Christopher Esber vividly remembers the day Emily Ratajkowski first requested an Esber look. He was busy showing his collection to buyers and media in Paris when the call came through. In a flash, he took the look from the rail and ran it across the streets of Paris.
“There were crazy time requests,” he recalls to GRAZIA. “I had to run a look to the next arrondissement – I couldn’t get an Uber – to get this dress to a concierge for Emily.”
It was a moment that shot his brand into the international zeitgeist, one he says he didn’t realise would be so poignant until it happened. While it was never the designer’s plan to dress the ‘It Girls’ and celebrities, women across the world – including People Of Note – have fallen in love with Esber’s inimitable talent, unique tailoring and deconstruction approach.
Nominated for Designer Of The Year at the 15th Annual Australian Fashion Laureate Awards, we caught up to Esber to talk about the brand’s expansion, how he builds on and evolves each collection and why grabbing those off-the-cuff opportunities in life are always worth it.
GRAZIA: Some years ago, you deftly made the international expansion of your company a key priority, and we saw you join the Net-A-Porter roster in 2020. These past two years, however, we’ve really seen Christopher Esber take a stronghold over the international “It Girl” market – and thus the consumer. Was this always the plan?
CHRISTOPHER ESBER: No, it’s actually wasn’t. I was always kind of ‘anti-celebrity’. For me, it was more about seeing it on the real girl on the street or out at an event. I love seeing it out there in the wild rather than on a red carpet. There are some moments have happened but they were quite organic and we weren’t ever really actively pushing to place the brand on those ‘It Girls’, it just sort of came to us. It’s one of those things where you never know until you know. What it did for the business in such a short of amount of time was quite drastic. I kind of had to pivot and realise that if my product was more visible, that’s a great thing and I needed to lean into that. Whenever I’m working on a new collection, there’s always a narrative behind each one. It’s me dreaming up a fantasy of, ‘What do I want to see her wearing?’ and it might just be a little cropped sweater vest, but I still kind of dream up that normality of, ‘How do you wear things that are everyday, but are interesting and you are feeding back into the concept?’ That has always been what I’ve always strived to do. That whole ‘It Girl’ and celebrity placement has been secondary. But it’s kind of nice that it’s happened organically.
ESBER: It was a bit of a crescendo. There was Zendaya, Solange and Emily Ratajkowski one after the other. I think it was the power in consistency. That’s when I felt there were more eyes on the brand. I remember at that time I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ There were crazy timeframe requests, too. I was showing a collection in Paris and I had to run a look to the next arrondissement – I couldn’t get an Uber – to get this dress to a concierge for Emily. At the same time, Solange was in Cannes for an event. It was a schlep! It all happened in one day!
GRAZIA: The traffic in Paris is so bad. So you ran it across personally?
ESBER: Yes! It was a mix of a bike and a run. I feel like that was a pivotal moment. I’m glad I did it!
GRAZIA: How does the Australian Esber woman differ to the international wearer?
ESBER: They are actually quite similar. The collections are big and there are different aspects to the woman. With that, different stores buy into different pieces. This idea of ‘beach dressing but you’re not at the beach’ is the best way to put it. My cuts resemble a bikini or a swimsuit that is done in a more elevated way. We are not always trying to hit that specifically, but I think that’s what the internationals are really into and what they are wanting from me. But of course, the brand has history with tailoring. For example, our tie bra dress, which we have run for some time now, was cut in a wool suiting so there is that synergy between tailoring and beachwear.
GRAZIA: Tailoring and deconstruction are signatures of the brand. When you sit down at the drawing board to start on a new collection, where do you begin? How do you evolve the Esber woman while keeping true to the brand’s DNA?
ESBER: You’re always looking at what has worked in the past and you’re always building up on that. I think this idea of stripping back to ideas that are really pure and simple is something I’m always striving for – and that plays into that whole deconstruction approach. For me, it’s more a mood. I haven’t always worked like this. When I came out of college, I was very design and product focused, but now I’m really thinking about the images from the beginning; How is this shirt tucked in? What fabric does it need to be to do that? I’m always thinking about how she’s wearing the clothes. I think that’s how the brand is evolving. It might be a really long slouchy trouser, we might want to clean it up and end it at the ankle. I’ll think about things like that at the beginning and that’s how the style and her look evolves.
GRAZIA: What gets you inspired?
ESBER: I love things that are really tactile and I’ve always been really inspired by interiors and the materiality of different surfaces. That’s why I work with a lot of resins and stones. In regards to fabrics, once I know I like something, I generally like to run with it because it only gets better overtime. It’s like designing a car: every model that comes is meant to be better and better. That’s where I put my energy. When I pick a fabric, I start moulding and tailoring.
GRAZIA: When I look at an Esber dress online, and having worn the brand for years, I take note of the material. From this, I know what size I will be and how the fabric will stretch and mould to my body. So it makes it easier for me to purchase online, which is probably a dangerous thing!
ESBER: It’s exactly what you said, it’s about making it easier for the customer to know what works for them. With me, once I find my t-shirt shape I like, I’m buying it in every colour. During COVID, that was a full strategy. We’d seen every buyer around the world [prior to the pandemic]– whether they had bought the collection or not – and they knew the groups, they knew the fabrics. That’s why the brand really grew over the period. We were leaning on things we had shown them in the past and core groups we had built up on.
GRAZIA: What’s a hard/key lesson you have learnt in the past 12 years?
“When you have the opportunity to do something, grab it, because it might not come around again. I’ve learnt that the hard way. I think that’s super key and applies to everything, right? Life is short.”
GRAZIA: And if someone says, ‘Get that dress to Emily Ratajkowski in Paris now’, you’re going to run! And if it’s Law Roach, you’re going to run even faster.
ESBER: Exactly! [Laughs].
GRAZIA: What’s next for Christopher Esber – the brand, and the man?
ESBER: We’re looking at different categories and at how we can build up the world around the brand, the universe around the Esber woman. I’m enjoying this moment and riding the wave. You look back and have these big dreams and we’re getting there and it’s an exciting time. As for me, I’m doing what I love doing, I’m really happy. You always want a good work/life balance and I feel like I’ve got it. I always toyed with the idea of moving abroad but I love living in Sydney. I like that it can sometimes feel a little insular because you put your head down and work, not just on work, but on your self and life.