Devi Kroell’s Madison Avenue Dream Comes True
Devi Kroell made her first metallic python hobo bag five years ago. It wound up on the arm of Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and just about every fashion editor in town, and Kroell hasn’t looked back since. The Austrian-born, New York-based designer introduced footwear, including a very early take on the now omnipresent over-the-knee boot, in 2006, and her Swarovski Award for Accessories Design came that same year. A ready-to-wear collection followed in 2008. Today, Kroell is still in her early thirties and opening a 3,000-square-foot, two-floor boutique in a landmark building at 717 Madison Avenue designed by Space 4 Architecture, the same firm that worked on the Jil Sander store on Crosby Street. Jewelry and sunglasses are in the works; beauty and fragrance may not be far behind. We sat down with Kroell in her new boutique to discuss the virtues of Las Vegas, working with men, and the power of python.
How does it feel to be celebrating your fifth year as a brand?
Opening this store is exactly what I wanted; it’s a dream come true. And having made it this far in times like this is a big feat, I think. So I’m very proud of that.
It must be a difficult time to be opening a store. How are you responding to the challenges of the new economy?
It’s been a bit of trial and error. The retailers were all telling me to take my prices down, so I started looking at fabrics that weren’t as luxurious, but at the end of the day, it didn’t serve me very well. I think you have to know who you are as a designer. What I do well is take unexpected, even strange materials and turn them into something very interesting.
But you are introducing lower-priced leather handbags for spring.
Yes, but it’s still luxurious leather. The opening price point is $795 and goes to $1,495 for a bigger bag. Contemporary designers would offer a bag at $695. But at that price I can’t do it. I’d have to compromise too much on the materials, the craftsmanship. I’d have to make it in China, and it looks different if you make something in Italy where people have done it for generations than if you do it in China.
Exotics are the hottest thing around. How does it make you feel to know that you were there, if not first, than certainly very early?
When I first got into exotics, I slid into it. Back then no one was using them, you didn’t have that python craze all over the place. People weren’t really wearing it; that’s why I came up with it. I metallicized it, I turned up the scale, I wanted it to look un-python-y. Yes, I think a lot of other designers got inspired by that and launched their extensive exotic lines, definitely.
Who did you work with on the new boutique?
Space 4. They also did the Jil Sander store downtown. The reason I worked with them is because they have the very reduced aesthetic I was going for. On the other hand, they’re a bunch of men who have a view of how things should be done, how the lighting should be done, and maybe their look is a bit too minimal. There was a lot of friction and discussion, but in the end, we did a good job.
What did you disagree on?
Oh, lots of things. To begin with, I wanted parquet for the floor and they didn’t. And all the brass and statuary metal, they thought it was too warm; they wanted a lot of glass and Corian. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Corian, but I think it’s hideous. To me it was important to have that luxurious minimalist aesthetic.
You’ve said, “I want to be a household name.” So what’s the next step?
We’re opening in Las Vegas at end of the month. Vegas was an idea of my new president, who came from Jimmy Choo. He has very different opinions than me, but I think it’s quite helpful to have different points of view. I wouldn’t have opened my next store there, but we have a great location in the Forum Shops. We’re planning on more boutiques in the U.S., depending on the locations. We’ll go where the real estate is.
Not many members of your fashion class are at the store opening level. What do you attribute your success to?
One, of course, the product has to be perfect. But as a designer you also have to have a business savvy. You have to understand what the customer wants, what the market wants. It also helps to be ambitious and very hard on yourself and others too, but mostly yourself.