Zimmermann Brings Australian Touch to Paris Fashion Week

PARIS Zimmermann is ready to take its love affair with Paris to the next level.

The Australian brand, known for its resort and swimwear collections, is due to make its debut at Paris Fashion Week with a show on Monday at the Petit Palais, and is setting up a secondary design office in the French capital to keep pace with its rapid growth.

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Creative director Nicky Zimmermann said showing in Paris felt like the right move as much of the world continues to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented her from leaving Australia for the better part of two years. Prior to that, Zimmermann presented its collections at New York Fashion Week.

“For me, it’s a challenge. I mean, it’s every designer’s dream, to be honest,” she told WWD in a Zoom call from Sydney before the event. “It just really suits us business-wise as well. We’re having incredible growth throughout Europe.”

The label has outgrown the Paris office it opened in 2019 and is searching for larger premises, which will include a studio with at least four full-time designers. Zimmermann plans to visit regularly with members of her domestic design team, noting that the location allows her to liaise with fabric suppliers in Italy and manufacturers in locations spanning from Turkey to Portugal.

“We just need to be more mobile and able to be in more places, and I’m wanting to really broaden the creative talent that I’m working with,” she said. “We have a wonderful team here, but I think we can all learn together and there’s many different ways of doing things, which is what we’re interested in looking at.”

Just don’t expect her creations to take on a French accent.

The designer said the spring 2023 collection was inspired by a story her grandmother told her, although she was keeping the details under wraps until showtime. As a teaser, the brand provided a black-and-white image of Sydney’s first coastal amusement park at Tamarama beach, which opened in 1887.

“It talks a lot about Australian lifestyle and fun and optimism,” she said. “I’m coming there as an Australian designer, I’m not coming there to try and be French.”

The show soundtrack will feature voiceovers from well-known Australian actresses, singers and performers addressing the theme of the collection. As for the clothes, expect Zimmermann’s signature prints and color — with an added dose of volume this season.

“We are not a serious brand in that way. We are trying to bring fun, joy,” she said. “Our approach is to do what we do and be who we are, and that is very much what this show is about.”

Nicky Zimmermann
Nicky Zimmermann

Founded in Sydney in 1991 by Nicky Zimmermann and her sister Simone, the label is one of the most successful Australian fashion brands on the global scene, with fans including Beyoncé, Margot Robbie, Kendall Jenner and Jessica Biel.

It’s majority-owned by Milan-based investment fund Style Capital, whose portfolio also includes Los Angeles-based company Re/Done, Italian labels Forte_Forte and MSGM and e-tailer LuisaViaRoma. However, it remains a family-run business. Simone Zimmermann is chief operating officer and the company’s chief executive officer, Chris Olliver, is Nicky Zimmermann’s husband.

“It’s always worked out very well for us that we have our strong Australian roots,” she noted. “Because of our remoteness and because of the way that I’ve learned to design by being quite disconnected from the world, it’s made us quite unique, which I think is a benefit.”

The spring show will be held in the inner courtyard of the Petit Palais art museum, which combines the grandeur of a 19th-century peristyle with an open-air garden and ponds.

“It does look to me quintessentially French,” Zimmermann said. “Coming from Australia as well, light and air, and even the nature, are so incredibly important, and to be able to have that in a venue that we’re showing in, it’s just the perfect combination.”

Since 2018 the brand has opened three stores in France: in Saint-Tropez, Paris and Cannes. From Paris, Zimmermann will head straight to Florence to celebrate the opening of its latest boutique. “We’ve had an incredible rollout of retail in the U.S. and in Europe within this year,” she said. In addition to city stores, Zimmermann follows its customers to where they like to vacation.

The brand now has 52 stores worldwide, including 21 in Australia, 18 in the U.S., 12 in Europe and one in China. This year it has inaugurated boutiques in Miami’s Design District as well as Tampa and Naples, Florida, and Southampton, New York, in addition to Madrid, Puerto Banús and Barcelona in Spain.

“There’s plenty of stores in the pipeline,” said the creative director, revealing that Hawaii is also on the cards. “There’s a lot of opportunity for us in retail, but for us, it must be quality retail, and in positions that we love and that we feel really confident in.”

Owned stores have always played an important role in the brand’s development.

“Simone and I started very much in our early days as retail people, and I love retail, I love having the stores, I love that close connection to the customer. I started at Paddington Markets in Sydney with a rack, and I’m serving the customers myself, and I’ve made all of the garments myself,” Zimmermann recalled.

“It’s an incredible way to connect with your customer and to learn and understand creativity, like, what works? I like to sell garments, as well as work in a very creative environment. It’s about having that hand-in-hand. And for me, having your own stores, we can just express who we are as a brand and as people. We try and make our stores very optimistic, welcoming, comfortable,” she continued.

The Zimmermann store in Cannes, France.
The Zimmermann store in Cannes, France.

The boutiques, designed by Australian interior architect Don McQualter, typically meld local features with Australian works of art. Service is a key part of the equation, with sales staff displaying a friendly demeanor that is quintessentially Down Under.

“It’s such an important thing that you are really well looked after, and that you’re purchasing what you really, really love,” Zimmermann emphasized. “It shouldn’t be stressful. It shouldn’t be something that you feel uncomfortable [with] or intimidated [by]. That’s the worst thing I could think about.”

While it may seem like the brand is firing on all cylinders, Zimmermann said the journey has been slow and steady.

“It’s been a long build-up. It looks probably on the outside that things have happened quickly, but we’ve been maybe not-so-overtly building this business to the point where it is, and we now find there is most definitely a really strong momentum for what we’re doing,” she said, declining to disclose sales figures.

The brand’s upbeat vibe is chiming with post-pandemic customers looking for special occasion outfits. “They were looking for things that made them feel good, they’re going on holidays with their families, finally, and enjoying themselves. And I think that that has really propelled us,” she said.

In recent years the brand has diversified its offering to include categories like knitwear and denim, in addition to accessories such as handbags, shoes and eyewear. For the Paris show, it is ramping up its jewelry assortment, which has been produced by an external jewelry designer for the first time.

Zimmermann touted “phenomenal” growth in wholesale, and said strongly performing categories included suiting and outerwear, as well as childrenswear and sunglasses. Still, she always sees room to refine and grow her designs.

“I’ve had the brand just over 30 years so I’m happy just to keep going and to keep building these things, but with quality and with a really strong base and infrastructure so that it lasts,” she said. “It’s about quality and longevity.”

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