In 1983 when Jean-Lou Tepper, Jacques Nataf and Philippe de Hesdin founded Kookai, they had a simple philosophy: to supply young women with affordable chic apparel for their wardrobes. Although Zara was still in its infancy, the team at Kookai recognized early on that competing solely on price was unsustainable. Their focus back then as it remains today, was less about delivering affordable fashion and more about delivering affordable style.
Kookai’s collections were thus designed to empower customers to express their own style by offering a range of complimentary pieces – all at reasonable price points. It was underpinned by the introduction of well considered accessories and trained staff to ensure customers were not just dressed, but styled in the process. In 1992 former model, Danielle Vagner seized the opportunity to bring the Kookai offering to Australian shores. Alongside her partner, she secured the Kookai franchise license for Australia and established the first boutique on Chapel St.
Today, as the brand’s Creative Director, Danielle presides over Kookai’s Australian Design team and own manufacturing, supplying collections to some 30 Kookai boutiques across Australia and New Zealand. We caught up with Danielle a few weeks ago at Sydney’s iconic Opera house where she was celebrating 20 years of Kookai and showcasing the 2012 collection. She arrived looking every bit the Super Model Mum in a Kookai Zebra jumpsuit accessorized with a pair of Sky Hi Heels (unlike yours truly – she did not require the additional height!).
Speaking about Kookai’s history in Australia, Danielle explained, “Although we had operated successfully as a franchisee with overseas merchandise, in 2002 we had a very unique opportunity to take that over and started to produce our own lines specifically targeting the Australian and New Zealand market place.”
“Of course, as a fashion brand, Kookai still relies on the Parisian Style as an influence as the original essence of the brand. ”
With this year’s collection ARABESQUE, Kookai chose the iconic location of Marakech as the background for her campaign. “Marakech was a great platform to launch ARABESQUE with all of its vibrant colors and energy. It is also a location that has iconic status as a “Jet-Setting” destination which fits the aspirations of our customers. In a way, it almost seemed to mirror our own company in that it was a kind of “organized chaos”.”
“We shot a number of images outside the City walls. The locations were amazing from the hotel Riad Les Trois Palmiers as well as the farah market place. I was just blown away by the colors and textures of the mosaics.”
We asked Danielle which colors she felt best represented this year’s collection, “Tangerine and citrus, oasis yellow are key features for us this year. We are also adding lots of “arm candy” to the looks.”
Not content to stand still, Kookai launched a swimwear line last year with great success. This year, Danielle has extended the line, “We wanted to offer a broader range and when our clients asked us to consider doing swimwear it just seemed a natural extension to our line. We also started to design our own sunglasses and these Sky Hi Heels – which is my pick of the accessories.”
Of course given the current state of the retail market in Australia we wondered how Kookai managed to remain relevant. “You know our key point of differentiation has always been about the customer experience. All of our staff are trained to style as opposed to just sell. At the same time, from a design perspective we don’t stand still, we are always evolving as a company and we push the boundaries. I believe that’s why our customers come back to Kookai.”
With Danielle’s business smarts, keen eye for design and fabulous figure (working that Zebra print) it’s no wonder Kookai is celebrating 20 years in Australia. All I could think was WOW she’s definitely still got it!