKI

31.05.2016 | Fashion | BY:

DARMAKI is the London-born shoe brand that merges the masculine with the feminine. In its fourth season now, and stocked in top tier retailers globally, we catch up with its founder, Sultan Al Darmaki to find out more about the evolution of his brand.

Tell us about your label…
Well, let’s say that DARMAKI went through two phases: the first with a business partner, and the second when I took full ownership of the brand. The latter is when I feel that I truly managed to speak about who DARMAKI is through design, so I like to say I officially launched it in 2014.

How did your background impact your choice of career?
For cultural/traditional reasons, the idea of me studying footwear design was looked down upon. I was a young boy, born and raised in the suburbs of Arabia, which was more or less what I would like to call a sophisticated desert; it was a developing transitional area. I wasn’t really “allowed” to study footwear design, so I ended up studying marketing and PR, which I don’t regret doing at all.

What was your childhood like?
My upbringing was to a certain extent very bipolar; just like the London weather (which I love). There were a lot of “do’s and don’ts” for a man; and of course likewise for a woman. A man should be acting in a certain way, should have a prestigious government job, “should, should, should”… But with all of that there was that contradiction of a small feminine aspect that was injected in my life (which I couldn’t speak about in public when I was a kid). My mother would engross me in her world of fashion, of her dreams of an Arabian woman who managed to escape reality through an issue of Vogue, that she would get hold of a year after it was published, from a Canadian nurse who used to work at the one and only hospital in Al Ain – where I come from. Growing up, I was by default brought up by mother to enjoy the very rough masculine upbringing, but with a mix of a fantastic, feminine element, through Vogue.

Did this influence your brand’s USP?
DARMAKI is not an über feminine brand. It’s one part feminine and one part masculine. It has a strong “fem-masculinity” element in it through the rough fractured chunky heel or the thick soles… it’s a mix of both genders but in a very subtle, romantic manner.

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Why did you decide to launch your label in London?
After a year or two working for a corporate company back home – this was almost ten years ago – I was done. I felt I needed to do what I love and pack my bags and do what I want and not what society/culture expects me to do. With no education and little money that I had, I moved to London and spent two years flying back and forth to Italy, where I got hands on training in the craft of shoe making. It was by far the best work experience. So, over time, London became my home, and it felt very natural to launch my brand here.

Do you think London and its style has had an impact on your designs?
For sure! I think London has defined my style. That incredible exposure to the multifaceted subculture in London as a whole – one can never not be impacted by it. It’s so beautiful yet so rough in some sort of crazy way. In all honesty, I don’t think I would be where I am or I what I am as a designer if I was living somewhere else.

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Who is your customer? Do they have any key characteristics?
Contemporary men and women who are strong, independent and unorthodox. They are confident beyond any need for a sense of belonging to any one community; in a nutshell they don’t belong to a clique.

Describe your design aesthetic…
Grace Jones, David Bowie and Grace Kelly.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
As this is four season and we are already stocked at incredible retailers worldwide – from Boon The Shop in South Korea to Level Shoe District in Dubai – I would like to see that grow more within the next five years… Grow my tribe! I’d like to have the brand in stores that I love and respect, such as Barneys, Colette etc.

Darmaki.com

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One To Watch: Stefanie Biggel

02.03.2016 | Fashion | BY:

For those perpetually in search of a little sartorial freshness, Stefanie Biggel is a designer to watch. The 31-year-old, who originally hails from Zurich, spent a year in London before deciding to live and work in Athens, and is in the midst of building a successful brand built on desirable separates that are imbued with the fluidity of youth, gender and contrasting mediums. In essence, it’s the perfect collection for ‘generation Y’ – with references spanning Kurt Cobain and Larry Clark films to political correctness and superstar celebrity; the latter a jumping board for her latest collection, ‘Hysteria’.

Here, we speak to Stefanie and showcase some exclusive, never-before-seen images of her creative process for the new season.

You trained in Basel, Switzerland – how was that? What kind of cultural stimulation does it offer?
The education at my university was really good. Also in terms of handcraft. This was always very important to me. That’s why I still make all the samples myself. It’s part oft he design process for me. On the other hand the town was very small and I wanted to leave at a certain point and move on. I can’t be in the same place for too long. This has changed a bit since last year. It was really good for me to move to Greece and slow down a bit.

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Stefanie Biggel

How long did it take you define your own aesthetic? Or is it still evolving?
I feel like it’s constantly evolving in a way. It suits my personality. But after seven collections and reaching a certain age I can express myself a lot better and speak out what I don’t like. I’m more relaxed. When you’re insecure people from the industry always try to push you in a certain corner, try to form you. I know about my insecurities and they belong to me and my work. It’s okay to not be perfect.

Descriptions of your work often include the word ‘boxy’ – what is it about this silhouette that appeals to you?
‘Boxy’ ist just one of many silhouettes. They all interest me. One day I feel like wearing a unisex look, the other day I wanna show my body. It depends on the mood and can change constantly.

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An exclusive preview from the ‘Hysteria’ collection

Androgyny is a continuous theme throughout your collections – why is that? And how do you think it contrasts with some of your more feminine details?
I like experimenting with contrasts and don’t want to create these categories like what’s ‘feminine’ or not. To be a woman has so many different aspects that can’t be described easily. This is what interests me the most. It’s very intuitive.

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Exclusive images of Stefanie’s studio

How many people work on your collections? Are you very hands-on in every aspect of the business?
Yes it’s basically just me. I like collaborating with people and share my ideas with them but when it comes to making the actual sample collection, I’ll do it myself. I used to have interns in the past but I sometimes have a very specific idea of how things should be made. I prefer having an assistant that’s evolving with me but moving cities so many times made this difficult. Since my goal is not to make huge collections it somehow works out for me. I simply love working with my hands. But I definitely need people around me like stylists, photographers, and textile artists to create that vision together.

Of course I know a lot about the proper business part too, but I prefer having a showroom agent than selling the collection myself. They’re just more experienced and the whole networking thing is massive. I wouldn’t be able to do that myself.

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The ‘Homesome’ presentation in Paris

Who is the most well-dressed person you know?
Basically everyone that is authentic in their wardrobe choice.

Do you wear your own pieces?
Yes, a lot.

Have you been inspired by another designer over the years? If so, who and why?
I wouldn’t call it inspired but there are of course brands I like a lot. Right now it’s Vetements for that new spirit they brought into the industry. I like people that want to change something and not strictly follow the rules.

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The ‘Homesome’ presentation in Paris

Who would you most like to see wearing your pieces?
Real women that like to change and evolve and like to have fun, are serious, have to struggle and find their way in life.

How would you describe your customer?
My customer likes clothing of good quality that you can wear for any occasion and throughout the year.

Do you think that business acumen is as important as creativity in launching your own label?
Yes totally. It’s a proper business in the end and you often can’t afford paying someone to do these things for you in the beginning . But I still think the most important thing is to know the right people from the industry. You also need a bit of luck.

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The ‘Homesome’ look book, shot by Amanda Camenisch (and main)

If your collection was a song, what would it be?
For ‘Homesome’ probably a Punk song including some strings and techno. A wild mix of everything.

Which Larry Clark movies in particular inspired the latest collection?
It was mostly Kids which transported that feeling of being connected to a group very well. You are looking for this as a teenager. You want to be part of something.

How would you like to take your work to the next level? What does the remainder of 2016 have to offer?
I just finished my latest collection ‘Hysteria’ and I am getting ready for Paris Fashion Week. I don’t know yet what will come next. I need some space to let things happen naturally.

Is there anything that we’d never see in a Stefanie Biggel collection?
I’m pretty much open to anything. There shouldn’t be too many rules.

Shop the collections at stefaniebiggel.com

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