Anine Bing, the LA-based model turned designer, is in London this week to mark the launch of her capsule collection created in partnership with celebrated British photographer Terry O’Neill. It’s a bittersweet moment since O’Neill, whose images came to define the “Swinging Sixties”, passed away just this weekend at the age of 81.
O’Neill’s team, however, encouraged Bing to go ahead with the launch of the collection at her Mayfair boutique, which opened a year ago. “It’s such a sad time,” she says ruefully looking at the rack of T-shirts, T-shirt dresses and sweatshirts bearing O’Neill’s most celebrated picture of a young Brigitte Bardot smoking a cigar with the wind sweeping through her hair.
“His team is coming tonight [to the launch party] and I’m just so happy to wear my favourite print,” she says gesturing to the T-shirt under her immaculate yet relaxed Anine Bing black trouser suit.
The collaboration with O’Neill came about when the photographer’s team approached the designer a year ago having read an interview with her in which she said how much she admired his work. The Bardot image is used in her stores and she has the original at home, having received it as a birthday present a few years ago.
“This was like a dream come true,” she says of the approach, “we met at his gallery and we talked for an hour and he told me the story of his life. We just clicked and we decided we wanted to work together.”
“It’s so timeless and so cool,” she says of the Bardot image and perhaps this is why the collection works so well, since the same attributes could be said of the Anine Bing brand.
Bing launched her brand in LA, in partnership with her husband Nicolai Nielsen, from their garage in 2012. Today the brand has 15 standalone stores around the world and is available in 300 multi-brand stores.
At the beginning the collection was a tight edit of t-shirts and the studded western-style Charlie boots, which Bing says, really “put us on the fashion map”. Sometimes Bing would go to appointments wearing the boots (which remain in the collection to this day) and retailers would ask her where she got them and sometimes she would be “just walking around” and be stopped in the street by people wanting to buy them. (Bing just walking around in her clothes is arguably the brand’s best marketing channel and she is a dab hand at social media, more on which later).
In those early days in the garage, Bing would upload all the products on to the website herself, write all the product descriptions, make up all the parcels herself and even take them to the post office. “At the start there would maybe just be two a day and then one day I was struggling in carrying 40 parcels,” she recalls.
While this all seems a world away from her jet-setting life now as an international designer, she’s glad she went through the struggle and did it all herself, and furthermore she would advise any budding entrepreneur to do the same and value the experience.
“Now when I ask people do things in the business [there are 130 staff in the business including store staff], I have a little bit of an understanding of everything,” she says.
Also when you’re struggling start-up, you don’t want to take on too many people at the start, she advises: “You shouldn’t spend too much money and hire too many people before you earn the money and can afford it.”
And those you do hire need to be prepared to just do what it takes to make the business work. “At the start we didn’t have all the specialists we needed, but that didn’t matter. You just need people who will roll up their sleeves and and not be too fancy to do something. You just need hungry people,” she explains.
The formula worked and eventually the brand opened its first bricks & mortar store in LA, which was the moment Bing says, she realised she had a proper brand on her hands. She wasn’t the only one to realise either as investors had spotted the opportunity to scale this new generation of accessible luxury brand to reach more millennials who were hungry for brands they could call their own.
Anine Bing’s designs appeal to a modern woman with the collection centred largely on neutral and monochrome colours, jersey separates, knits, tailoring, denim and outerwear with a tight edit of footwear, accessories, jewellery and underwear. Prices hover below hard luxury and are in line with brands such as Isabel Marant Etoile and Alexachung, with blazers selling for around £350 and skirts at around £180.
There is a core collection of ever-green product and around five new styles are dropped each week to keep the offer fresh. This approach, which removes the seasonality to which other brands are shackled, came about organically, says Bing. It chimes perfectly for a millennial consumer who doesn’t want to do a wholesale revamp of their wardrobe every season. Equally the brand doesn’t reinvent itself every season, sticking to its roots of classic mixed with rock ‘n’ roll.
After conversations with a number of prospective investors, the brand ended up completing a series A funding round with Index Ventures, Greycroft Partners and Felix Capital last year raising $15m.
At the time the deal was announced Felix Capital’s Frederic Court described the brand as “a great illustration of what we are doing at Felix Capital, backing founders that build inspiring brands on top of engaged, authentic communities growing organically.”
Bing herself has been at the centre of growing the community around the brand, recording her life on Instagram while wearing the collections. There is also an official brand account. Both of them drive considerable awareness and sales and Bing’s connections in fashion, forged during her years as a model, helped established the brand’s awareness levels in the right circles.
Being adept at social media is one of Bing’s key strengths, alongside her design eye. Husband Nicolai Nielsen’s background was manufacturing clothes for other brands so the pair make a great team.
“I discovered I was really good at social media, but it is a full-time job,” she says. “It’s part of my routine now. We didn’t have money for marketing for many years and it was our way of promoting the brand. Now there is one account for me and one account for the brand so if I do take a day off, it’s not a disaster.”
You don’t get the impression that there is much time in Bing’s life for days off and when there are she has two young children to attend to. The start-up struggle may be behind her but the juggle remains real “but I still love it”, she says.
Having opened five stores across the world in the past year, there will be more to come and there will be further stockists to announce in the UK. As well as at her own store the brand is present in the UK at Harvey Nichols and at Net-A-Porter.com, but she’s not ready to give further details of where next just at the moment.
“But we will keep going,” she laughs, “next year the expansion will continue”. Where it will ultimately end up, she can’t say: “From starting in a garage seven years ago, I couldn’t believe where we’d end up today.”