Antik Batik celebrates its anniversary with short shorts and new perspectives – WWD

PARIS — Antik Batik, the boho label that gave rise to hippie chic fashion in the early 2000s, celebrates its 30th birthday with a capsule collection launching on September 23.

The 10 new pieces sound like the brand’s greatest hits, an homage to the Beatles with ’70s style in shearling vests and flowy dresses, festive fashion with high-waisted shorts embellished with hand-embroidered sequins, short pantyhose inspired by Crazy Horse cabaret dancers, plus remakes of pieces once worn by Jennifer Lopez, and all handcrafted by a team of artisans in India.

The major collection marks not only the brand’s birthday, but also a full-fledged revival for founder Gabriella Cortese following a three-year hiatus for the label.

“We are a new company, a new company that is 30 years old,” Cortese told WWD of his entrepreneurial spirit after a relaunch in 2018, building on the experience we already have. Antik Batik has always been something rooted in ancient [techniques] moving into the future, working in a very unique way.”

Italian-born Cortese founded the brand when she was 26 and it quickly grew to be on more than 1,200 doors worldwide. But rapid expansion, coupled with its handy sourcing from small artisans as far afield as India, Peru and Mongolia, drove the company into administration after revenues steadily declined in the years following the 2008 financial crisis.

Though she closed the line and its six independent boutiques in 2013, Cortese was never tempted to leave. “This is the only thing I know how to do,” she joked. “When people have this kind of [financial] problems, they lose creativity, but not me. The creativity part never went away, which is something very important to me.”

Now he’s downsized to his iconic boudoir-style boutique in a cozy corner of the Marais, housing his collections as well as staff, studio and archives. Quilted coats from the mid-2000s hang alongside bright kaftans from the current collection, and she’s recreated heritage pieces like a crochet bikini for summer.

Antique Capsule Batik Short Vest

A look from Antik Batik’s 30th anniversary capsule collection.

Robinson Ferrous/Courtesy Antik Batik

“It’s hard to restart something, but the creativity has always been there,” he said. “That’s the main thing for me, and then rebuilding the team 360 degrees within the company, because we have to. We are completely alone, we don’t have any bank to support us”.

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Cortese turned down an offer to sell 30 percent of his company to Frederic Biousse, the French businessman who co-founded Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot’s parent company SMCP, in favor of going it alone more than a decade ago. It is a decision that he sticks with despite the ensuing difficulties.

“I prefer to be independent than to be tied to someone. But of course things happen slowly. It doesn’t go as fast as when you have funds and you can open boutiques everywhere,” she said. The company is entirely self-financing and is currently in a position that Cortese calls “very healthy.”

The pandemic shutdowns turned out to be a positive for the young team, Cortese said, as they quickly pivoted to building the e-commerce arm and creating a social media strategy first. Web sales now account for 40 percent of total business, much of which is from Gen Z ages 18-25 and new shoppers.

“The challenge is finding the right platforms to reposition the brand,” he said. Cortese just launched an Instagram series to speak to these younger consumers. “Young people are very aware of how to consume in a different way. So it is very important to tell them that these things are made by humans, that they do it by hand, and it is giving us time to show that this is not fast fashion,” she said. Cortese has championed sustainability for decades, and the series will explain the philosophy and craftsmanship behind the collections.

The company has also launched strategies outside of the traditional advertising model: a collaboration with Italian model Elisa Sednaoui, who debuted last year, and will wear the costumes for the French film “I Love Greece” this summer. The brand also launched a line of homewares with Cabana magazine, featuring Cortese’s signature block prints translated into rustic bedding as part of a five-year plan to transform Batik into a lifestyle brand.

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“People really love the brand. We have people coming in all day saying they used to use it. [as a child] or they still have pieces that their mother used to have, so it’s normal to develop this sentiment into a lifestyle brand. It is important to connect [with legacy customers] and build our business also in a different way,” he said.

Still, it has halted the kids’ and tweens’ lines due to the complexity of producing such a wide size and age range, though there are some one-of-a-kind pieces in the boutique. The core collection remains the women’s line, which encompasses everything from bikinis to handbags, and the main business focus is to put garments back in stores.

Antik Batik has signed deals to be in 200 boutiques by the end of 2023. It’s a fraction of the previous number, but it reflects their newly edited perspective. Le Bon Marche in Paris, Agora at Six Senses in Ibiza and Tuckernuck in Washington, DC are some of its key doors.

Full-price multi-brand direct sale is 70 percent, Cortese said, credited to its price point.

It has continually positioned the brand at a fashion hotspot, focusing on its craftsmanship and heritage as a luxury item but keeping it affordable and attainable. Tops cost €95, while a floor-length dress costs €220 and a padded jacket €495.

Cortese said he also managed to gloss over many of the supply chain disruptions that have plagued other brands, having worked with the same suppliers and artisans for 30 years, including some families for generations. That loyalty has paid off during the crisis, he said.

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While sales in the US “remain strong”, it will continue with the multi-brand retail strategy there, as opening any stand-alone store would require a huge investment. Cortese admits that he would need a financial partner and, while he’s not ruling it out in the future, it’s not in the offing soon.

Instead of the Americas, it’s focusing on opening in more tropical European locations. “We want to have at least two boutiques in resorts, you know the places where you let loose and spend without thinking,” she joked. “At the moment, what would be smartest for us is to open a store where our customers spend money and are in a vacation state of mind, which is Saint-Tropez, Mykonos, Ibiza.”

Antik Batik celebrates anniversary with short

Gabriella Cortese at the launch of her line of household items with Cabana.

Stéphane Feugere / Courtesy of Antik Batik

Although she will resume her busy travel schedule in October, returning to India and Peru, and visiting Senegal for a new collection, the most important lesson she has learned is to “stay grounded,” she said.

“When you get big and you go back to zero, the ego is the main thing that holds you back, because it is very difficult to manage. But I think that difficulties can give you a clearer way of seeing things: Who are your friends? Who are the people who really believe in you?

“When you work with people who believe in you, you can’t give up, it’s impossible,” he added, especially highlighting the artisans. “I know where [the business] I can go because I know where we were before and I know where I want to go again.”