So if you haven’t tried them, Camilla clothes are incredibly glamorous. They’e vibrant, they’re colourful, but they’re also the most comfortable things you’ll ever wear. And that’s empowering. You don’t have to squeeze yourself into any more tailored pencil skirts. So many women have said that once they started wearing this brand, they won’t wear anything else. It’s addictive. I’m certainly never going back to plain black or beige!
The brand appeals to women, aged 18 to 80. All the research we’ve done shows it’s very evenly split across the ages, but they all just share a zest for life and a very optimistic outlook. We include many global celebrities and thought leaders amongst our advocates, including the likes of JLo, Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, and Oprah just to name a few. I think that’s because there are many points of uniqueness with our brand.
That starts with size inclusivity. Unusually for a designer brand, we embrace every size, shape, and skin colour. The original designs Camilla put to the market were, and actually still are, one size, and those silk garments can be tied or styled to suit everyone from a size 8 to 28. As we’ve introduced more fitted silhouettes and different fabrics, we’ve maintained that inclusivity, so we offer extended size options from an XXS to a 4XL.
The other thing that’s really different about the brand is you can wear it in so many ways. That tying and styling technique alongside our prints gives many different options. For example, the full-length kaftan can be changed into an off-the-shoulder evening dress then made into a short top. It makes holiday packing beyond simple. You can pack for a weekend in one overnight bag.
There’s something for everyone. We’re a print brand. We’re a storytelling brand and I think that’s helps people feel good because we’re almost vicariously sharing with them the experiences that Camilla herself has when she travels overseas. You know, she goes on these trips, she comes back with up to 30,000 photos, and some rather strange travel treasures, as she calls them. I’ve seen her bring back everything from a Victorian chamber pot to a French accordion. And then she puts all these things all over the floor and she briefs our incredible team of graphic artists; and somehow, they manage to capture that sense of escapism and colour, and that just makes you feel happy to look at it and wear it.
PZ: That is amazing. It’d be so nice to see that all in action. I can imagine she must come back with more than a couple of suitcases then.
JM: I don’t even want to think of the excess luggage allowance. Truly, I don’t. But I’m absolutely in awe of the creative team. Every season, they design up to 70 or 80 different prints but they never repeat one. I’ve actually attended a Camilla event with up to 80 guests, and they were all wearing Camilla. No two guests were dressed the same.
PZ: I did not know that. And I’ve known Camilla from a fair while through my time with David Jones. I just find that quite amazing. They almost become collector’s items.
JM: They are exactly that. They’re collectible. They’re actually tradable – and much more fun than Pokemon cards. Some of our prints sell in the second-hand market for higher than the original retail price, so customers are making an investment.
PZ: The brand has got such absolute cachet in this country and has done so, so well. I know that you work hard, particularly through Australian Fashion Week, which must be a crazy time as you get things prepared for the runway. How do you edit it all down? What process do you follow?
JM: We are a brand that says ‘more is more’. So our editing is tough. We probably have the largest in-house team of creative artists in Australia for a brand of our size. They’ll create a selection of prints, we will then edit through those prints probably four times a season, for the upcoming season. We also look at the styles that our silhouette designers have pulled together and, again, that will be reviewed four times a season. It is a complicated process. It’s not a quick process.
But then when you think about it, even one of our garments takes over 90 hours to make from beginning to end, so it deserves quite a bit of consideration and thought. Sometimes I look at what we’ve thrown out at the end of the day and think ‘Actually, that could be a whole other collection all on its own. We’re certainly not short of ideas.
PZ: What are the new emerging trends you’ve seen that you think will become embedded in the business from now on? You’re offering virtual shopping experiences now. Do you think some of this will just continue outside of lockdown?
JM: Absolutely. It’s very exciting. Because as well as being a fashion designer brand, we are a digital-first business. Over 50 per cent of our sales now are done online. That’s despite the fact that we’ve been opening more stores, and increasing our retail and wholesale revenue as well.
We already had a strong international e-commerce platform pre-Covid. But through that period, we included things like additional global shipping destinations, we localised currency and payment options, and we selected local-language sites. We also swiftly developed a new platform that hosted our first-ever online warehouse sale. It was very important to us, because our annual warehouse sale generates a lot of cash at a period when we didn’t know whether we’ll have cash or not. We’d advertised the date in a physical location so we kept that date and launched a platform, we photographed 5000 items, and we re-marketed to go online within 10 days. We’re going to keep that now, so it’s a much better process. Our customers love it. It’s not limited to New South Wales.
We built upon our Camilla community by launching a Facebook forum, where our customers could connect with one another, as well as the Boutique Angels, about their lockdown wardrobes and their experiences. We’ve seen more than 7000 customers sign up to it since it launched.
We host and continue to host weekly watch parties where our in-house stylists can talk customers through each new drop and offer styling solutions and outfit tips. And we’ve hosted remote VIP evenings. I have to say that one of the most popular features were home-delivered wines, which we paired to our print selection. That was fun.
It’s really been amazing. A lot of customers prefer a glass of champagne on the sofa and chatting to one of our Angels at home. All the appointment slots that we offered customers for accompanied shopping filled overnight. They’ve delivered a really high conversion rate and we’re seeing that again now. We’ve expanded our omnichannel options so we include invisible aisle fulfilment and forward order digital wish lists.
PZ: I’m going to talk a little bit about fashion sustainability, because it’s another key issue for the industry. Businesses are looking at ways to reduce the impact of unused clothes on the planet. What measures are you taking at Camilla and what role do you see the fashion industry playing in this regard?
JM: Well, we’ve got a world that’s unfortunately literally burning around us. It’s really scary how quickly global warming is accelerating. And unfortunately we are now aware just how much of a pollutant role the fashion industry has historically played in that regard.
So I think armed with that knowledge, the industry’s got a particular responsibility to protect and care for the planet. And the Camilla team is on the front foot in that regard; we’re undertaking many initiatives.
First and foremost, we’re not a fast-fashion brand. Each and every one of our pieces, as we’ve discussed, is crafted with the idea that it’s going to become a collectible that can pass from one generation to the next. We’ve also entered the rental market through a collaboration with rental platform GlamCorner.
And in terms of how we produce, our relationship with our partner manufacturers is really close and we invest in training and education with them to ensure that the best environmental practices are followed.
Most of our fabrics are natural and they’re biodegradable, in particular, our iconic silks. But we’re also looking to new innovative fabrications from recycled materials. For example, all of our swimwear range is now crafted from econyl, which is regenerated nylon made from ocean and land waste. We’re relaunching a new labelling and packaging suite for recycled and recyclable materials across all touchpoints.
And then I think from a team and customer community engagement perspective, we’re engaging in conversation to support things like the Great Barrier Reef, conservation research, the Daintree Forest preservation and, obviously, the bushfire relief and drought relief.
PZ: What does the future look like for Camilla? What are the key focus areas for you at the moment?
JM: Well, we’ve got quite a modest vision at Camilla, which is to colour the world. And that vision hasn’t changed. But given what’s going on in the world, we’ve redefined the milestones a little bit.
We’re prioritising investment on further digital expansion and improvement. That means: more focus on CRM, rewards and loyalty; more investment on that top-of-funnel digital marketing globally to introduce new customers; and more localisation of online destinations.
And then in terms of store hubs, I’m very proud to say that we opened our third store remotely, in Dallas, Texas, [in early August] and that has smashed it out the park in terms of sales. We’re looking for a further boutique in Florida or California this year and at least a further seven stores in the US over the next three years.
In terms of upcoming product initiatives, we’re continuing to grow our cold climate offer for the Northern Hemisphere. It’s taken a little while because we’ve been working to explain we don’t just do resort at Camilla, but I’m pleased to say that we’ve now got heavy jersey knits and outerwear as our new bestsellers.
We’re expanding our home interior options of our partnerships to include rugs, crockery, and even the most fabulous wallpaper designs. Also, most importantly, we’ve responded to the requests for a more substantial menswear offer by expanding our Camilla men’s range to include some very special silk shirts, trousers, and what every man needs – smoking jackets – from this September.