New York, a muggy afternoon in mid September. Designer Nicky Zimmermann is pinning the hem on a lace mini dress in advance of her spring/summer 2016 show.
At this moment, Zimmermann’s flagship stores – here in New York, on Mercer Street, Soho; in LA and Australia – are filled with ’70s-infuenced maxis. Many are so long you need a platform sole just to walk without tripping. And customers are loving them. “When I first told my team, ‘I’m thinking of going short,’” says Nicky, through a mouthful of pins, “it was quite a call; we’re in a long moment.”
The following day, right on noon, it’s show time. Nicky’s sister and business partner, Simone Zimmermann, stands with stylist Michelle Jank, putting the models through their final paces. The first girl strides out, and with every step a low-hanging light bulb flicks on above her head. She misses a beat – and the light. “Let’s try that again,” says Jank.
A glamorous crowd has formed outside, but no-one is coming in until every model has that timing nailed. When the doors finally open, at least half the guest list – which includes Solange Knowles and Aussie models Gemma Ward and Jess Hart – are wearing Zimmermann.
“Doing a show for me now is about the people who come to see it,” says Nicky. “I want to entertain and excite.” It’s also about building buzz, and right now no other Aussie label can touch Zimmermann for that.
Next week Knowles will be papped in a white bell-sleeved mini dress, hot of the runway. Beyoncé is a huge fan. Kendall Jenner packed a load of the brand’s bikinis for her trip to St Barts. Even royalty is on board; the Duchess of Cambridge wore a white lace Zimmermann number when she visited Sydney. The wait list went nuts. The brand has managed to strike that elusive balance between reach, longevity, cool factor and commercial success. What’s their secret?
“Hard work!” says Nicky. “We’ve been plugging away for years.”
"We've been plugging away for years"Nicky Zimmermann
They started out in 1991 selling dresses at Sydney’s Paddington Markets, but made their name with fashion-forward swimwear. The next 10 years were spent hauling their collections to the Miami Swim shows, and visiting buyers in Europe and the US. In 2013, they opened a permanent office in New York, cementing their status as an international fashion force. “When something goes wrong – which sometimes it has to – everyone knows it was never because we didn’t work hard enough,” says Nicky.
The audience is seated, and the music starts pumping. The first girl walks out in a high-necked, pin-tucked beige linen mini dress with white lace appliqués. Tooled leather straps fasten her stilettos halfway up her calf. Look 8 is another Victoriana-style, in white lace, that would be prim if it weren’t so punk. In February, Beyoncé will wear this dress in her “Formation” video. There follows a riot of pink lace, ruffles and babydolls – and every hem cut of mid thigh.
And what about all those fans still committed to long and flow-y? “We know our customers have different needs, and we’ve got to satisfy the maxi girl, the pant girl, the coat girl – and me; I’m in my 40s, I’m not wearing minis – but we do that in store,” explains Nicky. “We design a collection of 150 pieces each season covering all bases. The purpose of a show is to present a mood and a vision, not to detail every style that’s going to be in the shops.”