Interview: Samantha Wills
Samantha Wills has the height, figure and face of a model and the branding nous of, say, Apple.
The designer is the ideal ambassador for her eponymous label, best known for its dreamy, vintage-style, bohemian luxe jewellery. She travels the globe looking ever-so glamorous but also approachable. Her Instagram and Facebook feeds suggest the wonderful world of Wills is full of fresh flowers, jewels, skulls, old-world objects and - yes - adoring fans.
The skilful branding of her products has aided her in pulling off a bit of a magic trick - creating products that are at once seen as high-end but accessible. They are not the junk jewellery pieces of teen-oriented chain stores destined for one season only. They are not so hopelessly pricey they seem out of reach. Women buy in droves. The New York Times hailed her as a breakout star. Things are rather rose-tinted for the Australian label.
The Port Macquarie-raised Wills has been a Sydneysider since 2004. This was the year she introduced her pieces at Australian Fashion Week. The self-taught designer has crafted pieces since she was at school and has gone from a Bondi Beach market stall to international label beloved by celebrities.
Her latest venture has been to expand into the realm of stationery and homewares. At a recent launch, her pieces - notecards bearing images of women bedecked with feathers and flowers, wooden boxes with peacocks intricately etched into them, bell jars, and old-fashioned letter seals - were shown at a Redfern antiques shop. The store, Seasonal Concepts, full of exotica such as taxidermy birds and even a glassy-eyed giraffe, was a darkly beautiful backdrop for her jewels and new objects.
After the formalities, we sat down with the designer for a chat.
CL: Do you love encountering people who are wearing some of the first pieces you ever made?
SW: That's one of the most heart-warming things. If it's an early piece it has been handmade by me, whether it's from the markets or the first seasons.
CL: Besides stationery, what other directions will you take the label in? You've mentioned handbags?
SW: Handbags are in the design process at the moment. They will be small leather goods, not big bags. More like clutches. They will incorporate our Bohemian Bardot signature pendants [a teardrop-shaped stone in a textured metal setting]. You'll see them over the next two seasons. I'd love to do an apparel line one day, but it's a very organic brand. If something makes sense to me personally at the time - if I will personally use it - it's an easy gauge of something that will work for the brand.
CL: Take me through the design and production process for your jewellery.
SW: It's about a nine-month process before you see it on shelves. I sit down and work out the palettes out first for future season. Whether I find something in a vintage market or have a profile in my head, I work around these key shapes. I duplicate and kaleidoscope them together and then run four stories per collection.
We send our illustrations to our production houses who make all the moulds. We approve the mould, it gets filled and becomes a casting. From there we select the stones we want to use, the piece gets plated, the stones get set, the first sample comes back, we approve or make changes, the second sample comes back, then we go to market to sell. That doesn't even include our packaging!
CL: Has business acumen been key to brand survival?
SW: My business partner is the numbers side of the business. I make good decisions in a branding sense. We're not a product company, we're a brand company and brands need longevity. To do that you need to nurture, protect and make smart decisions in the moment that might not necessarily be financially rewarding in that moment but if you want a global brand you need to make long-term decisions.
CL: How does one establish an international design presence?
SW: There's no right time to do it, sometimes you've just got to go and do things. Being patient is another thing. You can always be ready to go, but you should be patient and not force things that could result in bad decisions being made. It has to feel right. As a female, you have a gut instinct you need to listen to rather than make decisions based on what the industry [demands] financially.
CL: How important is social media to a label?
SW: It's incredibly important. I could be biased because it's a huge platform for us. In such a saturated market people [ask themselves] ''Why do I like that brand? Why should I choose that brand?'' The thing that will keep people within a brand is that emotional connection and sense of belonging and social media allows you to do that.
CL: Your jewellery has been described as ''not a million miles'' from what can be bought at Diva. But what would you say sets it apart?
SW: We're in the same category but with Diva jewellery, the price point of it dictates the quality of it. The design process I explained [above] - I can guarantee chainstores don't go through that process. There's a design integrity to what we do. There's a journey each piece goes on, there's the packaging [hand-carved mango wood boxes], there's the brand. There's the story behind the brand, there's all these touch points. High street brands are needed, and while it's the same category, I don't think the brands are comparable.
CL: Which woman in history would you like to put in your pieces?
SW: I don't know if I could name one. We draw a lot of quotes from women in history. I am inspired by women who are confident to chart their own path and to live a creative existence and not look at life as a dress rehearsal. Go and touch the four corners of the globe. There are so many amazing women who have gone before us and I hope we bring the essence of their pioneering into what we do.