Maria Lucia Hohan, designer of exquisite dresses, is finally enjoying her red-carpet moment
2011 was definitely the year that put designer Maria Lucia Hohan on the international fashion map. And a very glamorous one that is, as Hohan’s ultra-feminine, flowing dresses were worn at seemingly every music, film awards ceremony and premiere around the world (and especially in Hollywood) by celebrities like Kristin Cavallari, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Sharon Osbourne, Stacey Keibler (who radiates in Hohan’s dresses every time she appears by her boyfriend’s, George Clooney, side), actress Nicki Reed (who recently dazzled in a plunging white gown created by Hohan at the Rome Film Festival screening of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1). Even Jennifer Hudson wore a youthful yet appropriate black dress when she sang “Happy Birthday!” this summer to president Obama. And Rosario Dawson donned a trendy, red-hot dress designed by Maria Lucia Hohan on the October 2011 cover of Latina magazine. Yet this kind of exposure didn’t come overnight, and designer Maria Lucia Hohan’s success story isn’t a conventional one, but a good example of an artist with a practical sense and an independent spirit who made the best of the circumstances around her.
Born in Romania, she studied at the College of Applied Arts in Paris, and soon after graduation traded Paris for Milan, where she worked as fashion illustrator for the Italian design house Krizia. She soon realized that, despite the advantages of living, studying and working in two of the most important fashion capitals, the fashion market of these cities was dominated by well-known names, which made it difficult for a 23-year-old, fresh-out-of-design school, who didn’t have extraordinary financial resources, to start her own design studio and establish herself as an independent designer recognized for her own brand and style. But unlike many other young designers who dreamt of creating their own house yet chose to keep working for known houses, Maria saw an opportunity to make her dream a reality in her native country, which at the time was open to entrepreneurial initiatives, especially in such locally less-explored fields as fashion design. So she took a chance and opened her own studio in her native Bucharest eight years ago, which proved to be just the move she needed. The low costs of production and living in Romania made it easy for Maria to find an affordable yet pleasant location for her studio, to build a team she can rely on, and to develop her own style and creative vision. And post-Communist Romania’s opening towards the rest of the world allowed her to participate at fashion fairs in Paris, where she promoted her line, and she expertly used the explosion of the internet to sell her designs through her website, http://www.marialuciahohan.com/ and online store, http://mlh-shop.com/, while the proliferation of fashion blogs and social media sites helped increase international awareness of her brand . Maria’s new promotion strategies and intuition paid off, and her line slowly gained recognition outside the borders of Romania, with her designs being featured in important magazines around the world, fashion bloggers and journalists praising her talent, which also led to more and more prominent stylists asking her for outfits that were appropriate for their celebrity clients’ red-carpet appearances. And indeed, it now seems like every day more international celebrities are noticed at important events for wearing the dreamy gowns created by Maria Lucia Hohan, who is happy to keep working from her Bucharest studio. This year marked not only an important career progress for Maria, but also the birth of her first child, a girl, about whom Maria wrote on Facebook, from the maternity hospital, a few hours after she gave birth in October “Last night I became the mother of a baby girl. I love her so much! She is perfect!” Indeed, the future never looked so bright and promising for the tenacious, perseverant, passionate and talented Maria Lucia Hohan. The Vogue City is honored to feature an exclusive interview with this designer the fashion world is and should take notice of!
The Stylish City: How did you juggle your recent pregnancy with your growing success as a fashion designer, which this year has taken your brand to a new level of international recognition?
Maria Lucia Hohan: Pregnancy is a natural stage for every woman and, even more, an amazing source of happiness and fulfillment, which inspired me even more, and which completes me. I did not feel that the pregnancy was an obstacle that affected my work, and on the other hand, I adore what I do for a living, which means that I am now twice as happy.
TSC: Do you think that the pregnancy and your new role as a mother have affected your perspective on your career, business, and design vision in any way?
MLH: Not necessarily, but it has certainly inspired me to create next year a clothing line for little girls, who will be able to dress like their mothers, but, of course, in clothing items and sizes appropriate for their age.
TSC: Would you like your daughter to follow in your footsteps and pursue a career in fashion design
MLH: Of course I would like her to have a design-related career, especially in clothing design, because this would allow us to work together. But I will give her the freedom to make her own choices, and, even though that choice would make me extremely happy, I will not try to impose on her a particular career track.
TSC: Everyone would like to know how did your creations end up on well-known and up-and-coming singers and actresses who were photographed in them at red carpet events in Hollywood, which is so far away from Bucharest, where you are based, and how come Jennifer Hudson wore a dress designed by you when she sang for president Obama on his birthday?
MLH: I have been attending fashion trade fairs in Paris and showing my designs in showrooms there for years, and those events helped me get noticed by international stylists, who started to dress their celebrity clients in my pieces. Once I got on their lists, and had a few dresses, which were noticed by the media, worn on the red carpet, more and more stylists started to contact me and we now have collaborate closely with them for these types of events, which usually take place in Los Angeles.
TSC: Did stylists contact you through your online store? What do you think helped put you get noticed by them and by international fashion journalists (besides talent, obviously)?
MLH: The recipe to get their attention was a combination of my online shop, the articles about my collections posted on fashion blogs from all over the world, the fact that I promoted my line through Facebook, and the newsletters I send to a database of journalists and stylists. It’s important to try to reach stylists, fashion journalists and bloggers through any medium, and I think the internet is a magic tool in that sense, it makes the distance between them and my collections considerably shorter.
TSC: Which female celebrities who have worn your designs represented your style and fashion sensibility best and you would like to dress them again? What high-profile women who have not worn your creations would you like to dress?
MLH: Probably the most representative in this sense were Rosario Dawson, Selena Gomez and Jennifer Hudson. As to celebrities who haven’t worn my pieces yet, I don’t dare to dream too far. I like to do things one step at a time and to create the right opportunities that will eventually lead me to A-list actresses.
TSC: What are your hopes for the future in terms of dressing people for red carpet events? I think that every young designer ultimately wants to see actresses and other personalities nominated for the Golden Globes and for the Oscars dressed in their own pieces.
MLH: My hopes in this sense are as very high, because we receive requests for outfits from stylists for important U.S. personalities on a daily basis, so my dreams seem to get closer and closer to becoming a reality.
TSC: What advice do you have for young designers? Your story can inspire and give hope that it is possible to gain international recognition to other designers who don’t live in a major fashion capital, like Paris, London, Milan or New York.
MLH: My advice is that they should forget about the traditional promotion methods and to consider innovative promotion outlets, like blogs and social media websites, which have flourished and grown in number during the last years, and which created real opportunities for every designer, from any corner of the world, to be seen and “discovered.”
TSC: You studied textile design in Paris, then you worked in Milan for Krizia, and after that experience you returned to your native city, Bucharest, where you slowly built your own brand, whose international recognition and presence keeps growing. Tell us what made you leave Romania for Paris and Milan in the first place, and why did you return to Bucharest a few years later?
MLH: It’s a very long story, and those decisions had a lot to do with certain moments and events from my personal life. I had the chance to study fashion in Paris and then the courage to leave Paris for Milan one month after my graduation, in order to try my luck in this field there. The doors always opened easily for me, maybe it’s a matter of destiny. And when I returned to Romania, I thought it would be a temporary stay, but I am still here eight years later and I never regretted this decision, not even for a second, because I could not have conceived this business and accomplished what I have accomplished so far anywhere else but here. I was lucky to benefit from an economic context which was ideal for my development and for hiring a team of people, because I started my business during a time when entrepreneurship in this field was easier to achieve here than anywhere else. There are many small details which made it possible for me to grow just through my clients and their orders, without outside financial investments or loans.
TSC: Do you think that after your studies and work experience in Paris and Milan, Romania, where the number of well-established clothing designers and the living and production costs are smaller, offered you more creative freedom and liberty to become an entrepreneur than Paris or Milan, where it was probably much easier to find mentors, but more difficult to establish your own name and brand, when you were a young fashion school graduate?
MLH: Yes, my previous answer was a partial response to this question, but I would like to confirm that it is indeed easier for me as a designer to live and work in Romania, while I can promote my collections and sell them internationally, than to actually live and work in one of the so-called fashion capitals of the world, where the financial and legal aspects for an entrepreneur like me would be much more complicated. And I never wanted to work for somebody else, I didn’t have idols in fashion design and I find it hard to adjust to somebody else’s work style, so I found the perfect solution for myself.
TSC: How important do you think it is for a young designer, and for a young artist in general, to find such a space, which offers sources of inspiration for their work, resources for production and survival, and also a degree of freedom which allows you to create your own style and to build your business at a pace you are comfortable with?
MLH: It is essential to find the right human resources in order to build a work team with which you can communicate very well, in a place that meets your needs as a designer and where you have the freedom to choose, on a daily basis, how, with whom and at what pace you want to work. What I enjoy most about having my own design studio and my own team is that I have so much freedom in order to create and shape my own universe, according to my own desires and needs.
TSC: Still, did your studies and work experience in two of the best-known fashion capitals help you build your own brand you?
MLH: It has helped me very much to experience the French and Italian work methods and ways of thinking, both in the past, and it will certainly help me a lot in the future.
TSC: Do you think that if you didn’t have these experiences from Paris and Milan on your CV, you would have been able to reach the high standards and unique style of your current collections, and to gain the international recognition that you have today?
MLH: What mattered most was the fact that I got to live in those cities; I didn’t learn very much on a creative level from my work at companies in Paris and Milan.
TSC: Could you name a few well-known designers who have inspired and influenced your work?
MLH: I would like to believe that I am not influenced by the style of any other designers, but of course that I have some clear preferences- Valentino, Stella McCartney, Nina Ricci, Sonia Rykiel.
TSC: Do you think that the women you create for, and who wear your pieces, have certain common characteristics, like an age range, sense of style, etc.?
MLH: What my clients have in common is a preference for feminine, simple and delicate clothes.
TSC: Could you describe the over-all sensibility of your line in just a few words?
MLH: Luxury wear for urban divas.
TSC: Would you or do you wear your own designs, do they reflect your personal style when it comes to dressing?
MLH: That is a difficult question to answer, because most of my pieces are evening wear and appropriate for red-carpet or black-tie events, while my own life is not so glamorous, it doesn’t allow me or give me the opportunities to wear my own creations. But they definitely reflect my soul and my dreams, and represent the only outlet which lets me truly express myself.
TSC: You said that your designs are feminine, delicate and that you are not a big fan of androgynous looks. How does your line, which emphasizes glamorous, youthful, playful yet ethereal femininity relate to the style of women who work in politics, business, or on Wall Street, since a significant number of our readers are women who live in New York or in other urban areas, and who have to follow a certain dress code at work, which includes at least one “power suit” or pencil skirt?
MLH: I don’t design for Wall Street and I don’t have an “office” line. But when these women finish work and attend a party or a wedding in the Hamptons, they can surely find appropriate pieces among my creations.
TSC: So your collections do not target these types of professional women? Do you feel that the office dress code is too conservative, rigid and involves too many rules and limitations?
MLH: Any woman experiences different types of occasions, events, and she wears different outfits for different “moments”- at work, at a wedding, at a party, at the gym. Clothing designers try to provide women with options by diversifying their lines and collections, based on different occasions. For now I only have one line, but in the future I will definitely add more lines that will fit a more broad range of styles and occasions.
TSC: Which were the most important moments for your design business, moments when you clearly felt that you were moving forward, and which were the most difficult times?
MLH: I don’t remember the most difficult times or events, those are the ones I forget first and I try to overcome them as fast as possible. The most important moments have certainly all happened in 2011, and one quickly followed another, because when you are discovered as a brand, journalists, clients and buyers all suddenly want a piece of you. But the rewards and satisfactions have been very significant, especially after I worked non-stop from Romania as an almost unknown designer for so many years.
TSC: When you started your own line in Bucharest, what were your expectations? Did you imagine back then that your creations will be liked and worn by personalities all over the world, and especially in Hollywood?
MLH: I don’t want to be a hypocrite and to not admit that I always knew I would reach this point, but I could not predict when. I am glad that my instincts were right and that I didn’t fool myself.
TSC: What are your hopes and plans for the future of your brand?
MLH: I would like to design a shoe line, a lingerie line and another one for teenage girls.
TSC: What are your favorite destinations?
MLH: Paris, New York, the South of France.
TSC: What do you think about New York and about New Yorkers?
MLH: I have only been to New York twice, and each visit lasted for 1 week maximum, so I don’t have a strong, objective opinion of the city yet. However, in the near future I plan to attend fashion trade fairs in New York and to get involved in the New York fashion circuit.
By Doris Sangeorzan
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