Milan Vukmirovic Doesn’t Need Another Diptyque Perfume-------
Multitasking is Milan Vukmirovic’s middle name. After co-founding Colette, he worked alongside Tom Ford at Gucci and succeeded Jil Sander when the beloved designer was ousted. Now the 36-year-old Frenchman is creative director at L’Officiel Hommes and menswear designer for Trussardi—and most recently a co-founder of Miami’s newest retail mecca, the Webster. The three-story boutique, slated to open in March, aims to lay on the luxury thick with labels like Lanvin, Balenciaga, and the newly smoking-hot Balmain—and an outpost of Caviar Kaspia. During Art Basel / Miami Beach, the Webster’s temporary space on Collins Avenue received the likes of Naomi Campbell, Pharrell Williams, and Rachel Zoe. We waited for the celebrity storm to calm before sitting down with him to chat about Miami ‘s surprisingly lofty level of chic, the impending economic gloom, and why fashion mistakes are necessary.
So, you’ve opened a store for the first time in more than a decade. Why Miami?
There’s an incredible clientele here. Miami is very free. You get such a mix. And people don’t care how you dress. In Paris or New York, you go somewhere and people are looking at you from head to toe. Miami is a little cooler. Even at the airport, at customs, the police are much less stressed than when you arrive in New York. When you’re French, you really feel that.
Tell us about the space.
I love all these pastel colors and the Art Deco, so I thought instead of doing a very high-tech, modern store, we should do this ideal of forties tropical elegance. So we put in fans and we’re reproducing the terrazzo floors and the round ceilings.
The store ‘s main focus is serious fashion and not concept-driven items. Why such a departure from Colette?
I was interested in going back to a real fashion store. I was 26 when I did Colette. I’m now 36. A Diptyque perfume, a little toy—I don’t buy this anymore. I’m looking for nice pieces or beautiful fabrics. [Editor's note: Click here for more on Vukmirovic's style essentials.] And I love to select. When you go to a Prada showroom, it’s rooms and rooms of clothes. It’s nice to select, and then to present something different from a label’s own stores here.
What do you think of the direction Colette has taken since you left?
I like it. When you do something, you have to put your soul in it, and if it’s successful it’s because it’s also part of your personality. i-D magazine is Terry Jones, Vogue [U.S.] is Anna Wintour. Sarah [Lerfel] took over Colette and now it reflects her personality. That’s why I like it, because it’s her. She loves Tokyo. She loves Comme des Garçons. Maybe sometimes I don’t have the same taste, but that’s what makes it interesting.
What have you learned about Miami fashion?
At the beginning, the people were telling us, “You should buy this because it’s great for Miami.” Gold, silver, leopard print. People have this image of Miami, a mix of tacky, drugs, sex, salsa. It’s so clichéd. But I always say to [co-owners] Laure [Heriard Debreuil] and Fred[eric Dechnik], “Let’s buy with a European eye.” The clientele we have here is extremely chic. Actually, they buy all the most trendy, edgy labels. When we introduced Balmain, we sold incredibly well. I’m happy, because I was convinced since the beginning that Miami is not just diamonds on T-shirts and jeans.
You picked a heck of a time to open a luxury fashion store. Are you worried about the economy?
You can’t just say “No, everything is fine.” The crisis is real. But people still have money, and life continues. People have to dress, to eat, to shop. If not, the whole system is not working. Crisis or no crisis, winter is a very short season for Miami. So we decided to buy less winter collections and more spring-summer. Like everybody, I think we have to anticipate that if 2009 is very difficult, then we have to buy a little more conservatively.
You succeeded Jil Sander, the woman, as creative director at Jil Sander, the label, so you know a little bit about taking over at a major house. Any thoughts on Alessandra Fachinetti’s recent ousting at Valentino?
It’s always very difficult to take the position of someone who had a huge success. Those labels are very connected to their personality, and when the person is still alive and the label continues with their name on it, it’s very strange. The fashion system is very tough, because they’re going to criticize what you do because they want Jil Sander or Hedi Slimane or whoever to come back to the company. When they criticize your clothes, it’s political. I love what Raf [Simons] is doing for Jil Sander now. I think he’s the right guy.
If you could go back to Jil Sander and do it again, what would you do differently?
When I was at Jil Sander I was very young. I was not in the position to say, “Can I choose my team?” But the team has to be the right one. I told Trussardi, “Don’t take me if you think we’re going to make it in one or two seasons.” It’s a long-term thing. It’s a lot of work, and it’s step by step.
So you think some of these big houses should give their new designers more of a chance?
The most important thing I’ve learned in my life is that you have to let yourself, and people have to let you, make mistakes. How can you do something great if you don’t make mistakes? Give people the time to do something. So many young designers come into a company, stay one or two seasons, then they quit or they’re fired because they didn’t make it commercially. But how can they? There was this syndrome where everyone wanted to appoint Tom Ford to change a company. It took Riccardo Tisci three years at Givenchy before having all the press like him. Alessandra was at Valentino for two seasons and she’s finished already. It’s a pity, because I think she was starting to do something really great, and to take over Valentino is really difficult.