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Q&A

As Much as He Can Chew

Fashion multitasker Milan Vukmirovic explains the thinking behind his new concept store in Korea, his 600-page men's magazine, his latest design collaboration, and his favorite salad

Published August 06, 2012
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Milan Vukmirovic has a long list of current projects. My Boon, a concept store he worked on "from scratch" opened in Seoul, South Korea, last month; his capsule collection for the French brand Chevigon is hitting stores now; and the second issue of his new magazine Fashion for Men, which, like the first, comes in at 600 pages, will be published next month. And don't forget his duties as a founder and owner of The Webster in Miami. Still, Vukmirovic, who helped launch the mother of all concept stores, Colette, in 1997 and took the reins from Jil Sander when she left her label in the early 2000s, insists he's not as busy as he was a year ago, when he was the creative director of both Trussardi and the men's magazine L'Officiel Hommes. And that's exactly the way he wants it. Style.com caught up with Vukmirovic on the phone in Miami to talk about working out, whipping up salads at Caviar Kaspia, and what else he'd like to do with all his spare time.

You've been spending a lot of time in Seoul. What do you think of the city?
It's an economy that's totally booming. They've spent the last ten years importing a lot of labels, and they're bringing a lot of architects and creative directors from abroad. It's a really exciting city at the moment, almost like Tokyo ten or 15 years ago. They go very fast, with electronics and everything, and people are really shopping. When you see Europe, it's nice to find a place where people are not always talking, talking about crisis. It's a more positive environment.

How did the My Boon project come about, and what did your experiences at The Webster in Miami and Colette in Paris teach you about what you wanted to do this time around?
Colette is 15 years old now. It was my first creative concept store with Colette [Rousseaux] and Sarah [Andelman]. Many years later, I did The Webster, and it was a really special project to me, being an owner, but Laure [Heriard Dubreuil] does the buying. When they asked me to do a store for Seoul, it was interesting because it was from scratch, it was from zero, a white page. [I asked myself] what is the next new concept store? I still love fashion. I love design and objects. I love furniture. I love interiors. It's something very personal. A lot of people were always telling me, "We loved you when you were at Colette; you have a great eye." So I thought maybe I'll select items for the store, too. In Korea, people are always bringing little gifts, so I thought why not do the best gift store in the world—it really goes from watches to magazines to trainers to furniture. I left Trussardi last year after almost four years, and it was nice to travel again and see everything. The world is moving so fast and there's so many designers and new people around. It's interesting for me to see, also as a journalist, everything that's going around. So I accepted to do a concept store, but I also accepted to do a really precise selection [of products], which I hadn't done in a long time.

Karl Lagerfeld is fashion's most famous multitasker, but you might come in a close second, with the new store and the photographing, editing, and publishing of your magazine, Fashion for Men. How do you do everything?
I used to work much, much more. Looking backwards, three years ago when I was doing L'Officiel Hommes, and Trussardi men's and women's, and I had The Webster going on (The Webster is a huge project), and I had Target, because we were already working with them a year and a half ago—I was much more busy. Today, the life of a creative director of one label with the men, women, the pre-collections, the collections, the campaigns, it's nonstop. Even though it looks like I do many things now, I work a little bit less, or maybe more concentrated. I'm a workaholic. I've always felt a bit scared when I was doing just one thing. Not trapped, but I felt like I was only seeing one vision of things. Today if you asked me what else I'd like to do, I'd love to do a hotel and a hotel concept store. But I'm taking my weekends, and I don't work at night anymore.

What was the response to the first issue of Fashion for Men?
The first one was amazing. In two weeks it was sold out in Paris and Milan. We sold a lot of copies in New York, too. It's a book, it's not really a magazine; it's really done for people who love men's fashion. It's for me like a bible, reference. It's the opposite of the Web, because I really believe today that more and more magazines and real info should be on the Web anyway. People are waking up in the morning, they have breakfast and they open up their computer or they look on their mobile phone. That's the reality now. If you do a magazine, it's necessary to do the opposite, to give a lot of importance to the quality of the print, to the quality of the photography. The Web is food for everyday. The concept of Fashion for Men was really something that would stay for a lot of time. Maybe if you looked at it in five years, you'd say, "Oh, that's what fashion was in 2011, in 2012." A lot of people bought it, so I felt like, OK, let's do a second issue. But it's 600 pages, it's so much work. It's almost like a diary. Everywhere I go, I'm like, let's do a story for Fashion for Men. It's a very personal work—if people like me, they'll probably like the magazine.

If you were forced to pick just one thing to do, what would it be?
I have the feeling that, because of the Internet, the world has changed so much in a few years. Everything is going faster, people are getting bored much more. You always have to bring new ideas, new stuff. This means we have much more work, but doing many things somehow makes me feel like I'm more connected to what's going on. I'm shooting quite a lot for Details in America; it's exciting for me, it's a new challenge. For me, it's a kind of freedom, doing a lot of work.

Photo: Courtesy of Milan Vukmirovic (Store); Tommy Ton

I wanted to ask you about the Jil Sander situation, because, of course, you were there once upon a time. What do you make of her new comeback?
I think in a way it makes sense. It's always very weird if a designer is alive and his or her own name is the brand. I think Raf Simons did a great job, but it's always a bit strange when the designer is still alive. Once the designer is not really there anymore, then I think it's more open for someone else to change the brand and put his own sensibility and personality. Today you can see the success of Givenchy with Riccardo [Tisci]. I don't think it has to do with what Givenchy was, but that's fine. You have to accept that the brand continues as a label and not the personal vision of one designer. If you look back in 2000, also because Jil Sander was still around, people were not really maybe ready for someone like me to change a label like Jil Sander, to make it different. But we're in 2012 and everything has changed so much. I'm happy for her, I think it makes sense. It puts things back into place.

How did you land the Jil job at the time? You were very young, weren't you?
Originally I'm a fashion designer; I went to design school. Then I met Colette and we did this concept. It all started with friendship, it was, "Oh, let's do a concept store." Nobody was expecting such a huge success. But even if the success was big, I always wanted to go back to design. Tom Ford called me and I went to Gucci as a design director, and I worked for Tom on a lot of things because Gucci was becoming Gucci Group, so Tom needed a lot of help on Saint Laurent, on Sergio Rossi. It was a really interesting experience. After a year of working with Tom, I met Patrizio Bertelli. We met and he said, would you like to do it [Jil Sander]? I would've been crazy to refuse it, but obviously I was really young, and I think people were not really ready for the label to change. And also Jil Sander was younger at the time and I think she wanted to come back, so there was a lot of politics around. For me it was incredible experience anyway because I did almost ten fashion shows. I worked with Richard Avedon. Probably I would've never started photography if I had not met him.

What do you make of your successor at Trussardi, Umit Benan?
I like Umit. I was one of the first to do a story in L'Officiel about his own label. I had a really great relationship with the Trussardi family and I enjoyed everything I did with the resurrection of the label in terms of image, logo, store. But I don't really judge. It's a new time, it's a new strategy, it's a new vision.

Would you ever want to go back to a design house and run a brand like you did at Sander and Trussardi?
My experience now with Chevignon is great. Chevignon is a more mass-market French label. They asked me to do a little capsule collection called Chevignon Heritage, four total looks for men and four for women. It's a nice collaboration; it teaches you a new way of working. Chevignon, like Target, it's a completely different process of doing collections. You're talking to a much larger and different audience than just the luxury world. For me, I think it's also the future. If you look at luxury brands today, it's obviously going in two directions. A designer has almost to do a collection, a fashion show, that's almost like haute couture—big décor, big concept, one idea, something that's very, very strong—and it's more for the image. And then all the big luxury brands today have to do large quantities, so they also have a studio next to the designer, and they're developing all the shoes, all the accessories that actually make money for the brand. It's almost more exciting to do collaborations and consult with brands. Today it's very difficult to do a successful brand for ten or 20 years. It's very demanding. I like my freedom. You need to be really updated today to make a brand work. I would be almost more interested today to create the new Uniqlo or new American Apparel. That's something that sounds more interesting.

Sometimes I go to a fashion show, and I feel not like it's an old system, but that there's something a little bit weird now. In the past, only editors were able to report six months after in the magazine, and clients had to wait to see the actual pieces in the store. Now, there is a show and one hour after, everybody has already seen the collection. So everything is copied much faster. And we also get bored very fast. I'm looking for something a little bit newer, a new way to do fashion. That's what excites me at the moment.

When I was doing Colette, I was the one who was promoting the limited new edition, the baguette from Fendi, the new shoes from Prada. It's fine, the system works. But as a designer I'd love to do something, a little capsule collaboration, presenting every month or every two months. There must be new ways to do things.

Photo: Courtesy of Milan Vukmirovic

I understand they have a salad at Caviar Kaspia named after you.
Yes [laughs]. There is a salad there with my name. Ramon [Mac-Crohon] is a very, very good friend of mine and I used to go there all the time. They have a couple of salads and there was nothing like the one I wanted, so I always mixed my own little thing [with smoked salmon, crab, and haricots verts]. And I told him, why don't you put it on the card? I said it as a joke, but he put it, and in fact it became one of the most successful salads at the restaurant.

I want to go back to body and health, too. I want to talk about your body and health, because Tommy Ton [who also contributes to Fashion for Men] told me you've become very muscly. What's the story there?
It's very simple. When you're in Miami, at the beginning you go out and party and drink. It's fun, it's holiday, it's the beach. When we started The Webster, we had that period, but now I have to say it's completely different. The Webster is working very well now. I have a very quiet life here. When you're here, you see all these people doing sports and working out, and you want to work out. I would never be able to do everything I do if I wasn't careful with my body, how I eat. I had a big wakeup call. Being very skinny is fashionable, but somehow it's also not good. You need to eat well, you need to sleep well, you need to exercise, because it's important for your body. I was working so much that I sometimes didn't pay attention to eating properly. Now I'm really careful, and everyone's like, "Oh my god, you have this new body." It's just a lot of working out, going to the gym. It's discipline, which is new for me. That's what I like about America. I really love America, this quality of life; it's much healthier.

Can you give us a preview of what's in the next issue of the magazine?
There is really a lot, from people that are less famous to very famous, but I don't like to give away too much. Sometimes people are like, why are you not on Instagram? Why are you not taking pictures so we can have previews? Why aren't you on Facebook? And I'm not on Facebook. I think, why not keep the surprise for when it's coming out, because it's actually nice to buy something, go home, and then discover it. For me, that's important.

How do you get your subjects to open up?
Seduction and charm? No, I think to make a good interview, you have to have empathy, to try to understand why they did all of this. I never ask them what they did or how they came to that. It's more how they lived through that. Almost like a conversation with a friend; it's more intimate. I did something with Frida Giannini for the next issue—see, I gave you something. It was really interesting for me. I'm also a designer. Many times I interview people and I've done what they do, so I understand the difficulty. With Frida, to know what she went through, it's almost more interesting to me than asking what the next collection is about, and what her inspiration is. I want to know what she likes, if she's more secure now, how the business is changing. That's how I do the interview.

Photo: Courtesy of Chevignon
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