Hubert Burda Media

Success in Chaos

According to womenswear designer MIKAEL DERDERIAN of Pavoni by Mikael D, making it is all about timing. By Lucy Mckenzie

Success in Chaos

Faced with the mass production of fast fashion and a saturated design talent pool, making it in fashion is not the easiest of career pursuits. But since Canadian-Lebanese Mikael Derderian practically “grew up under a sewing machine” with both parents being designers, it was the only way forward.
Brought up with a strict work ethic, his mother instilled in him an independent spirit. He says of his mother: “She would put me in a shopping mall and tell me not to come back before I had a job! But that really shaped me into who I am now.” His steadfast ambition (and production know-how from a Masters in Marketing and Business) brought him from Canada to Beirut, where he spent a few years honing his skills in the fashion world. Fortunately, it opened the yellow brick road for Derderian to the famed fashion make-it-or-break-it capital of the world — Paris.
He has not looked back since. From sewing corsets for his classmates for fun and humble beginnings in a tiny rented apartment with his business partner to show the label, he has in two years, accomplished what any other experienced designer would take years to do.
Dresses from Pavoni by Mikael D display a couture quality that have shot the label to stellar heights. Popular with socialites and celebrities alike, his strikingly elegant designs can be easily found on the red carpet and gala events. Recently in town for the Audi Fashion Festival, he tells of his industry experiences.
What was your first job?
Believe it or not, it was data entry for a fashion company — just entering orders into the system, product descriptions and other technical things. I really did start at the bottom of the chain. And that was only about six years ago.
How did your experiences in Beirut help you to arrive at where you are now?
When I arrived in Beirut, I applied to five fashion companies and all came back with offers, so I got to choose. The beauty of it was how I was already qualified outside of Lebanon since I had experience in Canada. I was offered a few studio director positions but I really wanted the one that offered the option of becoming the company's brand representative. I weighed the advantages and decided to go for it because I wanted to travel to Paris, which was what the role encompassed, and it was my goal to work there. But later, there was a change in management. I started to feel restricted so I didn't want to stay in that firm anymore. I called up a friend, who eventually became my business partner, and in two weeks I was in Los Angeles starting up my own thing.
When was your big break?
My partner and I put US$7,000 each into the company and I made seven dresses which I took to New York. I met three buyers from my personal network and they loved it! At that time it was the bridal range. I made four bridal and seven evening dresses, and we sold about $74,000 worth in New York! With that, I added another four dresses and had them professionally shot by my best friend, whom I flew into LA. I was going to Paris to show [the collection]. Through personal contacts and some help from my sales reps, I had maybe 15 appointments, which I was very happy with. Paris turned out to be a huge success; we sold over $350,000 worth [of dresses].
What is the most common mistake you've seen most novice designers make?
The biggest mistake designers make is come out of school and immediately start their brand. In my opinion, that's the worst thing you can do, because I've lived the contrary and you can never know enough about the industry. This is a business and there are so many things that are beyond the creative aspects. Bottom line for me is, if I don't sell my garment, I am not going to succeed.
What is your biggest fear as a designer?
My biggest fear is being asked a question I'm unable to answer, be it in history, fabric, production, design…everything! I read a lot and have a huge collection of fashion books. I'm obsessed with fashion history and I follow collections religiously. But I'm tight on time these days — it's difficult to catch up when you have 120 emails to reply to every day!
Would you call yourself lucky?
I don't want to say I don't believe in luck and I know some say you have to be at the right place at the right time, but it's having the right thing at the right place at the right time. You meet many talented people in the industry all the time but because they didn't have the right contacts or something, it didn't work. For me it was like the perfect storm, I guess!
You've dressed celebrities so who was the first?
Katy Perry, when she was at the height of her career. She's still a pretty popular singer, but it was when she was making an impact on the charts. It was an international ad campaign for GHD, a hair product brand, shot by David LaChapelle, and they decided to use my dress.
We hear Mariah Carey's a fan of yours.
We've a close relationship with Mariah, whom I meet personally. I'd go to her house and custom-make the dress. More recently, she wore my dress at the finale of the latest season of American Idol. I have fitted her for her concerts in Australia and at the Christmas tree lighting concert on NBC Live. But to be honest, I don't think celebrities have affected sales directly, though they help with the brand's image and have opened more doors for me.
For example?
Neiman Marcus showed up at our first appointment. She (the buyer) didn't order anything because she thought the collection was too small. But when she came in for Resort 2013 the next year, she ordered about $150,000 worth of dresses and stocked them in 10 stores. Singapore's Pois boutique has also been supporting us since day one — they bought the first collection. Actually, a local socialite shopped from the collection we showed in Paris and won Best Dressed at a ball!
Pavoni by Mikael D, POIS Boutique, #02-45/47 Paragon Shopping Centre, Tel: 6238 0151