Mauro Grimaldi from AZ Factory on the brand's business model and collaborations
To coincide with the launch of its new Paris pop-up, Mauro Grimaldi, strategic advisor to Philippe Fortunato, CEO of the fashion and accessories division of Swiss luxury group Richemont, tells FashionNetwork.com about AZ Factory's new business model, for which he is responsible, and how the brand, launched by Alber Elbaz, intends to evolve, embarking on a new phase of development after an intense and experimental year of collaborations.
FashionNetwork.com: AZ Factory was launched at the end of 2020, a few months before its founder Alber Elbaz died. Where does it stand today?
Mauro Grimaldi: Alber Elbaz was one of the most sensational names on the Paris fashion scene. He left us some very strong values. The Richemont Group decided not to stop the project it had launched with the designer, but to invest in these values and in independent design. The brand now employs around thirty people. When he created the house, Alber Elbaz had two or three concepts in mind. One was not to repeat what he had already done. The other was to create a collective working environment. He didn't want a brand under his own name. He wanted fashion for women, not for the catwalk. We try to remain faithful more to this spirit than to the codes that Alber Elbaz didn't have the time to create for his house. It has no heritage, but it's summed up well in the slogan "smart fashion that cares".
FNW: You had to adopt a new business model, how did that go?
MG: We've moved to a more collective approach, trying to think of solutions that logically embody the brand's values, without feeling obliged to tick every box for every collection. The important idea is that of a collective, which preserves all identities. That's the spirit in which we launched our collaboration programme. The big difference compared to other labels is that we collaborate with designers, not brands.
FNW: Last year, you stepped up the pace of collaborations...
MG: In 2022, we set up eight collaborations! It's been a very intense and experimental year. We've done a lot to show that we're still here, alive and kicking, with a very wide-ranging thread of curation. Now we're entering phase 2 of our development. We're starting to build a solid business, even though we're still in the project structuring phase.
FNW: How do you choose the designers, whom you call 'Amigos'?
MG: We have different approaches. They can be young designers who have already launched their own brand, like Thebe Magugu or Ester Manas. Or more assertive independent designers, whose work with fashion houses or their own line we like, and who are at a turning point, like Lutz Huelle or Molly Molloy. Finally, there are the great newcomers, whose collections we present during Couture Week to create a link between Haute Couture and Gen Z.
FNW: Have you also launched any unusual collaborations?
MG: Yes, we've launched collaborations that are a bit outside the box. For example, with the Milanese DJ collective Club Domani, which curates our music and has produced a series of clubbing T-shirts for us, or with Sheltersuit, the foundation of streetwear designer Bas Timmer, which makes sleeping bags for the homeless. He has designed bags using recycled materials from our stocks. Each bag sold funds a sleeping bag for people in need. This is in keeping with the idea of smart fashion, which is also there to help, not just to sell.
FNW: How are the collections presented?
MG: In general, we present the pre-collections in January and June. Now the project is becoming permanent with Lutz Huelle. After his first collaboration, we decided to entrust him with our pre-collections. During Women's Fashion Weeks, we unveil our new projects with designers who have the potential to become permanent collaborators. Finally, as I was saying, during Haute Couture, we offer an incredible experience to totally unknown designers, who are given the opportunity to create mini collections.
FNW: Have these experiments led to more concrete projects?
MG: On some occasions, they have led to commercial versions of their designs. For example, with Tennessy Thoreson, who designs around queer themes, we have marketed some of her pieces. We're not just a brand that has to produce results. We also play an incubator role with young people, who can become talents for the group. As Tennessy Thoreson, who works at Chloé, rightly illustrates.
FNW: How do you become a permanent designer at AZ Factory?
MG: We still have the workshop created by Alber Elbaz, which is in fact the guardian of his spirit. We have some great talents there, who are experimenting with some pretty cutting-edge stuff. It's our Formula 1! A small laboratory of five or six people with whom we need to have a real exchange. I got on really well with Lutz and he has great potential. He has a notion of elegance that resonates with a certain idea of Alber Elbaz. His collection was also very well received by the press and retailers, with the return of some of Alber Elbaz's loyal clientele.
FNW: How does your model differ from that of other brands?
MG: AZ Factory is a bit like an art gallery specialising in fashion. We select designer-artists and commission them to create collections for our exhibitions. We are still very small and need the support of Richemont. This is perhaps a different way of investing in fashion. We're not investing in a heritage brand to sell bags, but we're looking at independent designers. We're looking to the future and focusing on innovation. Ours is an exciting project. Consumers are ready for this type of project. They're looking for something different, for brands with new codes, not necessarily focused on the past. What's more, we see ourselves as a democratic fashion brand with a creative, high-quality product at the right price, which has to make sense.
FNW: You're setting up a pop-up in Paris again this year, why?
MG: AZ Factory was born as an exclusively digital project. Personally, I find this formula a little incomplete. Fashion has a tactile and playful dimension, which requires a physical link. After last year's successful trial, we're opening a new temporary space in the Marais, from June 26 to July 6. Last year, a partner customer took over all the brands to recreate a similar pop-up at home in Abu Dhabi. We want to build on this and replicate the pop-up internationally. We don't have any plans to open shops, but rather to create physical spaces in different locations at interesting times.
FNW: You're not only sold online, how many retailers do you have?
MG: Apart from our e-commerce site and Richemont's e-commerce partners, Farfetch and Net-A-Porter, we are distributed to around fifty multi-brand customers, including Selfridges, Printemps, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sugar and Tiziana Fausti. We don't impose any commercial conditions on them. We see them as genuine commercial partners who support designers.
FNW: What are your main markets?
MG: The United States is our biggest market, followed by France, the UK and Germany. The Middle East, with Dubai, is becoming an important market, as are Japan, where we are sold by Hankyu, and China.
FNW: What are your plans for the future?
MG: The idea is to continue to support designers. We want to keep the spirit of surprise and creative chaos that is so dear to Alber Elbaz.
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