PARIS — Antik Batik, the boho brand that gave birth to the hippie chic craze back in the early Aughts, is celebrating its 30th birthday with a capsule collection that drops Sept. 23.
The 10 new pieces play like a greatest hits of the brand, an homage to the Beatles with ’70s style in shearling vests and flowing dresses, festival fashion in high-waisted short shorts embellished with hand-embroidered paillettes, panty shorts inspired by Crazy Horse cabaret dancers, plus remakes of pieces once worn by Jennifer Lopez — and all handmade by a team of artisans in India.
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The major milestone collection marks not just the brand’s birthday, but an entire rebirth for founder Gabriella Cortese following a three-year hiatus for the label.
“We are a start-up — a start-up that has 30 years of life,” Cortese told WWD of her by-the-bootstraps ethos after a relaunch in 2018. “We are approaching it with a fresh mind creatively, but bringing in the experience we already have. Antik Batik has always been something rooted in the ancient [techniques] moving into the future, working in a very unique way.”
The Italian-born Cortese founded the brand when she was 26 and it quickly grew to be in more than 1,200 doors worldwide. But the rapid expansion coupled with her hands-on sourcing from small artisans as far-flung as India, Peru and Mongolia led the company into administration after revenues steadily declined in the years following the 2008 financial crash.
While she shuttered the line and her six stand-alone boutiques in 2013, Cortese was never tempted to walk away. “This is the only thing I know how to do,” she joked. “When people have these kinds of [financial] problems, they lose creativity, but I didn’t. The creativity part never left, which is something very important to me.”
Now she’s slimmed down to her flagship boudoir-style boutique in a cozy corner of the Marais, which houses her collections, as well as staff, studio and archives. Quilted coats from the mid-2000s hang next to bright caftans from the current collection and she’s recreated legacy pieces such as a crocheted bikini for summer.
Robinson Ferreux / Courtesy Antik Batik
“It’s complicated to restart something, but the creativity has always been there,” she said. “That’s the main thing for me, and then rebuilding the team 360 degrees within the company, because we have to. We are completely alone, we don’t have any banks backing us.”
Cortese turned down an offer to sell 30 percent of her company to Frederic Biousse, the French businessman who cofounded Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot parent company SMCP, in favor of going it alone over a decade ago. It’s a decision she stands by despite the ensuing difficulties.
“I rather prefer to be independent than to be tied up with somebody. But of course, things happen slowly. It doesn’t go as fast as when you have funds and you can open boutiques everywhere,” she said. The company is entirely self-financed and currently in a position Cortese calls “very healthy.”
The pandemic shutdowns turned out to be positive for the young team, Cortese said, as they quickly pivoted to building the e-commerce arm and creating a social media-first strategy. Web sales now account for 40 percent of the total business, many of which are in the 18- to 25-year-old Gen Z demographic and new buyers.
“The challenge is to find the right platforms on which to reposition the brand,” she said. Cortese just launched an Instagram series to speak to these younger consumers. “Young people are very conscious of how to consume in a different way. So it’s very important to tell them that these things are done by humans, who are doing this by hand, and it’s giving us time to show that this is not fast fashion,” she said. Cortese has been championing sustainability for decades, and the series will explain the philosophy and craft behind the collections.
The company has also launched strategies outside the traditional advertising model — a collaboration with Italian model Elisa Sednaoui, which debuted last year, and will be outfitting the costumes for the French film “I Love Greece” this summer. The brand also launched a homeware line with Cabana magazine, with Cortese’s signature block prints translated to rustic linens as part of a five-year plan to transform Batik into a lifestyle brand.
“People really love the brand. We have people coming in all day long saying they used to wear it [as a child] or still have pieces their mama used to have, so it’s normal to develop this feeling into a lifestyle brand. It’s important to connect [with legacy customers] and construct our business in a different way as well,” she said.
Still, she’s paused the kids’ and tweens lines due to the complexity of producing such a broad size and age range, though there are a few one-off pieces in the boutique. The core collection remains the women’s line, encompassing everything from bikinis to handbags, and getting the garments back onto shop floors is the main business focus.
Antik Batik has inked deals to be in 200 boutiques by the end of 2023. It’s a fraction of the previous number, but reflects her newly edited outlook. Le Bon Marche in Paris, Agora at the Six Senses in Ibiza and Tuckernuck in Washington, D.C., are among they key doors.
Multibrand sellthrough at full price is 70 percent, Cortese said, credited to its price point.
She’s continuously positioned the brand in a fashion sweet spot, focusing on its handicraft and heritage as a luxury item but keeping it affordable and attainable. Tops are perched at 95 euros, while a floor-length dress is 220 euros and a quilted jacket 495 euros.
Cortese said she’s also managed to miss many of the supply chain disruptions that have plagued other brands as she’s worked with the same suppliers and craftsman for 30 years, including some families over generations. That loyalty has paid back during the crisis, she said.
While sales in the U.S. “remain strong,” she will continue with the multibrand retailer strategy there, as opening any stand-alone shops would require some big-bucks investment. Cortese concedes she’d need a financial partner and though she doesn’t rule it out in the future, it’s not in the cards soon.
Instead of America, she’s focusing on opening in more tropical European locales. “We want to have at least two boutiques in resorts — you know the places where you let go and spend without thinking,” she joked. “For the moment, what would be the most intelligent for us is to open a shop where our clients spend money and are in a vacation state of mind — which is Saint-Tropez, Mykonos, Ibiza.”
Stephane Feugere / Courtesy Antik Batik
Though she’ll resume her busy travel schedule in October, returning to India and Peru, and a visit to Senegal for a new collection, the most important lesson she’s learned is to “keep your feet on the ground,” she said.
“When you become big and you go back to zero the ego is the main thing that is holding you back, because it’s very difficult to deal with. But I think the difficulties can give you a clearer way of seeing things — Who are your friends? Who are the people that really believe in you?
“When you work with people that believe in you, you can not give up, it’s impossible,” she added, particularly noting the artisans. “I know where [the business] can go because I know where we were before and I know where I want to reach again.”