Late last month, LCCA were delighted to welcome fashion designer and businesswoman Maria Grachvogel to The Gallery.
On 24 May, Maria delivered an inspiring guest lecture on the business of fashion, drawing on more than 20 years of industry experience. She then opened the floor to the audience of fashion design students, answering questions on her inspiration, her team, and her brand’s famous ‘magic pants’.
Maria famously began designing from an incredibly young age. She shared with students a little bit about how her journey towards becoming a fashion designer began.
“I’ve wanted to be a designer since I was eight years old and aged 12 I started cutting, making, sewing and selling things to friends for extra pocket money. At 14 I put together a really small collection for London Fashion Week. I had no idea what I was doing - the lady that interviewed me said I’m talented but I need to brush up on my business skills and that was my first wakeup call and best advice I was given.”
Maria took that advice, working hard to create her brand which was founded in 1991 when Maria was just 21 years old. Three years later, Maria launched her first full collection. It’s clear that the soul of the brand is something which Maria holds close to her heart.
“The soul, the essence of your brand - who are you? What do you stand for? - I think it’s usually quite obvious to the designer but perhaps not something you think about articulating. Articulation is important.”
“You need to understand your unique point of view on the world. For me, that was always the idea of effortlessness in power; making her feel beautiful. There will be times where you doubt it, where the trends are against you: the early 90s were about grunge, glamour was not cool, but I stuck with what I wanted to do and I slowly built this over the years.”
Maria sees herself as an architect for the female form. One of her most celebrated garments to date is a black, diamond-encrusted dress which was hand-embroidered with two thousand diamonds. The garment was modelled at London Fashion Week by Jodie Kidd in 2000 before being auctioned in aid of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
Many other famous faces have donned Maria’s designs over the years, including Victoria Beckham, Emma Thompson and Kelly Rowland.
Speaking of brand ambassadors, Maria said: “It’s really good to have supporters that believe in your work. When you’re choosing celebrities to dress, you have to relate it back to the soul of the business and think about whether the woman fits the brand.”
“If you’re going to do celebrity PR, you have to think ‘is this the right profile for me?’. All the women we dress are strong, confident, with their own sense of style.”
Of course, product promotion goes beyond celebrity endorsement; Maria stressed the importance of self-promotion and attending exhibitions and trade shows.
“Exhibitions are a great way of broadly putting yourself out there. You need to research which fits your product and where your buyers are likely to go. It’s also important to reach out directly to your target market and I’d strongly advise doing that out of season. Buyers get so many emails just before the season so build relationships between the seasons.”
Maria offered these final words of advice to anyone hoping to break into the fashion industry: “Know the business as well as you know the creative and, if you can, find a magical partnership very early on. Fashion and business go together to create something special.”