My Work: Natalya Poniatowski

Portrait of Natalya Poniatowski of LuxCartel

Interview: Haris Stavridis // Photo: Courtesy of Natalya Poniatowski

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I attended high school in New York, after which I was in Boston University, where I double majored in Art History and International Relations. Upon graduation, I moved back to New York and worked in finance before getting involved with LuxCartel.

What is the fashion scene like in Russia at the moment? What is changing and what kind of brands are popular there?

In Russia women always loved fashion, and today, with the aid of social media and internet they are able to really have fun dressing. People in Russia are very well attuned to trends but at the same time love to have something original, which makes for a great combination. In Russia, local brands have great support such as Kalmanovich, A La Russe, Ruban, and MasterPeace. People also of course love big names such as Prada, Chanel, etc. And really, everything in between.

Do you feel that there is a lot of great talent in Russia that is not getting the recognition it deserves in the West?

I am very happy because I do feel that with the help of a few internationally minded supporters like Mira Duma, Russian designers are getting out there. I love that Moda Operandi supports Russian talent and frequently hosts trunk shows for people like Vika Gazinskaya and Julia Kalmanovich. There are some logistical problems with really getting out to the West, the bureaucracy when it comes to shipping and customs in Russia is a nightmare. But despite that, a few Russian names are getting more attention and that’s great.

How did you join LuxCartel? Were you working in fashion before as well?

No, I wasn’t. I joined my friend Jenna Sloan who started the company. She then decided to be a silent partner so I naturally became more involved and started managing everything on a day-to-day basis. LuxCartel doesn’t only help designers on the fashion side, but on the business side as well, so my finance knowledge is helpful.

Could you tell us about your role and duties at the company?

I run the company. I have a great team, but it's up to me to make sure their goals and tasks are divided efficiently, and that they are achieving the maximum potential of what they are capable of.

You have described LuxCartel as a launch pad for new designers. What kind of services do you offer and how are you helping fashion labels grow?

Our services include everything that is not fashion design and material sourcing. The typical services of a showroom and PR office is part of what we do, but we expand on that by providing full business and consulting support to our clients, organising their logistical needs and even merchandising their collections.

What are your key markets? Do you aim to help designers grow internationally or boost their presence locally?

Our key markets are the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Russia. Once a designer is with us we help them regardless of the territory unless they specify otherwise. As is the case in Russia, the designer can often do a better job on the ground than we can from abroad, so we leave them to do their own thing when they specify that’s what they want.

What kind of qualities are you looking for in the designers you collaborate with?

Talent, business acumen, patience, ability to listen to criticism, and generally we work very closely together so it’s very important that we actually LIKE one another.

How important is your instinct and your personal taste when it comes to decision-making?

I am just one person with one kind of taste. However, I work with a team of very stylish and smart people so more often than not I depend on their opinions and ideas as I do on my own.

From your experience, what's the hardest part of being a new designer at the moment?

Having patience. You put your whole soul into your collection just to hear 'Great collection! We will keep looking how you develop'. It can be heartbreaking, but the important thing is to really understand what this means. It means, keep working and you will get where you want to, just not right away.

What are the most common mistakes of young brands?

It really is a case-by-case scenario; one person’s mistake is another person’s victory. Overall though I’d say that spending huge amounts of money before the brand is actually recognised doesn’t really work. As I keep saying over and over, having patience is important. To choose the brand’s placement wisely is key. It’s great if everyone wants what you make, but it’s important to keep a little bit of mystery and to say no sometimes. In the long run that pays off.

How involved are you in the decision-making processes of the designers you work with? What happens when there is a conflict between you and a client?

We are involved. We try to be very involved, but of course in the end we are just there to help, not to intervene. For conflicts, we try to be fair. And we make no promises. Ever. I hate the idea of an unfulfilled promise, so when designers come to me, the first thing and the last thing I say is DO NOT HAVE ANY EXPECTATIONS.

What are your plans for the future?

We grow as our designers grow. We will be adding one or two new designers to our incubator, and at that point we will just keep doing what we are doing: make them happy, and make their talent internationally renowned and their business financially successful.

What are the biggest challenges that you currently face in your business?

My business and the designers' business are two separate things. For the designers, customs and logistics is definitely the biggest challenge. I realise today that when you see a brand everywhere and it’s ‘the best new thing’ and then it slowly disappears, it’s because they weren’t able to handle their growth. We are here to prevent that. For my business, it is making sure that my designers are on top of their game. And the problem is a lot of the time they are ‘creatives’ who are all over the place, and to keep them home and working so the shipments are sent out on time is really a challenge sometimes.

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