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Akris: A Swiss Legacy

Profiles

By Jessica Michault

When Albert Kriemler walks into a room he doesn’t turn heads. Tall and lanky with salt-and-pepper hair and thick-rimmed glasses, he can easily blend in with a crowd. But then, ever so slowly, his understated elegance, refined manners and his calming presence begin to draw people to him, like moths to a flame.

That same subtle heat could also describe the clothing that Kriemler designs for Akris. The house has built a sterling reputation for producing evergreen pieces in luxe fabrics—designs that satisfy the needs of women looking for outfits that have a classical foundation with just a touch of edge and ingenuity to make them feel modern.

“There is only one house like it,” says Didier Gumbach, the president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. The French fashion body that, for the past decade, has invited Akris to show its ready-to-wear collection during Paris Fashion Week. “Albert is passionate about the métier, fashion and above all quality,” adds Gumbach.

It’s a passion that has been passed down through generations of Kriemlers. Back in 1922, the family-run business got its start when Kriemler’s grandmother, Alice Kriemler-Schoch, began making aprons in her home on a single sewing machine. Her simple and straightforward “Swiss dot”-patterned aprons became known for their quality and durability. Moreover, the name Akris was born as a derivative of Kriemler-Schoch’s first and last names. From there, the business grew under the guidance of her son Max Kriemler and his wife Ute who, for 40 years, developed the brand as a luxury label while subsidizing this expansion by producing pieces for other renowned designers like Ted Lapidus and Hubert de Givenchy.

“I grew up amidst patterns and seamstresses in the fashion house my grandmother had founded, during a time when my parents were transforming it into an international brand,” acknowledges Kriemler. “I started to draw clothes at a very young age. I’ve always loved fabrics and I traveled to shows with my parents. It was a natural thing—fashion is in the roots of my family.”

From those humble beginnings, three generations of the family have helped turn the discrete Akris brand into a worldwide fashion powerhouse. Kriemler joined the family business in 1980 and today is its creative director, setting the sartorial course for the house, while his brother Peter is the company’s CEO and deals with the financial side of the business. “It’s close and fast and loyal,” says Kriemler about the advantages of working with family. The ability to move quickly without having to worry about backlash from investors (or the risk of a third party trying to take control of the house) has given him a creative freedom like no other.

Kriemler also points to the unique location where his brand is based as a major asset and one of the key reasons behind its success. Situated in the mountain city of St. Gallen, Switzerland, Akris takes full advantage of the town’s heritage as a center for the textile industry. Since the 15th century, the city has produced quality textiles and has been at the forefront of innovations in the field. It has a particular expertise in the arenas of lace and embroidery. In fact, it was in St. Gallen that the first embroidery machines were put to use. “Some of the most advanced companies creating fabrics are based here,” says Kriemler. “Design teams from Paris and Milan travel here to check out what’s new. We are here every day. That generates a different level of cooperation.”

The house might be based in Switzerland, but it seems to be particularly in tune with what American women are looking for in their designer clothing purchases. According to Colleen Sherin, the senior fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, the success of Akris in the United States comes from a number of critical factors that the brand is able to faultlessly blend together: “There is the focus on the finest materials, the impeccable tailoring and the designs that are classic and timeless, offering just enough fashion to be current and relevant. It’s a brand that is truly defined by understated luxury.”

Kriemler remembers first registering the power of fashion when he was a very young boy, watching the effect that his mother would have on people when she would arrive at events looking modern and elegant. So keen was his eye that he still remembers a yellow, lacquered Courrèges coat and also an ecru, heavy wool crêpe Ted Lapidus coat she wore when he was about seven years old.

It is this attention to detail and the designer’s fascination with incorporating new fabrics into his work that has helped push Akris to the higher echelons of ready-to-wear fashion. It’s why Kriemler has found loyal customers in the likes of H.S.H. Princess Charlene of Monaco, whose cool grace and statuesque beauty is a living and breathing incarnation of the Akris ethos.

Kriemler is a bit of a renaissance man. His interests are as diverse as they are heartfelt. Art and literature as well as architecture, film, nature and modern photography intrigue him; he is ceaselessly in search of new avenues of inspiration. Currently, the European spacecraft Rosetta, which has been traveling though the cosmos since 2004, captivates him. Its purpose? “To chase a comet and put a satellite on its surface 800 million kilometers from Mother Earth this August to find out what really happened during the Big Bang,” explains the designer.

One area of Kriemler’s work where all of this exploration comes into fine focus is through the vibrant prints he uses in each of his collections. They’ve been as diverse as the images of Formula 1 racecars and streetlamps to green algae and honeycombs. It’s more often than not that these prints set the tone and steer a collection into a particular direction.

This clever use of prints has helped to keep Kriemler on message with his designs. He presently produces 10 collections a year, so he admits that his creative process is rather structured, although he confesses that most moments of inspiration come to him while he’s traveling. And when he’s not on the road for the house, he’s hard at work at the brand’s headquarters. By 8 a.m., he’s in his atelier working with his design team and doesn’t leave his desk until at least 7 p.m. If he has any free time, Kriemler likes to spend it with his close-knit group of friends.

But it’s clear that nurturing the Akris brand into the next century of its existence is at the heart of everything that Kriemler does. For the designer, the continued prosperity of Akris comes down to getting a few fundamental fashion elements right: “It is about looking fabulous, but it’s also about feeling at ease and experiencing a certitude that is enhanced by the best of fabrics, and the perfect cut and fit. It has to feel right all the time. This is happiness for me. It’s exciting to witness a new generation of dedicated, open-minded and sleek women discovering Akris.”

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