5 Minutes With: Baukjen

Baukjen head shot

Fashion is a funny beast, as are people’s relationship with it. On the one hand there’s nothing like an impractical, in some cases unwearable concoction that springs from the mind of its créateur and sashays down the catwalk sending spectators into Instagram overload and buyers into intense states of internal conflict as to whether they should stock a garment that, although exquisite, would pose a health rise to its wearer. Ok, that’s perhaps a slight exaggeration but you know what I’m talking about; the spectacle of the spectacular show piece. On the other hand is the fact that people – even those that work in fash-un – do need to actually wear clothes to go about their daily business, preferably clothes that are chic, sleek and look great without stopping you eating, breathing or taking public transport. It is the latter type that Baukjen de Swaan Arons delivers. The Dutch designer’s eponymous brand started out as a maternity e-tailer called Isabelle Oliver in 2003. After scooping up a bunch of awards and proving to be a big hit among expecting mother’s who didn’t fancy wearing moo moos, Isabella Oliver added womenswear to its repertoire five years later. Not long after, it became clear that de Swaan Arons had tapped into a niche in the market, a desire for staple pieces that were excellent quality and elegant without being expensive or extravagant enough to stop them being office/child/reality friendly. And so in 2012, she decided to really home in on that niche, rebranding Isabelle Oliver’s womenswear line as simply “Baukjen”. I caught up with the designer to talk business, branding and social media…

LPA: Tell me a little about your background; where did you grow up, study and work before launching your company?

BDSA: I was born in Amsterdam and I still have family living there – it’s a wonderful city. I moved to London when I was four where I lived in Hampstead Village. I returned to Holland for a few years to do my MBA and then came back to London. Before we started our own businesses I worked in various companies on the brand side, doing lots of travelling across the world. I didn’t work in the fashion industry immediately but always loved it as I grew up surrounded by a family full of creative talent – many working in the industry – and knew this was a direction I wanted to take. I can’t underestimate how important my business knowledge was though. I feel very lucky to have such an eclectic career.

LPA: Your company began as the maternity e-tailer Isabella Oliver. In 2009 you added ready-to-wear under the name Isabella Oliver 365 and then in 2012 you decided to re-brand the label under the name “Baukjen”. What prompted this bold move? And how has the brand evolved, in terms of aesthetics, image and marketing strategy since?

BDSA: For Geoff and I, it made perfect sense to establish the Baukjen brand in its own right. We could see the potential of Isabella Oliver 365 as there had been a real appetite for the collection, but the name automatically associated it with maternity clothing and we recognised this as a stumbling block in the future. Today, both brands are looked after by one team. I suppose in some ways we take quite a holistic approach to how we look at them always remembering that the Baukjen customer and the Isabella Oliver customer is essentially the same woman, she’s just at different stages of her life. We do however utilise different treatments – it would be crazy not to. Marketing strategies are tailored to each brand especially within areas like partnerships, and editorially, we use a different language and address different styling concerns.

LPA: Baukjen’s re-launch and the development of your ready-to-wear collection came in the midst of a global recession. Did you find this had a significant impact on how your customers were buying and the kinds of pieces or price points they gravitated towards?

BDSA: I think regardless of whether there’s a recession, women especially love to shop and will try to find a way to buy that special piece she wants so desperately. Of course price point is important and good quality essentials that are competitively priced do consistently well, but each season we test the water with more surprising and fashion forward pieces that are often more price sensitive and we’ve found that our customers don’t hesitate to take the plunge. We never stray far from our belief in ‘effortlessly chic for everyday dressing’ but we do push the boundary and if the product is right, we’ve learnt that it will sell.

LPA: You were very much ahead of the game when it came to e-commerce, launching an e-tail based clothing company when the genre was in its infancy. What made you so confident in the future of online shopping while many other brands remained very hesitant? And do you feel this early adoption has given you a distinct advantage in the e-tail market following its rapid growth over the past seven or so years?

BDSA: I never hesitated in my belief that e-tailing was a good idea, and if the idea is good enough I think there’s always a way to make it work. We didn’t have a crystal ball but I was an early adopter of online shopping myself and had faith in its potential to grow. Women are so busy these days that developments that make life more manageable feel like they have to succeed. I think with the internet there’s a real feeling that everyone can achieve their goals. It’s very democratic in that way. Then you just need to be prepared to work hard. We now have almost 12 years’ experience behind us we can draw from, and of course this helps but we’re still always learning. That’s part of what makes this so exciting.

LPA: Launching and establishing a fashion label is no mean feat and many have failed where you’ve succeeded. What were the greatest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

BDSA: The greatest challenge is brand awareness. We find that once women discover the brand and collections and try it out, they are very positive and they remain loyal. Brand awareness can be achieved via a multitude of routes, advertising, press, etc. All of this is expensive and that can be challenging. Fast forward to now, more and women are telling their friends about us which really helps spread the word.

LPA: You established Baukjen with the principal aim of creating wearable, everyday clothes that would make women feel great. What’s your opinion of catwalk designers who produce more conceptual and perhaps challenging, from a wearers’ perspective, collections?

BDSA: I think there’s a place for every type of fashion – wouldn’t the world be dull if we all did the same thing. For me and the woman I design for, the key focus is on creating chic but effortless essentials that make dressing stress-free, but I do recognise that that this isn’t everyone’s style. Fashion is also an art form and the more conceptual designers are simply more literal about this than I am. That’s ok though, it’s what makes the world so creatively rich.

LPA: On the subject of everyday elegance, what would your top tips be for nailing effortless chic? I think that’s something we all strive for but remains pretty tricky at times!

BDSA: It remains tricky because everyone has different demands and commitments in their everyday lives. The concept of effortless chic will be different for a stay-at-home mum than for a city banker, for example, but I think there are a few things that apply universally.

1) Try to create a capsule wardrobe of pieces that work well together. A great jacket can be worn with a dress for more formal occasions and with jeans at the weekend.

2) Never buy anything you feel uncomfortable wearing. You’ll feel compelled to wear it because you’ve paid for it, but will hate doing so. I always think your wardrobe should make you happy. It’s also like your armour so make sure it gives you the protection you need.

3) Don’t ever be afraid to try something new – that’s the joy of fashion – but as a rule, work out what suits you and you’ll save yourself a lot of stressful shopping trips and endless refunds.

LPA: You founded and continue to run Baukjen with your husband, Geoff van Sonsbeeck. What have you found to be the advantages and disadvantages (if any) of running a company with your partner?

BDSA: I couldn’t imagine running it without him now, we’d never see each other, and that daily interaction is definitely the biggest advantage. We have very different roles within the business and don’t often actually work together in the strictest sense of the word (I’m the creative and Geoff is the operations, technology and numbers man), but we still see each other every day. Sharing a business alongside being parents means we are totally in sync and I love that. Disadvantages? We don’t always agree, in fact we often disagree which in itself is fine, but let’s just say a little bickering can sometimes creep into meetings which the team will inevitably bear witness to. We’re only human though!

LPA: Has the rise of social media and fashion blogging affected the way you market your brand and interact with consumers? If so, how?

BDSA: Yes, absolutely. We live in a very interactive world and everything from customer reviews and Facebook posts that start a conversation, to inspiring Pinterest boards and cool Instagrams are all really important currency. Our customers like to be heard, and honestly, we like to hear from them.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to launch their own fashion brand today?

BDSA: I’ll give you 5 points…

1. Go with your gut instinct – it’s your brand and you have to believe in it.
2. Never ignore the numbers or the customer
3. Be as creative as possible but never forget you have to sell things
4. Have a strong marketing plan in place and don’t underestimate the power of social media
5. Be open to new ideas
Oh, and there’s one more…
6. This is not a 9 to 5 job so be prepared to go above and beyond if you’re to succeed

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews Leave a comment

Monthly Must Haves: June 2014

Monthly Must Haves June 2014

1) J.Crew Gemstone floral printed silk top, £120, click here to buy
2) J.Crew Gemstone floral printed silk shorts, £120, click here to buy
3) LK Bennett Bess colour block sandal, REDUCED from £195 to£145, click here to buy
4) River Island white embellished clutch bag, £35, click here to buy
5) ALDO Gleliwet stone set collar necklace, £30, click here to buy
6) Karen Walker Super Duper Strength sunglasses, exclusively at Liberty London
7) Whistles Solano blotted floral bikini top, £40, click here to buy
8) Whistles Solano blotted floral bikini bottoms, £35, click here to buy
9) Chloe Marcie medium tote, 1195, click here to buy
10) Chloe Celeste block heel mules, REDUCED from £795 to £556, click here to buy
11) REISS Kaneo laser cut skirt, £125, click here to buy
12) J.W. Anderson wave print silk blouse, £575, click here to buy

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Shopping 1 Comment

Ibiza with Claire’s Accessories: Part II

ibiza claires accessories

Picking up where we left off earlier this week, having thrown in a totally unnecessary outfit change into Liberty London short shorts and a crisp cotton top picked up on my River Island shoot back in February it was time for team #ClairesxIbiza to hit the road. Our destination was Hotel Es Vive, a super cute art deco place where the Company Magazine crew were staying, to be primped and preened in preparation for the shoot. As I mentioned in my beauty post the other week, my makeup routine is usually very boring and very basic. As for my hair routine, it’s literally a wash n’ go situation so being coiffed and groomed up by a team of professionals never gets old. I have to say, Athena and Heath did a seriously fantastic job and I grilled them both on how I could recreate the smokey eyed, mussed haired look they gave me at home. Whether I ever successfully manage it is another matter.

Once satisfied that Kenza and I had been suitably glammed up, we all headed outside for a poolside lunch in the sun. Being the consummate professional I am, I decided a glass of rosé was in order. Not necessarily the wisest pre shoot tipple but come on, we were in Ibiza, and I wasn’t the only person who opted for something a little more exciting than diet coke. At this point I began to seriously consider changing my flights and refusing to go home for a few more days. There’s nothing like basking in the sun in a beautiful place to make the idea of returning to commuter tubes, sporadic downpours and the obscene email backlog that follows an “out of office” period feel like a fate worse than death. Thankfully I had a fair few more blissful hours to go before I had to start thinking about that so after the plates were cleared we headed back into the hotel to get our outfits styled.

claires accessories ibiza

claires accessories ibiza

claires accessories ibiza

Given my extreme pastiness, it’s not often I wear head to toe white but such shades feel wholly appropriate under the Ibizan sun so I was happy to be decked out in lace trimmed shorts and a beaded cami of the aforementioned hue. They were basically the exact same colour as my post Winter “glow” but I reckon it worked, or at least I hope so. After a drive through across the island we arrived at one of the most gorgeous beaches I’d seen in a long time. It took every ounce of self control I had not to launch myself into the insanely blue ocean but that would have gone down quite badly given the hair and makeup situation so with a will of  steel I managed to resist the temptation. Pretty soon it transpired that we were not in fact allowed to take any shots there, at least not without forking out an extortionate amount to do so… ah the joys of shooting on location in a foreign country. This actually kind of worked in our favour as while some of the team went off to find another spot, the rest of us hung out and got ice cream which only added to the ever growing dread I felt about having to go home.

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

One round of white chocolate magnum’s later we were on the road once again, heading for the most adorable, secluded beach tucked behind a sheltered cove. At last it was time for Kenza and I to get ready to pose, bedecked in enough jewellery to sink a sizeable boat.

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

Outdoor shooting can be something of a minefield given that the smallest gust of wind can totally eff up a look. When there’s a whole bunch of professionals on hand to each keep tabs on a different and highly specific detail (hair, makeup, accessories, clothes, post etc etc) it can also take absolutely bloody ages but this one ran pretty smoothly. Before I knew it we were wrapped, de-accessorized and celebrating with rosé while waiting for our Ushuaia bound taxis to arrive. The previous evening I’d crashed out in bed straight after dinner so I was determined to hit Pacha like a bat out of high heeled hell that night. I’m ashamed to admit that, in an uncharacteristic bout of sensibleness, I didn’t make it despite having thrown on a party ready dress and levels of smudgy black eyeliner that put Taylor Momsen’s to shame. What can I say, evidently my general exhaustion overcame my desire to dance until dawn. But we still had a delectable last night dinner at Ushuaia and the flake out that followed has only strengthened my resolve to return to Ibiza toute suite.

ibiza claires accessories

Thank you Claire’s Accessories for a fantastic trip. Can’t wait to see the results of our shoot in the August issue of Company Magazine!

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Travel 2 Comments

Look Du Jour: Tiger Tiger

Ella Catliff Bastyan Holly McGlynn_002

What: Bastyan tiger print dress, Black & Brown London belt (similar here), Vince Camuto sandals (similar here) & DSquared2 Esther Sunglasses (available here cheaper alternative here) (all c/o)

Where: Meetings in London followed by dinner and drinks at Soho House.

I love print an unhealthy amount. Floral, digital, animal, mineral, vegetable etc… If it’s brightly coloured and multi pattered with the potential to provide distraction, fuel procrastination and send minimalists running for the hills (or at least the nearest Céline store) then I want it in my wardrobe. I also seem to be in the grip of a total dress addiction. I promise I’ll start wearing separates again soon but one pieces are just so wonderfully easy to wear. A great dress requires far less thought and room for error than combining different pieces in different prints, colours and fabrics. They’re super simple to accessorize – slick black pieces are a perfect way to pull the look together – genius for day to night dressing and have the power to make you feel like 2014′s answer to Carry Bradshaw, minus the maddening levels of neurosis. This tiger print number is by Bastyan who are also running a really cute campaign at the moment called #BastyanLittleThings all about, you’ve guessed it, little things. That sounds vague I know but it’s actually a pretty concise concept, namely the little things that matter to you and make you feel good when it comes to style. In case it wasn’t (in some recent cases, literally) blindingly obvious, one rather large little thing that matters to me is print. Whether that’s print of the all over, in your face variety or a subtle motif etched on a lining, print makes me happy when I spot it on others and even happier when I’m wearing it myself.

bastyan tiger

bastyan tiger

bastyan tiger

bastyan tiger

bastyan tiger

bastyan tiger

bastyan tiger

bastyan tiger

bastyan tiger

Bastyan are inviting everyone to get in on the Little Things campaign and share their own sartorial delights with the hashtag #BastyanLittleThings. There are prizes and discounts and whatnot on offer too, you can find out more here.

Love Ella. X

Ps) How freaking cool are these glasses!?

Images by Holly McGlynn

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Look Du Jour 2 Comments

Ibiza with Claire’s Accessories

ibiza claire's accessories

So far this summer’s got off to a pretty cracking start. I finally handed in my thesis (suspect you guys might be as relieved about that as I am, so frequently have I whinged about it) and bid higher education adieu, signed with Storm Artists division, went to Athens with Juicy Couture, collaborated with Thierry Mugler on their Angel campaign and shot something very cool for Matthew Williamson which I’ll be telling you all about soon. In the midst of this, I jetted off to Ibiza with Claire’s Accessories for a Company Magazine shoot. I fell hard for Ibiza when I visited the island last Summer so was very, very excited to be returning. I’ve also been having major holiday cravings for the best part of six months so any chance to swap pavements for white sand and I’m on it. Add a shoot for Company Magazine into the mix and my flight simply couldn’t come quick enough!

ibiza claires accessories

Wearing a Club Monaco jacket (similar here), Hobbs silk shirt, clutch and sandals (available on SALE here, here and here) and J.Crew skirt (similar here)

We touched down at around 9pm local time and headed straight to Ushuaia, the notorious party hotel we’d be calling home for the next two nights. My room was vast, flash and super luxe – much like the rest of the place – but I didn’t exactly have time to lounge around or pillage the mini bar. After a five minute outfit change and frantic attempt to charge the battery blackhole I call my phone it was time to head out for dinner at Blue Marlin. After joining the Claire’s team, videographer extraordinaire, Lukas and Kenza, the lovely French blogeuse who’d also be starring in the Company Magazine shoot. We piled into taxis to the restaurant and as Ibiza regulars, everyone else regaled me with tales of its fabulousness the whole way there. They certainly were not exaggerating, Blue Marlin is wonderful. Renowned as the perfect location for a champagne fuelled lunch under the Ibizan sun – something I’m determined to return to experience – Blue Marlin is also pretty darned brilliant at night. The wine was a’ flowing and the Peruvian inspired cuisine was delectable. I kicked off with a sushi platter followed by masterfully seared tuna accompanied by fresh-from-the-oven warm bread rolls and juicy olives, finishing up with cookies and coffee… Having established that we would not be shooting in swimwear the next day, obvs.

ibiza claires accessories

From left: Josie, Me, Lizzie, Hind, Kenza & Wajeeda

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

Day two dawned beautifully sunny and bright, something made all the more satisfying by reports of torrential rain back in London – #sorrynotsorry etcetera – and after hitting snooze on my alarm about fifteen times I made a pretty unsuccessful attempt to hit the hotel gym. Ten minutes of half arsed jogging later I was back in my room for a quick shower before slipping into a Tory Burch tunic and instagramming a no doubt maddeningly smug “good morning from Ibiza” snap of the view from my balcony, before heading to breakfast. After wandering a weaving route past the infinity pool and beachfront, around white linen clad sunning beds and gleaming ice buckets freshly stocked with Veuve Cliquot champagne, I finally located the outdoor area where guests were lazing at white tables drinking mimosas. I’ve seen a fair few breakfast buffets in my time but have to say, this one was bloody impressive. Whether you’re after a health giving tropical fruit bonanza, Moorish mezze morning feast, freshly baked pastries of every variety or a full English and bowl of Coco Pops, Ushuaia’s got you covered. Extra LOL points for the red bull smoothie they offer alongside fruit versions. I suspect many of the guests are mainlining that stuff like nobody’s business once the Ibiza season really gets going.

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

Wearing a Tory Burch tunic (available on SALE here), Wildfox sunglasses (very similar here) and The Sandal & The Craftsman sandals

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

ibiza claires accessories

Regrettably I had to spend the next hour or so in my room, typing away on my laptop like a madwoman rather than lounging in the sun as I wanted to. Then again, it was technically a work trip and the fact that two days spent primarily eating and drinking in Ibiza, with a photo shoot on a beach thrown in, can be called “work” is rather surreal so I’m not about to start complaining! God knows how many misspelled emails and one swift outfit change later, it was time to get moving and off to hair and makeup.

ibiza claires accessories

Wearing Liberty London shorts (similar here) & River Island top (real deal here)

ibiza claires accessories

More on my Ibiza trip with Claire’s Accessories coming soon! Including a few sneaky behind-the-scenes snaps from the Company Magazine shoot…

Love Ella. X

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