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Damiano Biella On Escada’s New Look

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Think of a fashion brand as a seafaring vessel. The bigger the brand, the bigger the boat, and when a brand is as massive as Escada, with 420 stores around the world, hundreds of retail accounts, thousands of employees, millions of dollars in sales, etc.—the apt metaphor is a cruise liner. Now imagine trying to turn one of those monsters around. That is the task with which Damiano Biella has been charged. Almost two years ago, Biella was appointed creative director at the storied brand founded in 1978 by Margaretha and Wolfgang Ley. Prior to his arrival, Escada had found itself a little, well, at sea. Biella has made quick work of changing that. He’s earned Escada a new crop of glamorous fans, among them Naomi Watts, who wore a pale yellow, empire-waist Escada gown to last year’s Oscars, and Hilary Swank, who turned up at Saks Fifth Avenue’s fête for the label earlier this month. Ostensibly a celebration of the brand’s holiday clothes, the event felt, more accurately, like a coming-out party for the new-and-improved label that Biella has conceived. Here, he talks to Style.com about steering the good ship Escada back to port.

How did you wind up at Escada?

Prior to taking this job, I spent three years as design director at Valentino and had the luck to work with him directly on both the couture and the ready-to-wear. Before that, I was the creative director at Carolina Herrera. I think my experience suggested that I understood the woman Escada was trying to reach, and in particular, that I had a grasp of the American market. So, they approached me, and here I am.

What appealed to you about taking on the role of creative director?

I saw incredible potential. I was very lucky to [have been] at Gucci with Tom Ford. I saw what it means to take the DNA of a brand and make something new. I knew going in that the first thing you have to do is clean house. There were ideas the brand had been recycling for a long time that didn’t make sense. There was a flamboyance that needed to be edited out. On the other hand, the Escada DNA is strong. Margaretha was incredibly inventive in her use of color and ahead of the curve in using top models and photographers for the catalogs and creating a strong presence in the United States. She really knew her customer. The brand just needed to find that woman again.

Who do you see as the Escada woman?

When I came on we did a little study of who was buying. What we found out was that the Escada woman was different, country to country. Honestly, it was totally random. At the Saks event, I was starting to see the customer I believe the Escada woman ought to be. The clothes are expensive, so she’s not a kid, and there’s a timelessness to the style, so she’s not a fashion victim, either. She’s a chic woman who’s accomplished a fair amount and has a sense of confidence. Hilary [Swank] sums that up for me, in fact. Christy Turlington has the same qualities. That’s why I chose her for the campaign. I didn’t want to put a teenager in the ads.

Do you worry about alienating a part of the Escada customer base?

It’s a concern. When there are 420 stores worldwide, you worry about them being empty. What’s gratifying is that we’re already seeing a demand. I’ve put a lot of energy into the accessories, and we’ve had a lot of success with that. Then, you have to trust your instincts. For the Fall 2008 campaign, I put Christy in an red cocoon coat with a high collar, which was definitely a more directional shape. But it made a statement, and that coat has been selling out.

Photo: Nick Hunt / PatrickMcMullan.com

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