You’ll be hearing a lot about Misha Collection, because it’s the womenswear brand that brought the starriest model to Australian fashion week. American it girl Bella Hadid (edgier sister of Gigi) walked for Misha in Australia, and this week - in the brand's New York Fashion Week debut - Jourdan Dunn will take to the runway for the Australian brand.
But just who is designer Michelle Aznavorian of Misha Collection, and how do they keep booking this mega A-list models?
Hadid may have 4.3 million Instragram followers, but Aznavorian is not too shabby herself in that department, with nearly 250,000 (follow her @mishacollection). To put that in perspective, that’s more than Toni Maticevski, Sass and Bide or Camilla and Marc – all household names that have been in business more than a decade.
Misha Collection is less than three years old, and has already won fans in the Kardashians, Miranda Kerr and Jennifer Lopez. Eva Longoria wore a Misha bodysuit in Cannes last week, and E! News presenters are all over it.
In her official company portrait 26-year-old newly wed Michelle Aznavorian looks like a cross between Kim Kardashian and Neytiri from from Avatar, but she insists she is just a simple girl from Melbourne made good.
Her father “is a watch and clock repair man”, while her mother worked from home “writing CVs” and now manages the Misha warehouse. Aznavorian’s older sister is in banking. “Dad was always really strict. He pushed us, taught us: if you want something you have to work for it. He’s a very meticulous person, I get a lot of traits from him.”
When we meet in a Sydney café, in between fittings for her show, Aznavorian is in all black, bar nude Valentino Rockstud flats. No one turns and stares – although it surely won’t be long before they do, because her fresh-faced prettiness belies a steely determination. She’s a girl boss, with major ambitions.
“I’ve always loved fashion and designer brands, anything aspirational, and I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I want to be internationally recognised,” says the girl who started out selling second-hand designer gear on eBay to pay her way to fashion school. “It was a private college; you want to be there, you’ve got to pay. My parents weren’t going to give me any money, so I saved $7,000 - not bad for a 17-year-old.”
While studying, she worked as an assistant fashion buyer (including a stint at Forever New), and selling imported jewellery through Facebook. “I would buy from China and mark up the prices. I was very particular with what I bought, I’d look for things that weren’t in the market already, that looked expensive. I didn’t start off with any money, or loans, I just reinvested all my profits back into stock.”
Importing dresses was the logical next step. “At first I wasn’t designing, I didn’t have any factories, it was just buying and reselling dresses that were on trend.” She cleaned up. “I’d found a gap in the market, there were no classic simple elegant dresses that didn’t have crazy prints on them, or have big pouffy skirts, that were just really classy, and not too expensive.”
By the time she launched Misha in 2013, Aznavorian had experience as a buyer and e-retailer, had taught herself about digital marketing, and had a clear vision: minimal, sexy but classy dresses and separates, mostly in black and white, and worn by very famous people.
“It was focused on creating the brand from the start. Everything was considered and consistent, from the product to the website branding to the packaging.”
Even so, she insists didn’t have a business plan. “I still don’t,” she says, although she admits to “writing a list of names I wanted to wear Misha. That was a project – how am I going to take this onto the international scale? I knew which celebrities would suit the product really well. The next step was: well, who is going to help me?”
The answer was a Hollywood PR agency. Brands pay to have their collections in showrooms in LA and New York – it’s pricey, but if the product is right, it works. “It was risky, because it’s expensive,” says Aznavorian, “but it paid off. Now Monica Rose [the Hollywood stylist who helped transform Kim Kardashian into a fashion influencer] insists on having a rack of Misha at every one of her showings.”
Pics of Misha-clad Kardashians and Jenners all over Insta gave Aznavorian an in when it came to appointments with international buyers.
“Of course we’re working with sales agents, but I absolutely went over there with a suitcase full of samples. I am still doing that,” she says, “I did it on my honeymoon in New York. We called it a businessmoon.” She smiles, but she’s not joking.
While many in the Aussie fashion industry worry about retail doom and gloom, Misha is basically killing it. Here she’s a hit on The Iconic, and will stock Myer from July.
In the US, Misha is in Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and the Dash stores in Miami and New York. It is stocked in the UK, the UAE, Taiwan and Israel – as well as less obvious locations like Portugal and the Dominican Republic.
“If you want to be a success, you have to portray yourself as one,” says Aznavorian, “that’s the first step.” Fake it till you make it? “I wouldn’t say that.” She’s right; she wouldn’t – because Aznavorian has always believed in her own success. Self-doubt is not a phrase in her vocabulary.