Interview with LAFORMELA
“There is always something that can be done better.”
Shortly after the Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Week Antonín Soukup and Mirka Kohutiarová, the founders of LAFORMELA, talk about their latest show. They reflect on what makes a great collection and share how they deal with reviews and criticism after their shows.
Interview by Pavel Mühlheim
Antonín Soukup and Mirka Kohutiarová founded Laformela in 2010 and their business has been successfully growing ever since. Over the time Laformela has become one of the most influential brands on the Czech fashion scene often collaborating with the best of Czech top models such as Hana Soukupová or Karolína Kurková. However, even though Laformela certainly belongs amongst the most established Czech fashion brands, every season remains a financial struggle. Simply, Czech fashion scene is not big enough yet to securely sustain the wide range of new local fashion brands.
I sat with Antonín and Mirka for a brief interview shortly after the presentation of the new Spring/Summer 2020 collection during the Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Week at the beginning of September. We talked about the latest collection and the inspiration journey behind it. Antonín and Mirka revealed in what sense does the new collection evolve Laformela style yet how it remains true to their brand character.
LAFORMELA SS20, Photo MBPFW
A few days ago you presented your latest collection, the Spring/Summer 2020. How do you feel? Are you happy or are you rather those designers who are never really fully satisfied with their work?
Mirka: We are very tired. As soon as we get some rest we will be happy.
Antonín: Or maybe as soon as we get some rest we will start looking for and actually seeing the flaws.
What were the reactions to the collection? Do you follow the reviews and criticism after your shows? How do you deal with it?
Antonín: We are always interested in what people think of our collections whether it is either something positive or negative. The truth is that it is impossible to please everybody. And it is important to learn from the negative reviews if – of course – they are relevant opinions. Because obviously there are people whose opinion matters, and there are those whose criticism is not significant to us.
Mirka: It depends on the criticism whether it is constructive, or not. If I see that the author of a review isn’t knowledgeable and doesn’t know what it really takes to be a designer and how challenging it is to create a new collection within three months season after season then I don’t reflect on such a review and I am not even interested in reading it.
Antonín: And of course there is no guaranty that if you have been working on a collection for three months that it’s gonna turn well. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. For us it is important to work hard, do our best and stand up for our work. That is what keeps me going. But also listening to people I like and to those whose opinion matters to me is what pushes me forward. Listening to people who are knowledgeable in global fashion scene and understand also the business part of fashion… When these people give me a feedback, either positive or negative, I accept it. If these people say we should have done things differently I say: “Great, it is a valuable opinion, let’s focus on that and let’s try to do it differently.”
Mirka: Of course the reactions of our clients, buyers and agents are of the particular interest to us...
Antonín: ...and those of good journalists too.
LAFORMELA SS20, Photo MBPFW
Tell us something about the new collection. What is the story behind it?
Antonín: Sometimes, when you work with a theme and that theme is literally imprinted in the collection, it does no good...
Mirka: …it may become too schematic and a bit shallow.
Antonín: It may be too schematic but also it may even somehow turn into a mockery. And it is the moment when you start losing control over your customer. However, the primary inspiration for our latest collection was… Originally, we wanted to pay tribute to a craftsmanship not only in terms of clothing but any kind of a craft. We wanted to reflect on the fact how hard the work is. And that was the very first idea for this collection. From the craftsmanship we moved to armours and blacksmiths. Armour is actually a piece of clothing that protects a body; a piece of clothing that lost meaning and disappeared. Nevertheless, it is a garment that we really like because it is incredibly elaborated. For example a sleeve is made of 7 pieces and a body from 5. And it was the construction that we took our inspiration from; the well-elaborated structure of armour reflects on the cuts of the new collection. Armour is also part of Czech history and tradition. There are many Czech castles that have large collections of armour. And from here we took tradition as something universal and started looking to other countries and their traditions. Scottish skirts inspired us and we even found an inspiration in some African countries. There are tribes that still wear the original drapery and they look great in it. Jackie Nickerson’s photographs that capture people wearing these garments also influenced us. Later along the way we found some interesting materials, for example cotton that is being weaved in Japan and is used for traditional men’s kimonos. For the accessories we used traditional crocheting but we also used up cycled metal can caps. So it is the tradition and craftsmanship that float throughout and unite the collection. Basically, we wanted to show that traditions are still part of our everyday lives. And even young women may wear something traditional in a way and go to a party dressed like that and still look great.
LAFORMELA SS20, Photo MBPFW
Where does the collection refer to Laformela label? What typical elements for your brand may we find there?
Antonín: Mainly we wanted to preserve the femininity in the collection and also certain sex appeal. We wanted the collection to have drive. Traditionally the collection is graphical yet this time in terms of construction and cuts rather than in terms of colour. And of course our main motives repeat again in this collection; they relate to nature or social topics. We tend to seek inspiration in 90s and we like working with a motif of wide shoulders but not necessarily in terms of the silhouette that was worn in 90s but in the figurative sense; for us it represents certain status in the society. These are the pivotal ideas that we have been working with since the beginning.
After the years, you certainly know your customer very well. Do you have your customer in mind when you create a new collection? Is it maybe something that restricts your creativity in the sense that you know what sells well?
Antonín: This is something that we used to do a lot before. We were trying to reflect on buyers’ opinions. And for example when we were going to showrooms in Paris we were maybe too obsessed with their opinions to appeal to them.
Mirka: ...and we were also following the trends a lot.
Antonín: Yes, we were also a bit obsessed with trends. They were very important to us. But that has changed. We see it differently today. We have our own ideal vision of a woman and we follow the vision not the trends not someone else’s opinions. Regarding our clients, we have our stable clientele that we know pretty well but it does not limit our creative vision.
Mirka: For example, we know that extravagant trousers are a bit more difficult to sell…
Antonín: ...and colourful pieces for example...
Mirka: ...but when they fit into the show and they play an important role within the vision of ours then we make them even though we know we will have difficulties selling them or even though a model like Daniela Kociánová will wear them only once during a fashion week.
Antonín: Of course with every piece we make we have in mind that we want to sell it. You must have it like that. You must sell it. But obviously there are pieces that work very well in terms of styling and that is why you make them. This is something we consult with Honza (stylist and photographer Jan Grombiřík, author’s note). Sometimes Honza says that a garment would work very well in styling while we see it as something that would be more difficult to sell. However, in the end you accept it because it plays an important role in styling. And when a collection is well styled and you show to customers the way they may wear it, they may actually buy it even though the garment may not be practical. They buy it because they want to look cool and fashionable. And this is fashion; not always do clothes have to be primarily practical. Practicality is important to us but because of the show you try to see things differently than when you simply make clothes for online shop. This is also why the dialogue with a stylist is so important.
Antonín: Customers are very important to us. We have them defined and we know their taste. But we also want them to set on a journey and grow with us. If we were making clothes only for our defined customers we wouldn’t be able to evolve and we would get stuck.
Mirka: Additionally we like combining simple and practical garments with those more complicated and extravagant ones; to show our vision through the styling but at the same time to have basic and more wearable pieces for everyday.
Antonín: We have also evolved. There were times when we were creating collections on affect only for the shows and now we do them to sell. But as we said the balance is important; not only to impress but being practical while still effectively communicating our creative vision through maybe sometimes more extravagant styling.
LAFORMELA SS20, Photo MBPFW
Why did you decide to present your collection outside the official MBPFW venue? Why did you choose Prague Congress Centre?
Antonín: During the process of making a collection, simultaneously we always look for a location where to later photo-shoot it. Ideally, this location should be somehow related to the collection even though it is not always obligatory. When we were discussing where to photo-shoot the new collection with Honza (Jan Grombiřík, author’s note), there was a thought of Prague Congress Centre. Only later did we realize it could be also a good venue for our show. The venue has a magnificent view. Additionally we thought it would be interesting to present our collection in a different venue and offer something different to the visitors of MBPFW.
Mirka: And it also fits into our concept of traditions because we wanted to have a view on Prague and ideally also sunset.
Antonín: At the same time we were looking for a building made of glass with daylight for the catwalk.
Mirka: And we were quite lucky because we were able to host our presentation at Prague Congress Centre thanks to the generous support of our sponsor.
Last year, at the Marc Jacobs SS19 show, the audience was waiting around 90 minutes to actually get to see the collection due to last moment adjustments. How did you manage all the preparations for your latest show? Were you finalising until the very last moment?
Mirka: The fact is, that there is always something to work on, something that can be done better. We make and photo-shoot the collection 2 to 3 weeks before the show and then start noticing some imperfections all the time so you start to adjust them. You also start working on variations; in the end you end up having 4 different variations of black trousers instead of the original one piece because it fits the styling better. So along the way you work on these adjustments.
Antonín: And our work never stops. We are heading to Milan and once again we will be working on the collection; improving and adjusting little details. Before the show you tailor everything to look great on models, now we will tailor everything to look great on hangers in a showroom. This all takes time.
LAFORMELA SS20, Photo MBPFW
You have just mentioned Milan; tell us more about it.
Antonín: We are going to Milan to present our Spring/Summer 2020 collection in a showroom. We will be presenting there for the third time now. Last season, we got pretty good responses so we can’t wait to see if we get a good reaction to our new collection again. Maybe we will earn some interesting contacts or succeed to sell the collection or arrange a photo shooting. You never know what may happen. It will be great if it turns out well. After all, they say you must present in the same showroom consecutively at least three times to be noticed. We hope for the best but we stay humble. We have already presented in Paris three times so we have our feet on the ground.
Mirka: It also allows us to visit and discover an interesting city and enjoy Italy again and find inspiration for new ideas.
Antonín: Yeah, it will be a good time to start thinking about our next steps too.
LAFORMELA SS20, Photo MBPFW
If someone likes your new collection when and where will be able to order it or buy it?
Antonín: It depends on how well we will do in Milan. If someone orders our collection in Milan, then it will be stored for a while before it will go on sale with the beginning of the new season. We will take orders but the collection won’t be available in our showroom. If there are no orders in Milan, the collection will be available immediately in our showroom. In the Czech republic and Slovakia it makes sense to us to offer the collection shortly after fashion week because we want to offer it at the time when people see it. If they like it and feel a positive energy why not offer it so that people may buy it instantly because they feel euphoric about it from the show. The fashion cycle doesn’t work quite well here so that people would wait half a year until the season arrives to buy the new collection. So it doesn’t make sense to us here to wait until the season arrives. And it turned out to work well for us that people may order new collection immediately after they see it at fashion week. We don’t even make utterly seasonal clothing. We always try to have some pieces that may work throughout the year regardless seasons. Anyway, the collection will be ready for pre-orders in October in any case. If there are no orders in Milan we will be ready to start selling it at that time as well.
Mirka: We are also still working on the Autumn/Winter 2019 collection.
Antonín: Yes, that is true. We are working on a capsule collection for this Autumn/Winter season. What we do is that between seasons we work on small capsule collections because for example the Autumn/Winter 2019 collection is sold out so we take simpler pieces from the collection and those more affordable and redo them a bit and we offer them in a capsule collection.
This may be a bit scary question… When will you start working on the next collection, I mean Autumn/Winter 2020?
Antonín: Our plan is to work without stress this time because we are getting tired of it. But it will depend on how we will do in Milan or what collaborations we will be working on and also on financial support we get. Ideally we would like to start as soon as possible so that would be right after we come from Milan.