Luxury label with a family background

Interview with Iris and Valentin von Arnim

Founded almost 40 years ago, the label Iris von Arnim stands for timeless and sophisticated designs. Run by mother Iris and son Valentin with a straightforward attitude, creativity and a great passion for cashmere, the label caters to sophisticated ladies and gentlemen. In the talk with LA LOUPE the two take us on a tour through the world of fashion and provide interesting insight into the family business’ secret to success. 

​L.L.

You laid the foundation for your career when you took up knitting while at the hospital. What were the steps that followed and made your enterprise what it is today? Do you think such an unprecedented career would even be possible nowadays?

I.v.A.

The foundation for the brand Iris von Arnim was laid when I opened my first shop in Hamburg in the 1970s. I paid 150 German marks rent a month for the shop and the flat in the back. A few months after I opened I got the opportunity to sell my sweaters on the island of Sylt. While I was selling about 5 to 6 items per month in Hamburg I sold as many a day on Sylt. Slowly but surely I made a name for myself and my fashion and started presenting it at fairs.

Consequently the brand “Iris von Arnim” was officially introduced. With my company I had the opportunity to start small and grow slowly. Today’s young designers face very difficult conditions. You pay a lot for small production runs and have to battle with knock-offs. That is not a new phenomenon, though.

When I realised that more and more women who tried on my clothes asked for the number of meshes and knitted them at home, I looked for something new. In the end I decided to stop making inlay sweaters at home and switched to professionally made, plain cashmere knitwear. And that was the right decision.

​L.L.

As founder of the label it is also your name that stands behind the brand and the designs. How did you end up doing it and what are the advantages of marketing one’s products under one’s own name?

I.v.A.

When I was younger I learned that many fascinating personalities like poets, writers or politicians had the last name “von Arnim”. I became ambitious. I wanted to honour this name and create something great that suits me. And even if it was just the world’s best apple cake.

So as a result I did not have to think long about the name of the label. I also think that the choice of my own name for the brand makes it more authentic. Particularly if there is a long history behind it. In our case we’re talking about almost 40 years.

Iris von Arnim
Iris von Arnim

​L.L.

If you own only one sweater, make sure it’s cashmere”. A quote from the book “How to be Parisian – Wherever you are”. Can you confirm this?

I.v.A.

A good cashmere sweater is always the first choice – simply because it feels so good on the skin. In cashmere I always feel comfortable and safe.

​L.L.

Where does the work for a cashmere sweater start and where does it end?

I.v.A.

At first the surface is created or a structure is made using yarn. We don’t buy fabrics and arrange them, we develop everything ourselves, from the first mesh all the way to the finished piece of clothing. The sweater is finished when we know it fits 100 percent. Even if that means that we have to produce five prototypes in the course of the development phase. Then the model is presented at a fair and eventually it is produced. I’d say that the entire process from the initial idea to the finished item in the store takes an average of eight months.

​L.L.

The sum of all these steps probably defines the price?

I.v.A.

The development costs, the knitting time and the quality of the yarn determine the price. We want to keep perfecting what’s already perfect. That’s what I’m aiming at and it’s a sort of luxury.

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​L.L.

Many people don’t dare to buy cashmere products because they are afraid they might be too high-maintenance. What care tips do you have for us?

I.v.A.

The most important magic formula: wear, wash, remove pills. After the second or third wash a good cashmere product should pill far less. And it’s always recommendable to wash the piece in the washing machine using the hand wash or wool programme. For heavy kit pieces: never wash them by hand! The yarn absorbs so much water it looses its shape.

​L.L.

What combinations of your fashion do you like best? Uncomplicated or rather in a sophisticated combo? 

I.v.A.

I like wearing cashmere sweaters with jeans of a similar colour. In combination with a leather skirt or leather trousers cashmere looks more luxurious. The two natural materials complement each other perfectly. You could also combine a coarsely knit sweater with a smart cocktail skirt.

​L.L.

Many people swear by cashmere scarves on the plane. What is your favourite travelling outfit and what can you not miss?

I.v.A.

Superfine cashmere sweaters and cardigans are pure luxury and incredibly comfortable. They feel so light on the skin and protect you from the dry, cold air. Aside from that the thin cashmere does not occupy a lot of space in the suitcase. So it really is ideal for travelling.

Valentin von Arnim
Valentin von Arnim

​L.L.

When and why did you, as a former banker, decide to become part of your mother’s business?

V.v.A.

My mother was a single mother and I was an only child so she took me with her wherever she went. As a result I literally grew up between sweaters, knitwear, and designers. So of course I developed a certain passion for the topic.

After my A-levels though I was unnerved and I just wanted to leave. I went to New York and worked in the banking industry there. At some point my mother asked me whether I’d like to become part of the company.

The label “Iris von Arnim” seemed like a raw, uncut diamond to me with so much development potential. I definitely wanted to be part of it. And thus we agreed that I would work for the company for six months. Meanwhile we’re going on ten years.

​L.L.

How does the cooperation of mother and son work?

V.v.A.

On paper we have a division of tasks – there is the creative part which is led by my mother and the operative business with marketing, sales, IT, operation and logistics which I am in charge of. In reality my mother has been known to interfere and we may have the occasional dispute.

But even if we have loud altercations there is a great sense of basic trust between us so any conflict is usually resolved quickly. We are a two-man team and we have the same goals. I have the highest respect for my mother as an amazing businesswoman with incredible experience.

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​L.L.

What sort of leadership style do you or your mother have?

V.v.A.

Well here we definitely come from two different generations. My mother is the company founder and often more strict than I am. She likes to decide on her own and values the staff’s above-average commitment.

I value the performance irrespective of how much time someone spent at the office. I am more consensus-oriented and try to find team decisions.

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L.L.

You are a businessman with international experience. What sort of novelties did you implement when you became part of the business?

V.v.A.

We are a completely different business than we were ten years ago and we have twice as many employees. What’s new is that in our shops in Kitzbühel, Munich, Düsseldorf and on Sylt we also act as retailers. Additionally we have a large online shop that has grown by 100% this year and where the revenues have doubled. And our corporate communication strategy has changed fundamentally.

Meanwhile the budget for online marketing is the same as the budget for offline activities. About one and a half years ago we launched a men’s collection. This market is not yet so saturated and at the same time this new branch gives us a cool image. Speaking of image: we work with PR agencies in New York and Los Angeles that take care of celebrity dressing.

Today we received an image of the singer Adele wearing a knitted cashmere scarf, last week we got one of Heidi Klum. And other stars such as Gwen Stefani or Cate Blanchett wear our fashion – which is extremely important in order to be able to compete on the global market.

​L.L.

How do you get stars to wear fashion by “Iris von Arnim”?

V.v.A.

It definitely does not help to simply send stars clothing packages. With a large budget you could of course pay celebrities to wear certain labels. We prefer to work together with stylists that advise celebrities in terms of outfits for image cultivation. These are then invited into our showrooms and they choose the rightpieces for their clients. 

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​L.L.

What are your thoughts on your position on the global market?

V.v.A.

The market is a big problem. There is too much clothing by too many brands of every price category. The really cheap companies are always going to be around. We can prevail because we’re a cashmere specialist and deliver only finest quality. The customers pay increasingly more attention to quality and they prefer buying less but better quality that will last.

​L.L.

Describe you typical client to us.

V.v.A.

Our typical client is a self-confident woman who has her own opinion on the world and who does not need to show off the big labels she buys. The typical client is around 40 years old, educated and intellectual. A lady who likes to go to the theatre and read the ZEIT.

​L.L.

Do you design too?

V.v.A.

I share my thoughts and ideas with our designers for the men’s collection and I decide what has to look how. The technical know-how comes from our staff who develop the ideas and put them into practise.

​L.L.

You have boutiques in Munich, Düsseldorf, Sylt and Kitzbühel. Why did you decide on Kitzbühel, this comparatively small town?

V.v.A.

Holiday destinations are increasingly becoming popular shopping destinations. The people in the cities are stressed, they work incredibly long hours and are always out and about. They hardly ever have time or wish to go shopping. When on holiday people can stroll through the shops together and have fun picking the most beautiful pieces in a stress-free way.

​L.L.

And what is the special attraction that Kitzbühel has for you?

V.v.A.

I love skiing and Kitzbühel is the perfect place for it. The people here enjoy the good life, you can eat well here and meet international people. The wonderful old town with the Wilder Kaiser in the background is the perfect place to relax and recharge.

L.L.

You are regulars in Lech. Why here?

V.v.A.

The place is incredibly athletic; the locals are excellent skiers and extremely warm hosts. Many families have been coming to Lech for 30, 40 years and they experience a special connection with their holiday homes. You won’t find mass accommodation here, instead there are hosts who make you feel welcome and well cared for.

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​L.L.

Skiing holiday and comfy sweater are the perfect combination. What are your thoughts on that sort of comfort?

V.v.A.

In Kitzbühel I like to stroll through the 700-year old city centre in a comfy outfit and enjoy the view of the Wilder Kaiser. It’s great that one is always so warmly welcome here. 

Valentin von Arnim’s Wordrap

Style is characterised by …

a certain sense for the occasion, the situation and for one’s own person. One should know what fits.

50 …

is the number of sweaters I have in my closet.