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Clothes with love since 1990NEUCHÂTEL 2000, rue des Moulins 43, + 41 (0)32 721 33 21; VERBIER 1936, rue de Médran 21, + 41 (0)27 775 69 78; LAUSANNE 1003, rue Saint-Pierre 1, + 41 (0)21 312 63 60


Clothes with love since 1990
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PLEASURE AND FREEDOM Rosanna Bühler in conversation with Joël Vacheron Neuchâtel, October 2023

J: Women have always been a starting point in your relationship with fashion. Why did you immediately choose to focus all your attention on womenswear?

R: I grew up with a very strong and coquettish mother. Her elegance was expressed in a minimal, understated style. She passed on to me the idea that fashion could express an unconventional femininity in subtle ways. It’s something that’s deeply rooted in me and has always guided my choices. When I became interested in fashion, I was quickly drawn to designers who were able to reproduce this simplicity, who transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary, who knew how to be minimal but never classic.

J: During the 1990s, brands such as Maison Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto, Jil Sander and Comme des Garçons didn’t go to just any city and they didn’t necessarily agree to be associated with just any brand. How did you manage to convince them?

R: When I went to visit the showrooms in Milan or Paris, I felt a bit like an ant among heavyweights. I was probably the person buying the smallest quantities, for a shop located in a city nobody knew. On the other hand, I built up a reputation for being assertive and quick in my buying. I never took notes and I didn’t need to do a lot of research or ask a lot of questions when I arrived at a showroom. I bought following my instinct and sometimes brands or other retailers would ask my opinion on pieces in a collection. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted. In fact, I’ve never given much importance to the commercial aspect. I have a very strong sense of the people and things around me. Perhaps it was this sincerity that convinced the designers to trust me.

J: Looking at your list of collaborations, you quickly stood out for your ability to spot future icons...

R: Indeed, many of the brands I collaborated with from the outset have gone on to achieve remarkable successes. I was constantly on the lookout for something new and, above all, for authentic personalities that resonated with my own experiences. It took me a long time to realise that my approach was a bit like that of a chef who goes shopping for the ingredients she needs to make her recipes.

J: What are the attitudes or styles that move you and that you want to share with your customers?

R: I’ve always played with the codes of sensuality, subtly diverting them. It’s really in the deconstruction of archetypes and the recomposition of details associated with women’s fashion that I express my creativity most freely. I’ve never been interested in clothes that are works of art. And I’ve always loved people. My relationship with customers is very spontaneous and through the years, I have built a community. The concern many of my customers have is that there are too many choices, too many styles to choose from and they get lost. A big part of my job is giving them their confidence back, finding clothes that bring out the richness of their personality. I have a good sense of who they are and they trust me. When a person is comfortable in the clothes they wear, they exude something. Movements are freer and this sense of well-being brings freedom. I love to watch clothes come to life when they’re worn, when they give someone a sense of style and make them bolder.

J: You’ve managed to surround yourself with a very close-knit team. Can you say a few words about the people around you and how you work?

R: Coline’s the designer, Morgane’s the intellectual and Yasmine’s the saleswoman. What they all have in common are their extraordinary sensitivity and intelligence. They’re empathetic, humble and funny. I do my utmost to make all the people who work with me feel as comfortable as possible. We help each other in everyday life and take care of each other. We all feel stronger when we're together and it’s such an amazing feeling to know you are understood. I never set out to make this dream team, people just came along at the right time. My whole life has been a bit like that, made up of beautiful encounters and others not so beautiful which also have their importance in this story. A big part of the job is knowing how to choose well and that starts with the people you work with. You have to seize opportunities when they arise and pay attention to details. Then you can let go.

J: To what extent does this caring environment influence the design or production process?

R: Garment manufacturing is a world where human relationships are sometimes dishonest and, over the years, I think I’ve come to identify people with whom it’s possible to have a relationship of trust. Chance encounters often guide my choices. There’s also a family dimension. I work a lot with members of my family who live in southern Italy. My cousin Patrizia, with the help of her husband Silvio, makes all the knitted sweaters by hand. As she’s on her own, she can’t make large quantities. We always give her the time she needs to complete the work at her own pace. I also work with an Italian company that holds dead stocks of luxurious fabrics from major international groups. We go there regularly to buy fabrics, without knowing in advance what we’ll use them for. We cut samples and bring them back to Switzerland. I love the moment when we have all these pieces spread out on our desk and we ask ourselves “What are we going to do now?”

J: What prompted you to start making your own designs?

R: I’d never made clothes until I decided to create the perfect white t-shirt. You can find lots of great white t-shirts, but I’d never found one that suited me perfectly. So I spent a few months researching and when the t-shirt came out, it was an immediate and extraordinary success. After that, things followed in a very natural way, as we gradually added new pieces, consolidated our team and our areas of expertise. One thing led to another and we reached the point where we felt we could do anything. Although I was aware of the quality of my work, it took me a long time to accept that this success had to do with the quality of my creations. It was when I opened a third boutique in Verbier, a place where nobody knew me, that I realised that my creations appealed to a demanding international clientele. We took the time to think about the best way to develop the brand, while keeping our autonomy and passion for fashion intact.

J: Can you define the style that characterises you?

R: There are two words that sum up my approach and it’s the first thing I say to the people I work with: pleasure and freedom. My greatest luxury as a fashion designer is to have the time to do things the way I want to, without anyone telling me what to do. Everything I’ve experienced, I’ve wanted. I’ve always been prepared to make sacrifices, to take risks, to maintain this independence. As a result, my style is an integral part of my life and I don’t always have enough distance to describe it. It’s influenced by my personal history, by my Italian origins, by Switzerland, by all the things that surround me and affect me on a daily basis. There’s a bit of my passion for Belgian and Japanese designers. There’s also a certain idea of modernity and a discreet penchant for provocation. My clothes seem simple at first glance, but I like to play with contrasts and details. My clothes can be worn for any occasion. You can go shopping in the morning and, with a little lipstick, go out in the evening. What makes this possible: the exceptional quality of the raw materials and amazing talent. This last point is essential! It's an incredible opportunity to be surrounded by so many beautiful people and my aim is to ensure that as long as possible, everyone can share in this happiness.

J: Indeed, this aspect seems to be ever-present, something that’s rather rare these days?

R: We didn’t draw up a charter to say we were doing ethical fashion, it’s always been a part of our DNA and it’s reflected in everything we do. In the relationships we have with our suppliers, customers and garment factories. We visit every site personally to make sure that working conditions are optimal. I didn’t learn much from my upbringing, but I always remembered my mother saying to me: “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t like them to do to you.“ It's really quite simple, I always want the people I work with to be well paid, respected and happy with what they do. For example, once I’ve decided to work with suppliers, I never discuss production prices. It's important when you choose to collaborate with people to make sure that they are paid what they decide their work is worth.

J: Are these the same reasons why you decided to launch your own brand?

R: Beautiful things always happen at the right time, and it’s nice now, as I reach retirement age, to fully commit to being a designer. People often tell me it’s a bit crazy to spend all that energy for something so niche. But it's so amazing to be able to fully indulge this dream, to no longer live by other people’s creations, to feel that all these beautiful things come from my guts. By creating this brand, I feel above all that I'm opening myself up to the world, that I am creating a situation that will generate other situations, other encounters.

J: This autonomy is also evident in your choice never to work according to the seasonal calendar. What were the reasons behind this decision?

R: My aim has always been to detach myself as much as possible from constraining elements, so as to have as many options as possible to go where I want, with whom I want and under the conditions that suit me best. I decided then not to do seasons largely to avoid the constraint of deadlines. In hindsight, it was the right choice and I still try to organise myself to sell everything that's produced. Today, my pieces are sold exclusively in my boutiques and I'm totally detached from the pressure of seasons and sales.

J: If we go back to your origins, your first steps in the fashion world were as precocious as they were unusual. What were the moments or anecdotes that inspired you to launch your career?

R: I belong to the generation of children born to Italian immigrants known as segundos. When I was twenty, my family moved back to Italy and I was left on my own in Switzerland, having to find a way of earning a living. As I’d been expelled from compulsory school and had no formal training, I worked various small jobs. By chance, I worked for a brand that had to inventory clothes damaged by a fire. I really enjoyed immersing myself in the pile of clothes and touching the textiles. It revived memories of my childhood. My mother owned a dry cleaners. She was very meticulous and her customers entrusted her with their most delicate garments. She taught me how to differentiate between fabrics and to appreciate the quality of a good make. The sensations provoked by this world of textiles fascinated me! As a teenager, I loved fashion and being in the midst of these smoky clothes made me realise that this intimate relationship I had with clothes had to be at the centre of my life.

J: The history of your brand is closely linked to Neuchâtel. Is there any particular reason why you chose a small Swiss town to launch your business?

R: I was born in Italy, grew up in the Valais region and when my family left Switzerland, the time seemed right to discover what was going on behind the mountains. Plus, I’d made so many mistakes as a teenager that I needed a fresh start. I chose to settle in Neuchâtel by chance. It’s a small town, there’s a lake, people speak French... And so I decided to stay. I went round all the stores and soon found a job as a sales assistant in a boutique. From then on, I understood that if I wanted to build something solid, it was important not to move around too much and to work a lot. There was something exhilarating about being in a city where I didn’t know anyone. It allowed me to immerse myself totally in my project, away from the pressure of big cities. Looking back, I realise that I was so determined that I could have done the same thing anywhere.

J: Can you tell us a little about the background to the opening of your first boutique?

R: I met Yves, my husband, at the age of 23. We pooled our small savings and completely restored dilapidated premises at the end of a street. At the age of 26, I opened my first boutique very instinctively, and it was an instant success! It was unexpected, but I’ve always believed that dreams eventually come true. Little by little, I brought in more and more designers. I never followed any sales strategies and simply let myself be guided by my love for their work. Over the years, I built up this small, very loyal community that came for the selection of brands, but also for my style and personality.

J: How have you dealt with the profound changes in the fashion industry in recent years?

R: Even though the city I live in hasn’t changed much over the years, I’ve still had to adapt to changing trends and markets. This hasn’t had a great impact on my approach. The more I progressed, the more certain I became of my aesthetic decisions and the type of collaborations I wanted to initiate. It’s a bit like drawing. The more you practise, the more you refine your technique and style. The composition is always more precise and personal and you’re always more demanding in terms of the type of emotions you want to convey. This has enabled me to get through the ups and downs of fashion without worrying about trends or opinions. When you’re driven by the desire to create, you can never get discouraged. This has enabled me to define a strategy that continues to guide my aesthetic choices and my business ethics: work hard, stay focused and above all stay true to yourself.

J: How do you see Rosanna Bühler?

R: Life is made up of trials and tribulations and sometimes it takes a lifetime to find yourself in the right place. That’s how I feel about creating a brand under my own name. I love Switzerland, where I’ve spent my whole life. But, deep down, I’ve always remained 100% Italian. Being able to work with artisans in Italy is a way of reconnecting with my origins, while enabling people in my family to improve their quality of life. Our collaboration anchors me a little more firmly in my own culture. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve surrounded myself with a team of wonderful young people to whom I want to offer the best. I want to pass on to them everything I’ve learned. Beyond the know-how, my love for human connection. It’s wonderful to be fully in tune with yourself. It’s like a state of grace. It’s as if all the planets have aligned and my path has led me to where I was always meant to be. I’m no longer afraid to express myself through my own name. I’m no longer afraid to say that I exist.