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Swiss designer cuts a dash in world of couture

Akris spring summer collection 2004. Akris/swissinfo

Akris clothes may not be as instantly recognisable as Gucci or Dior, yet this discreet label ranks among the world’s most successful couture houses.

This content was published on May 17, 2004 - 09:19

The Swiss family-run business has outlets around the world and counts Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields and Princess Caroline of Monaco among its fans.

After seven decades of quietly going about its business of crafting clothes of impeccable elegance, Akris is now strutting its stuff on the Paris catwalks and the pages of Vogue.

The bolder image is partly down to Albert Kriemler – the grandson of Akris founder Alice Kriemler – who was determined to see his creations hanging on the racks of the world’s leading fashion stores.

“My big ambition was to get into New York’s Bergdorf Goodman store, which is the window to the world for every fashion designer,” smiles Kriemler.

Ever since the breakthrough in the United States in 1988, Akris stores have been popping up in fashion-conscious cities around the world, including Paris, Tokyo and Vienna.

No fashion slave

In 1999 Akris became one of the few non-French members of the prestigious French Couture Federation, thereby securing its slot at the twice-yearly Paris fashion shows.

But despite Akris’s burgeoning global success, Kriemler refuses to be a slave to fashion. His goal, he says, is to create beautiful clothes for busy women.

“A woman has to be able to work and travel in her clothes, and still feel wonderful in them at the end of a long day.”

Craftsmanship and fabric are at the heart of the St Gallen-based company, explains the designer.

“Akris will never be instantly recognised by the masses, but we’ll always be recognised by insiders because of details like hand-sewn buttons and sleeves, and the weave of the fabric.

Fabric fetish

“Everything starts with the fabric. Fabric is essential because that’s what you wear on your skin. Most designers only think about how the fabric looks and not about how it feels,” he says.

Kriemler says he constantly works on developing new fabrics such as cashmeres and tweeds, some of which are still woven in the textiles town of St Gallen.
“I can only sketch my designs when I have the fabric in my hand,” Kriemler says, “because the drape and feel of the fabric dictates the kind of garment and shape we can make.”

Vintage clothes are another big source of inspiration for Kriemler, who regularly sifts through auctions and market stalls in search of a couture treasure.

Time pressure

“These clothes have fabulous workmanship,” he says, holding up a black Christian Dior evening dress from the 1950s. “We can’t even afford to make clothes in this way anymore.

“But there’s too much vintage being reproduced at the moment. The thing is to do vintage with a modern edge.”

Although Kriemler designs most of the clothes, dozens of stylists and seamstresses are responsible for turning them into fitting, wearable outfits.

“I’ve inherited a fantastic team who are very focused. My job is to make the final decisions about a garment, often under extreme time pressure,” he explains.

Albert Kriemler runs Akris with his brother, Peter, who is responsible for management and production. They are the third generation of Kriemlers to be at the helm of the couture house, which began life in 1922.

And despite jet-setting around the globe for shows and store openings, Albert says he has no intention of moving Akris to a more obvious fashion hub, such as Paris or Milan.

“This is where I work best. It’s a lovely town with perfect weather and clean air. I have a fabulous life,” he grins.

swissinfo, Vanessa Mock

Key facts

Akris timeline
1922: Alice Kriemler Schoch sets up Akris fashion house in St Gallen.
1945: Her son Max takes over and builds up the prêt-a-porter label.
1980: Grandson Albert Kriemler becomes creative director.
1988: Albert and brother Peter take control of the company.
1996: Akris opens its first boutiques in Paris and Boston.
1999-2004: New boutiques opened in Seoul, Tokyo, Vienna, New York, Hamburg.

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In brief

Akris clothes are produced in St Gallen, Zurich and Ticino and sold at 500 points of sale worldwide.

The firm employs 550 staff.

In Switzerland, the clothes can be purchased at Grieder les Boutique, Zurich.

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