In conversation Philomena’s creative director
Julia Leifert talks about her vision of contemporary luxury
I have been following the Berlin based sustainable label Philomena Zanetti for a few years now and I have been impressed by her design aesthetic that reflects contemporary luxury. Getting to know a new creative mind is always a great experience that helps me to understand the brand and its internal processes better. This season the label is going through several changes. Firstly, they are changing the name from Philomena Zanetti to Philomena, which is no small thing. Perfect timing to sit down with founder and creative director Julia Leifert to discuss the changes ahead.
FAP – How and why did you decide to start Philomena and why a sustainable label?
JL – Philomena was more of a coincidence than a planned thing. I have always been into fashion and art but more as a hobby rather than a full time job. I studies law and after I graduated I realized that this was not what I wanted to do. I enrolled in a fashion management course. I learned a lot about the fashion industry and its background – I realized that wasn’t my vision of fashion and I didn’t want to comply with it. Something needed to be done. Still at that time I wasn’t planning to start my own label. I went to New York for an internship and I met several designers and creative people. I started sewing clothes as a fun side project (with the support of seamstresses as I wan’t really good). I had a small sustainable collection – only six pieces at the beginning! A few months later a PR agency approached me – they loved Philomena Zanetti and its philosophy. In 2016 I started to fully focus on the label . So, it was more of a gradual process than life changing event. Since the beginning it was clear to me that sustainable fashion was the only way I wanted to do it, especially nowadays where it’s all about fast consuming.
FAP – The name Philomena Zanetti comes from your great grand mother. Is there something in her style that is influencing your aesthetic and mission?
JL – The choice to name the label after my grandmother was a way for me to pay respect to my roots and origins. It’s way to tell people to slow down, focusing on who you are and where you are from. It’s about your background and having a connection to your past. However, from this collection we are focusing on the name Philomena, to give it more a lifestyle feeling rather than a real person. Philomena is not anymore a person of the past but more an actual friend. Also, if you want to get more international Philomena is easier.
FAP – Philomena is a sustainable label. What is the relation between luxury and sustainability nowadays?
JL – For me luxury means quality. Quality is a bit more pricey but it is a long term investment that last longer than fast fashion. The fast fashion that you but for a lower price doesn’t make any sense to me. I want to have the perfect garment that looks good, with good quality and which is worth the price. Philomenas’s pieces are not that expensive because we try to hold the margin down compared to other brands. We have enough to make our items affordable to customers and pay good wages to our workers and suppliers.
FAP – Where and how do you source your fabrics?
JL – At the beginning we started with a lot of research in order to understand where we should source specific fabrics. Nowadays it’s getting easier to get good fabrics and we have our suppliers community. Most of the fabrics we use are from Europe – mainly France, Italy and Germany. We source our organic cotton from Turkey, virgin wool from Austria or the UK. We get the marino wool from a small community of farmers in New Zealand and silk from India.
FAP – Where do you produce and how much are you involved in the process?
JL – I am extremely involved in the production process .We produce in Berlin, where we have a small company that supports us and at the border with Poland, 150km form Berlin. It’s a small family owned production that we have stared working with at the beginning of the project. We have a close relation with them and we often go there. I usually go four times per year. It’s almost only women working there and the owner is an old lady which whom we have established a real friendship by now. There are 25 employees and are specialized in luxury fashion – they are just amazing! Keeping the production close to our HQ is due to the fact that we can save money on transportation and also we can check the production way more regularly. Producing in the region was just a natural decision for us.
FAP – Do you think it’s important to educate and inform consumers about sustainability? Shouldn’t sustainability just be an added value that can be taken for granted?
JL – Informing is definitely one of the most important tools that we have at our disposal. People choose a garment because the quality and the design are great. Women still do not shop because of sustainability but because of the fit. It’s tricky because sustainability is still seen as a stigma – its not cool, its weird and uncommon. They think it’s impossible to combine sustainability and fashion .With Philomena I have to explain the philosophy behind it. As a label I don’t want to teach what is bad about not being sustainable and so on. I want to explain what is the addition and benefit of being sustainable. It’s not about teaching but informing in an indirect way. For example, on our website there are a lot of images and then if you go deeper into it you can find more information about the philosophy of the label.
FAP – Do you think consumers are more aware of sustainable fashion? Has the behavior changed in the last years?
JL – Yes and no. The topic is more on the media – even luxury house like Kering are adding this topic to their agendas and a lot of houses try to use it as a marketing tool because its cool and trendy. People are more aware but they still don’t know how to trust brands. Also, each brand define sustainability in their own ways – which makes things also more confusing for consumers. However, it’s important that people and brands talk about the topic and it’s better to do something – even if little – than nothing. It’s not always easy to figure out how far they go and to what extent they are transparent. I hope that in the future there will be more structure on the topic so that consumers will be more trusting. There should be an economic common sense. The consumer behavior has changed compared to the past but it still varies a lot from country to country. Scandinavian countries are more advanced than many other European countries and they support a lot of the local brands. In Germany, for example, it’s still a lot about big names and brands.
FAP – How does Philomena differ from other sustainable labels?
JL – Philomena stands for carefully designed and handcrafted garments that are manufactured in compliance with high ecological and social standards. In order to meet the ever-increasing need of consumers for trust and commitment, we design fashion with awareness and a clear message. Our collections follow no entertaining trends, but are designed for longevity and good combinability due to the timeless design and high-quality workmanship. It’s about minimal but at the same time contemporary cuts. The holistic approach of sustainability that we carry is not common as well.
FAP – What is the next step for your label?
JL – We are now at the Berliner Mode Salon for the first time. We have 2 collections per year and we will continue with that. For the long term we want to focus on the European market. Next season we will have a showroom in London and Paris to show the collections there. We want to get into those markets because there is a lot going on when it comes to sustainability. We also try to focus on carry over items that represent a continuity for the label.
FAP – How does sustainability affect your everyday life?
JL – I have always had a sustainable lifestyle, even before starting Philomena. It’s all about small details, like saving water when brushing your teeth, avoid plastic cups when I get a coffee or use a bike instead of a car.
FAP – What are your favorite pieces of the Philomena collections?
JL – My essentials are the beautiful silk blouses , oversize blazer and the high waist trousers. It’s a classic outfit but the trick is to style it a bit casual with sneakers. It can be sporty and classic at the same time. The classic loden coat for the winter is one of my favorite as well. The vibe of the collections are garments that you can wear whole day but you never feel boring. Its feminine and sophisticate at the same time.
Text: Margaux Lombard, July 2nd 2018