Two nights before Albert Kriemler is set to be honored by Fashion Group International, the Akris designer is having another spotlight moment of his own: Kriemler is co-hosting the Whitney Museum’s annual gala. Akris has become a retail phenomenon under his watch, so much so that Saks Fifth Avenue chief executive officer Stephen I. Sadove, sitting two chairs down, calls him a “rock star.” But today, it’s all about the arts. Earlier that day, he took a private tour of the Paul Thek retrospective at the Whitney and also visited numerous other exhibits in the city to source inspiration for his fall collection. WWD joined him at the Neue Galerie that afternoon. His objectives there: to take in the new George Minne’s statues framing Gustav Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” painting; Franz Xaver Messerschmidt’s exhibit, and the collection of Wiener Werkstätte postcards. Here, excerpts from the day’s conversation.
WWD: What did you like about the Thek exhibit?
Albert Kriemler: His color sense is so modern. You could even say it’s Saint Laurent colors, but in a more modern way.
WWD: What did you like about the Wiener Werkstätte postcards?
A.K.: The graphical approach is what’s interesting to me. I liked the ones by Egon Schiele and Joseph Maria Olbrich. A lot of people [in fashion now] speak about Baroque, but Baroque is not Akris. This is a graphism that’s still modern.
WWD: And the Messerschmidt exhibit?
A.K.: This is pure classicism, so delicately and modernly done. And it’s the installation, too [designed by Federico de Vera]. You can see the refinement of this exhibition.
WWD: So it’s more the environment of the show — and de Vera’s wall sketches of Baroque panelings — rather than Messerschmidt’s works?
A.K.: I am more tempted by the installation, but it’s everything — the smells, the music, Federico’s designs. Classicism can be really dusty and not done right; this feels very today. It’s like Minne’s statues. The Klimt painting clearly marks the period, as beautiful as it is, but these sculptures express more timelessness, even though they’re around the same period. You know, I’m completely critical to the point when we refer to something literal [in fashion]. I want to take an inspiration and push it forward, because that’s what makes it interesting. That’s also what evolves my clothes. Because doing classic clothes — that can make you stick somewhere, but you have to bring newness every season.
WWD: Where did this interest in art come from?
A.K.: I was working for 10 years in this business, only in fashion, and felt I wanted to have other things. In the beginning, I worked a lot and I still do, but after being intensely involved in my duties and fashion life, I said, I want to have other things. I started going to Basel and just looking at contemporary art to educate my eyes. That was 25 years ago.
WWD: You’re shooting tomorrow with Steven Klein?
A.K.: We’re shooting at Chelsea Piers. He came up with the [initial] idea of using Philip Johnson’s Four Seasons [restaurant] as a backdrop. I liked the idea, but I said, is it really summer? So we came up with another idea that’s pure architecture. I can’t tell you the rest.
WWD: You’ve worked with Steven for 15 years now….
A.K.: It’s an amazing partnership. We started working together in 1993. I had seen a shoot he did with Liz Tilberis for Harper’s Bazaar. It was knitwear, very summery, and I was fascinated with how he could take the fiber and color out of knitwear. In the beginning, we had a lot of stylists around us.
WWD: And not now?
A.K.: No. You know, I had a difficult stylist once — I don’t want to name [the person], definitely not. There are stylists who don’t understand who we are, they don’t understand what Akris is. There are a lot of ways to style a shoot, so there needs to be a deep understanding of the brand ingredients. You know what it is to have a moment photographed, but we also do a collection and that’s as important. The industry believes in change, that a lot of change moves a brand forward — no, I’m the contrary. A brand is a brand when there is a culture and a knowledge; it all has to come together.”
WWD: How did you develop that voice for the Akris brand?
A.K.: We had a heritage for sure, from the family [Akris was founded in 1922 by Kriemler’s grandmother], but it was not communicated. So I had to start a speaking voice, and it has to be recognized as Akris. We are not about logos at all; we’re about the silhouette, the simplicity, the color of fabrics. I’m convinced today you don’t have eyes only. A lot of people communicate on shows, photos and films, our industry is much too visual-only. At the end, we do clothes to be worn on a human body and this body feels fabrics first as well as the patternmaking and the silhouettes.
WWD: How do you respond when the fashion system is becoming increasingly more about marketing and designer personalities?
A.K.: It’s not something I am very fond of, but we need to be open to such a thing. But you know, I’m not a believer in this idea of one single grand designer, because I know how many skilled people I have working with me on all levels.”
WWD: If you weren’t a designer….
A.K.: I would have landed in architecture.
WWD: What’s next for Akris?
A.K.: America has been good to us, because I think people in America understood what Akris is. Now, we really would like to establish Asia. We have a strong relationship to Japan, and we have a nice relationship to Korea, but the rest of Asia has not been built yet. In past interviews, I’ve often said I don’t want to get into accessories; now we’re doing handbags. My brother Peter [who handles the business side] would be very consistent in saying we should only do what we know, but then one day he came back from Asia with a completely different vision. He said, “I have to reedit my thoughts. We can only really move into this continent if we do accessories.” If you want to achieve in Asia, you need to have an accessory. We’re working on that now.