5 Questions for Bionda Castana’s Natalia Barbieri

Bionda Castana is branching out in a number of ways.

The 7-year-old label, crafted by London-based co-founders Natalia Barbieri and Jennifer Portman, recently moved its offices to make room for a bigger team.

Plus, the brand just tapped its first executive: former Versace sales head Dean Cook, who will serve as CEO.

“It’s been quite a huge step to have someone at such a senior management level,” Barbieri told Footwear News.

Store expansion is in the works, too. Bionda Castana is looking for a space in London for its first shop and aims to have future locations in cities such as Hong Kong and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“Retail is of huge importance to us,” Barbieri said. “We are making sure that everything is in line, so marketing and sales go hand-in-hand. There were certain things that weren’t working, and now we have more control and are working together as a partnership.”

Bionda Castana Spring '15
Bionda Castana Spring ’15
CREDIT: Courtesy of photo

The label has also broadened its product selection by adding pre-collections, as well as some casual silhouettes to ride the industry trend. And Barbieri noted that the mid-heel is having a moment. “It’s interesting how women wouldn’t normally see themselves in more of a sensible heel height, but there are markets in which the high heel isn’t the [hot] one,” she said. “We probably sell [more] platforms in the Middle East and Russia, and our Chinese partners love the mid-heel. That’s been quite an eye-opener.”

New styles will be represented on upcoming runways as the brand continues to focus on collaborations. In the past, the duo partnered with labels such as Honor NYC and Matthew Williamson for New York Fashion Week.

“We look for the [right partners] based on relationships, price points and brand adjacency,” Barbieri said. “It’s nice to see the shoes walk.”

Here, the designer sketches out Bionda’s expansion track and dishes on creative celebrity placements.

What are some of the big growth avenues for your company?
NB:
This is our second year designing a pre-fall collection. Naturally, it’s a constantdesign process throughout the year, but it’s completely different designing four collections per year. It has increased our wholesale business, and the pre-seasons have expanded. We’re investing more in product development, new heel heights and shapes, and moving away from being purely a stiletto brand.

How will the addition of a CEO impact the business?
NB:
[Dean] comes from a very strong sales background. His primary focus is on expanding not only the wholesale business, but when we look to the future, we naturally want to open our own retail stores. [Jennifer and I] are the creative, art directing the brand, and Dean handles the overview of our five-year plan and how to achieve our goals.

What can we expect next from the Bionda Castana team?
NB:
We are releasing a campaign and searching for more seasonal factories. We are also getting more creative with our collaborations. We are working with A.W.A.K.E. designer Natalia Alaverdian — fashion director for Harpers Bazaar Russia. It’s quite nice for us to work with emerging brands and create something we wouldn’t normally do in our main line. We’ll have a boyish monk shoe and work with the designer on a special print for fall ’15.

What is one brand secret that consumers would want to know?
NB:
Maybe that we’re British and that we are two women designing, which is quite rare. It’s important because we’re also the ones who wear [the looks]. What better way to promote your line than to test [the styles] yourself? Also, we started the brand with 10,000 euros from savings from our previous jobs. I worked on the foreign exchange trading floor [at Deutsche Bank], and Jennifer worked in marketing for a consumer-goods company.

Taylor Swift was recently spotted wearing your boots in her music video for “Blank Space.” How important is celebrity placement to your label?
NB:
It’s nothing we’ve pushed, but it’s amazing. Taylor has worn our shoes before. It’s very important outside of Fashion Week [because] it keeps the brand credited and important. You’re always hoping for those opportunities, and when it’s not planned, it’s a nice thing to wake up to. I’m sure for that video she had 1,000 pairs to choose from, so it’s nice that she chose us.

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