August 20, 2017

Janina Nectara. How to build your personal brand

From economic and political studies to fashion. From working in a corporation to Vogue. Janina Nectara has launched her blog, Fashion avec Passion, in 2011 and has planned it to be in English, for a global audience. A wish that actually came into being. Following suit have been art studies, Paris Fashion Institute, an internship in New York, at Oscar de la Renta, live broadcasts from the most important fashion shows, interviews with designers, articles for VOGUE.

15 years ago, I hadn’t even heard about Miuccia Prada and asked about Blahnik I would have assumed it must be a brand I’ve seen on a chocolate packaging.

 Janina tells all about the first steps taken into building her name as a brand while nurturing the blog’s identity, while also talking about the fashion blogs in Romania, about what is missing and the potential of Romanian designers.

The road to fashion

It’s a question I’ve put a lot of thought into, especially since I would like to be able to narrow down on a specific moment, like in physics, a T0 it all started from. With passions (for fashion or for anything else) you are either born or you educate. For me it was both.

As a teenager, instead of doing my calculus homework for school, I often found myself imagining ways to come up with various solutions – not for some equations – but for creatively bettering (or so I thought at the time) the clothing that caught my eye on TV.

Happily, I had the wonderful opportunity to live this dream just after finishing my fashion studies during a New York internship, with the favourite designer of Hollywood celebrities and American First Ladies – Oscar de la Renta.

The more I looked into it, the more I was able to tell that, in my case, it’s not a passion for clothes. The two are often bundled together (with the passion for clothes being translated into a soft spot for shopping or a mere ability to blend two or three colours in the same outfit).

Fashion is more than clothes, and I’ve been drawn like by a magnet by the theory part as well, for the conceptualizing of fashion and towards its capacity to shape history and transform whole societies. This is why I did everything I could to educate my passions.

So I’ve studied, in depth, both in Romania, studying arts, and at the Paris Fashion Institute (Alexander McQueen, Kenzo, Alaia, Karl Lagerfeld and others having shared from their experience) and I’ve tried to surround myself with people from which I could learn all there was be learnt.

I am deeply grateful to Godfrey Deeny, the world’s most reputed fashion critic – founder of L’Uomo Vogue, fashion editor at Le Figaro and critic for The Financial Times – for the pivotal experience I’ve gained by his side. All I know about fashion I’ve learnt from him! And I couldn’t have wished for a better schooling!

From economic and political studies to fashion

I believe that no matter what people study it will all eventually come into play, one way or another. Such people always have a plus over others, even if we often assume some information never gets to be put to use and we only value the way in which it expands our intellect.

Giorgio Armani has studied medicine before fashion, Miuccia Prada political sciences and Manolo Blahnik (Vogue US – Anna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker’s favourite shoes designer) had already studied no fewer than 4 fields – architecture, political sciences, law and literature – before majoring in Arts and Design in Paris.

15 years ago, I hadn’t even heard about Miuccia Prada and asked about Blahnik I would have assumed it must be a brand I’ve seen on a chocolate packaging. Yet, life brought me near them, getting to know them personally and having the opportunity to interact with them.

And thanks to my mingling with those writing fashion history, I decided to take my knowledge to the next level and follow university courses in fashion design and take courses in fashion business at the Paris Fashion Institute. The fashion studies came to add weight to my articles, because only by studying you can understand and have meaningful ideas on a topic.

Before studying fashion design and management I’ve explored economic sciences and specialised in marketing, a field that proved to be a perfect match.

Why? Because no matter the business I would have chosen I now had valuable knowledge about the market (applicable to blogging as well as to the fashion industry), about narrowing down a niche or targeting potential clients (readers, in my case), constantly trying to understand the volatility of their preferences as well as the buttons to push every now and then. The list is almost endless.

It’s a fact that marketing can prove a useful guide for a small entrepreneur only starting to find his/her way as to what he/she wants to sell/tell, to whom, how… More, it can prove to be a genuine revelation in business promotion, as far as the mix of strategies to transform a name into a brand goes.

And if we’re talking personal marketing, he/she has also interesting theories to choose from in order to sort out the associations to make or (more importantly) not to make, about optimising public apparitions, for the public not to feel overwhelmed, but rather be brought to a point where to want more of him/her.

Still, marketing doesn’t give you a winning formula like a Newton’s apple fallen from above, but just the necessary tools, the strings for you to become a successful puppet master.

On the other hand, political studies have taught me how import political stability is for the economy (and, also, for fashion as a business).

Just take Russia for example. A few years ago, most of the luxury brands were literally racing towards this country, to open as many shops as possible.

Now, with all the recent political decisions and actions, there is a certain reticence about expanding in this area.

I’ve realised that I also can’t just focus on one market, given that blogging is strictly linked to the fashion industry, partially dependent on the latter’s functioning. An additional reason to have Fashion Avec Passion running in three languages: English, Romanian and Spanish.

The bottom line is that studies are much alike a relationship. You can only apply all you know and hope something is going to work!

Obstacles

Starting on a different path bears the same challenges for everyone making the (always difficult) decision to change paths.

First come the classic introspections and self-questioning that it implies:

“Is this truly for me or is it just another step in my personal and professional growth? Will I be as good is this field? Is this truly going to bring me fulfillment?”

The answer is you can’t know for sure unless you try.

I started from scratch. I had to start a new series of university courses – fashion design – in an area completely alien, without knowing anyone to guide me for even the following 10 feet on this new path. I’ve figured out my own, along the way. Even if it wasn’t at all easy I also was aware of not being the first or the last person to start over.

Then, when we talk about an international professional path new stress factors are added, factors that burden the transition: the logistics of actually moving to another country, the mere fact of your not knowing a soul – which is going to turn out as not such a mere fact after all; actually working and socialising in a language you’ve only studied in school; adapting to a new culture and, implicitly, to a new professional culture; even the use of words and manner in which you formulate your opinions automatically changes. It all has to do with our capacity to adapt.

I’ve started with an internship next to the founder of L’Uomo Vogue, Godfrey Deeny. I always point out that it has been the best ’’school’’ I’ve ever been to and I am grateful for every minute I spent next to him!

At the same time, though, besides the valuable knowledge I’ve gained, I got to have experiences similar to those of the main character in The Devil Wears Prada. The tasks were demanding, diverse and many! So many! All without necessarily being told how to go about them. I had to make do mostly on my own. It was difficult at first and I wanted to give up from the very first month – the toughest hurdle.

Even now I don’t have an explanation for why I didn’t quit at that point. The sure thing is that I’ve always felt a deep admiration for those able to leave their comfort zone and channel all of their resources into self-development. All I did was try to be like them. I hope to be able to pull it off another time should another career switch be waiting for me in the future. 🙂

Popularity

It was precisely my international experience that has proven to be instrumental for Fashion Avec Passion’s success.

9-10 years ago, I was the only person in Romania with access to the world’s most exclusive fashion events: from Viktor&Rolf and Hermes shows, to Chanel cocktails or Dior haute joaillerie premieres. Still, it didn’t matter that much.

The blog was conceived and written in English at first and not for the Romanian market. Only then, after readers’ requests, did it come to have a Romanian version as well.

When I first launched Fashion Avec Passion, Romania had no other online project that showed fashion through the eyes of someone in the midst of the international fashion events. As a matter of fact, there didn’t exist such a market at all, there was no blogosphere.

But you know what they say: sometimes you have to carve your own path. And so I did!

Fashion Avec Passion has constantly had an upward evolution. I can’t remember a single moment for it to have been otherwise than on the up.

In its very first months, Fashion Avec Passion was named Harrods Blog of The Week by Harodds London. A fantastic label and a fantastic start. It was the very first time a Romanian blog had received international recognition, from such an elite organisation focused on high end fashion and the luxury industry. Maybe this was a sort of T0 it all grew from, with so many other good things following suit…

I had started working with magazines and TV stations from Romania and abroad. I interviewed couturiers, supermodels, musicians and fashion people. Claudia Schiffer, Anna Molinari, Alber Elbaz, Boy George, Pharrell Williams, Giambattista Valli, Pierre Cardin, Karolina Kurkova, Isabeli Fontana, Natalia Vodianova, Antonio Marras, to name just a few.

Then I became the first Romanian other than models to have been featured in international publications such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, L’Officiel, and New York Magazine ranked me a among the best-dressed personalities at Paris Fashion Week together with Victoria’s Secret supermodel, Karolina Kurkova, actress Olivia Palermo and Vogue Japan editor in chief, Anna dello Russo.

Soon followed important projects with the most prestigious houses such as Armani, Cavalli, Gucci.

I also was fashion editor for Romania’s best sold women’s magazine, to then become the first Romanian to write for the most influential fashion publication in the world – Vogue magazine.

A first in Romania, Fashion Avec Passion hosted the first livestreamings of the most important fashion shows from the runways of the fashion capitals. Giorgio Armani, Burberry, Blumarine, Aquilano.Rimondi, Roberto Cavalli, Gucci, John Richmond and many other brands chose FAP to live broadcast their fashion shows.

There also was the TV project of having a weekly fashion and styling moment on prime time,, on a national network, after previously having worked for a season with Fashion TV, time during which I had met and interviewed Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto, Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab, Roberto Cavalli, to name just a few…

Meanwhile, I became Gucci’s Romania ambassador for the humanitarian project Chime For Change, globally supported by Madonna, Beyonce, Bill Gates, Prince Harry, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, Malala Yousafzai – the Nobel Peace Prize laureate – Meryl Streep, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Julia Roberts and many other resounding names in showbiz.

Step by step, brick by brick, I built a small brand, known for its quality, selective character, with a well-defined niche, that has only associated its name with strong brands, brands that it sees as compatible with the website’s content.

Advancement

I am often being told that I’ve built two small, complementary, brands: Fashion Avec Passion and Janina Nectara. Analyzing a few of the website and social media channels’ indicators I’ve learnt that there actually has been a merging of the two.

The readers of the site (which is not about me or my outfits) have come to follow me on Facebook and Instagram (to see what I’m doing, where I am, what new projects I have under way), and my social media friends (that didn’t necessarily have a passion for fashion) have directed their attention towards Fashion Avec Passion, winning them over as faithful readers. An ideal situation, because, today, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook help me keep a constant contact with FAP readers.

Since its launch, FAP has undergone three rebrandings, with changes in both concept and visual identity, so Fashion Avec Passion has always been in fine tuning mode. But I am also in a permanent state of movement, transformation, self-discovery… This is the reason I haven’t only stuck to blogging, but I’ve also delved into adjacent territories.

I’ve proven myself able to do more than I would have ever imagined. In order to be the fashion editor of Romania’s best sold magazine – Tabu magazine, 5-6 years ago -, in order to be able to work for the most popular fashion network – Fashion TV -, to be able to write for the most influential fashion magazine in the world – Vogue -, to be able to make a TV fashion feature. And who knows what’s next?!…

All of these activities have constantly shaped my perception with respect to what should make it on the blog. These decisions have been made also in the context of project ideas sent from famous brands, their representatives seeing the website’s English version and showing a great interest in it.

Their confirmation has reinforced the idea that FAP had potential and from that point onward I made precise calculations with respect to the steps I took. Up to that point I hadn’t actually had a strategy or a well-defined reach. Later, I’ve pinpointed my niche and turned down 90% of the propositions made the blog’s way.

Not for not being tempting, but for a careful choosing of the brands I associated myself with in order not to close the door on other such future collaborations. A brand like Hermes or Gucci would never associate itself with a blog promoting, say, groceries.

I think the test for bloggers today is that of maintaining this balance. Not giving into temptation and endorsing products that are not compatible with the way in which they’ve defined their website.

Romanian fashion blogs

I am thrilled as the number of Romanian blogs, regardless of their area of activity, is seeing a steady increase. The more, the better. The competition is fierce and winners of this are both the readers and the bloggers stimulated to do better! It’s an ideal situation, only it comes approximately 5 years later than on the international market.

When I’ve launched FAP, those selling advertising didn’t yet consider the online, had no budget for the sector or were merely under the pressure of numbers and immediate profit.

Magazines and TV channels were still very strong, and those running them didn’t fully understand or took a cautious look towards blogging, their building their own websites coming only a number of years later.

Today, even the most avid blogger critics (especially in fashion) have their own blog, which turns them into bloggers! Of course, part time, but still bloggers!

There is, nonetheless, a small thing that needs to be set straight as soon as possible. That when starting off, most Romanian blogs despite self-labeled as lifestyle, fashion, beauty, street-style, photo blogs and so on are, in fact, platforms open to advertisers of any kind.

Only those who don’t want to don’t place products on such websites that, in fact, don’t write about fashion and the others, but about products of the most diverse that they endorse without having them pass through any kind of filter: from toothpaste to fast food and wedding dresses, to car tires, yoghurts, wines and perfumes.

These are real examples, from blogs that declare to be fashion blogs. Blogging has room for everybody, especially since when starting off experimentation is crucial. Just that it’s time we graduated to the next level.

The fundamental idea is that there’s nothing wrong with endorsing anything-on-the-face-of-the-Earth, only that doing so steals away from the niche of that blog. It is no longer a fashion blog. No longer a cooking blog. No longer a photography blog. It’s just an ’’experiment blog’’, and professionalism doesn’t exactly associate with experiments.

Romania is now transitioning in this respect, but I think that things are going to settle down nicely. We have promising bloggers and this is why I am sure they are soon going to reset their compasses.

As for now, the blogosphere maintains its tremendous potential without having yet peaked.

For bloggers it’s a Babylon of possibilities, for a reader a Tower of Babel.

Romania on the map of international fashion

Romania has diamonds in its hand, yet it’s losing them through its fingers! Bucharest could be the next Berlin in terms of fashion. There are both talented designers and qualified tailors…

What is lacking are three essential elements for the healthy development of a brand: a fashion system/industry, a capable school and, most of all, a comprehensive policy of support and the international advertising of Romanian brands.

All starts with the faults of the academia and peaks with the obstacles of the system.

Sadly, Romania doesn’t have a school of fashion per se, one to be able to compete with the big European capitals.

The teachers don’t even come from fashion, but are artists (and it’s clear why it’s difficult to make sense of fashion taught by a sculptor or a painter). Somehow, this lack of teachers is explainable by the phenomenon only now beginning to grow in Romania, and the specialists only now getting educated in their turn.

Even so, both the schools and the teachers should be better integrated in exchange network with foreign institutions.

In order to update their knowledge teachers should be given the opportunity to participate in such short term exchanges.

The schools should also have the networking capability to send students to study for at least a year at foreign schools, schools with tradition that have among their alumni designers of famous brands and fashion houses, such as Central Saint Martins in London (fashion design schools in Albania, Bosnia and other such countries poor with respect to fashion tradition shouldn’t count).

Another tragedy is that alumni, after being given a diploma, are left to their own devices. Their school doesn’t facilitate internships and has no link whatsoever to fashion houses, a link that usually enables brands to discover talent from university, the way it happens in France or Italy.

We then have the lack of an industry able to support quality products. For there not being a strategy of continuity with respect to craftsmanship in Romania, the losses are obvious both in the areas of textiles and that of leather goods.

Furthermore, the fashion industry also involves fashion specialised PR (not PR in general), managers that have in depth knowledge of the field (not another field), buyers to help with the sale of a collection and a press influential enough to help the stock to sell out.

If a young designer is able to overcome all of these challenges, often times he/she has already exhausted all of his/her resources and is unable to carry on. At the very point the road actually starts.

Even more importantly, there is no national strategy for boosting Romanian design, even if there are even European funds available for it.

The Turkish government, for instance, has seen in fashion another way of promoting its country and is supporting financially the Fashion Week presence of talented designers through a well-crafted national program.

During my first times at Paris Fashion Week, I met about 4-5 Turkish designers per season, all governmentally financed. To get a better picture, a single Paris runway or presentation can easily cost more than EUR 100 000. An event that lasts barely minutes!

And Turkey also has an excellent design school, a strong press, as well as a financial strength and buying power worthy of a former empire capital. Even so, the authorities keep on investing. Maybe they’re onto something! Maybe we should pay attention…

Given that the talent and the work force are here, half the way to success has already been spoken for. But how many designers don’t have the means to show their work to the world? And all because we lack a key piece in the sequence: the monetisation of the idea. I think fashion is a tremendous opportunity for our economy. It only takes the eyes to see it!

Innovative brands

We do have talents, yet still very few of them have made it to becoming brands, like their counterparts in the world’s fashion capitals. The reasons have been listed above. They’ve met obstacles or they still have many lying in front of them.

In order to speed up the process, I think a generous injection of funds would come a long way. But without specialised management it would just be money down the drain.

If I were to quickly come up with a brand, I would probably follow two paths. First, I would look for a committed investor and then I would hire a manager that has already worked for a strong brand, whose experience could guarantee my brand to reach point X in the fashion world in Y years.

It’s not easy, of course. It’s very risky, some designers – see John Galliano – have lost the right to use their name in a fashion collection by taking this route. Still, it’s the quickest way to get there. What’s sure is that there is no recipe for success. If I’d known one, I would have had billions by now.

 

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