How We Met: Lara Bohinc & Ernst Malmsten
'I told Lara once, "If you don't cry after this meeting, we probably haven't edited enough"'
Sunday 14 March 2010
Lara Bohinc, 38, is a Slovenian-born, London-based jewellery designer who, after designing for Gucci and Lanvin, started her own business in 1997. Her collections have expanded to handbags and, most recently, shoes. She lives in London with her partner and daughter, Coco
I first saw Ernst at a picnic in Hyde Park, in 2004. He was wearing a check suit and big, black-framed glasses: a combination of Elvis Costello and a businessman. I remember thinking, "How very eccentric." At the time I was finding it hard juggling accounts and working as a designer, and a few months later a friend suggested I meet an entrepreneur she knew was looking to work with a creative; it was Ernst.
One of the first things he told me was about his business Boo.com, which went from zero to 400 people very quickly, before it closed [as an early victim of the dotcom crash in 1999]. We talked a lot about what went wrong: Boo was all about expanding, while we are taking things step by step.
Since he came on board, it's like a new company. Before, employees were like friends and I was launching hundreds of styles a season, which, for a business, is a disaster. Ernst told me we had to streamline it down, so it went from 50 to five lines. It didn't happen overnight, though, because I was fighting him, and I still am today.
We started going out for dinners and to a lot of parties together. He tries to get everyone drunk, it's terrible, and I always wonder who's going to be the next victim. During London Fashion Week, we went to Alice Temperley's party and an after-party in Momo, then I went home and he went on with some friends of mine to the nightclub Bungalow 8, and then on to the members' club L'Equipe Anglais; he is hardcore.
Slovenia and Sweden are both countries where skiing is big. I'm the better skier, as I've been doing it since I was three, but Ernst is way more enthusiastic. He goes skiing in Italy nearly every weekend and every year he gets an injury; he's so reckless – but I have a theory: he does it just to see the pretty nurses.
We share the same view on celebrity: the world has gone star-crazy and people think it changes the business, but that approach [of courting celebrities] doesn't work for us; we're not looking for a quick buck, we want longevity. I remember telling him right at the start, "I want to still be doing this when I'm 70." With Ernst, I have found someone who gets that.
Ernst Malmsten, 39, is a Swedish entrepreneur who made his fortune setting up online bookstore Bokus, before losing much of it through the ill-fated fashion website Boo.com. He became Bohinc's business partner in 2005, helping her launch several concessions and her first stand-alone store in 2007. He lives in west London
I was a big fan of Lara's Laratella bags before I even knew her. We met in 2005, through a mutual friend, as Lara was looking for an adviser to help her build an empire. Initially we just talked a lot, but we quickly discovered we had the same entrepreneurial drive. After six months we started working together. Initially we had a lot of lows: problems with the staff, finances and setbacks with our factories in Italy. It strained the relationship, but getting through it made us stronger.
The friendship that has since developed was all about understanding where we both come from. I have been to Slovenia several times, met her parents and stayed in their house; seeing her culture and her roots helped us connect, and she's done the same with me.
One of the first big tests early in our friendship was taking her to Sweden. We went to this crayfish party, a big summer tradition in Sweden, where you eat lots of seafood with your hands and drinks lots of schnapps. For non-Swedish people, it can be a bit of a shock, as everyone gets so drunk, but Lara coped quite well, although she was shocked by the consumption. I learnt that she's very sociable and easily connects with people. I'm more opposite – I'm quite shy and I like to work behind the scenes – but it turned out to be a great mix.
We don't disagree on too many things, but we have healthy arguments on details. Fashion is always about the need to edit; you mustn't have too many products. I remember telling Lara once, "If you don't cry after this meeting we probably haven't edited enough" – but I think you need to have this conflict between business and creative. She's an extraordinary talent; it's the way she approaches design so that, whatever she does, you can see it's her. She's the main creative force, but we do discuss my opinion. I'll say, "The market wants a black shoe, look at the stats." But you can't water down everything to market demand, of course.
Although we work very hard, we have a lot of fun, too. Recently we went to an event at Selfridges and after there was lots of dancing and lots of vodka. I know a lot of her friends, too, and she's even tried to set me up with some of them, but she's not been too successful.
Working with Lara, along with my experiences with Boo.com, has taught me a lot about taking things slower and doing things properly; in luxury fashion, things take time, but with our combination of creativity and good business sense, I think we're achieving something amazing.
Lara Bohinc's store is at 149F Sloane Street, London SW1 (020 7730 8194, larabohinc.com)
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