x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

In with the old

Ben Malka, chief of the iconic luxury label Halston Heritage, revealed the brand would soon be coming to the UAE.

Ben Malka, the chief executive of Halston Heritage, says he would like a Middle Eastern brand ambassador for Halston. Duncan Chard for the National
Ben Malka, the chief executive of Halston Heritage, says he would like a Middle Eastern brand ambassador for Halston. Duncan Chard for the National

One of the standout speakers and industry luminaries to attend Fashion Forward this season was Ben Malka, the chief executive of the luxury label Halston Heritage. We sat down with the retail guru, who revealed the brand would soon be coming to the UAE

What have you made of the UAE and Fashion Forward?

It’s my first visit, and wow! What they’ve done in such a short period of time is a tribute to humans. It’s amazing and very impressive. I think Fashion Forward is a great platform for young innovators, not only to get information but also for us to learn what the emerging generation is concerned about and how they see things. It’s a great forum.

Esquire magazine famously ran a headline in the 1970s asking: “Will Halston take over the world?” How’s business doing these days?

I think things go so much faster today. When I think back to the 1970s, people who traded country to country were conglomerates. Today, I trade on eBay with someone in Russia or China – the world has become flat, so to speak. So it’s easier today. If I had wanted to do what I’m doing today, 30 years ago, I’d have to do it myself and set up companies, whereas now there are joint ventures and entities set up to succeed and make it happen faster. I think the markets are also very cluttered and you must have a clear voice. I believe, too, that the emerging markets in particular have a thirst for heritage brands. So, maybe for Halston, it’s easier today than it would have been in Roy Halston’s day.

The financial wobbles and management reshuffles of Halston are well documented. What convinced you that it could be turned around?

You know what, I didn’t even read any of that noise. I was so far removed from it. There are very few true iconic heritage brands and even less coming from America, so if I were to start a brand today, it would take me years to establish its DNA. Having Halston already long-established, I knew there was a heritage there. And whatever the wobbles were, it’s the media that knew about them and the consumer was barely touched.

Halston has ready-to-wear and accessories, but when do you plan to resurrect the label’s couture?

I think it’s so expensive and complex to launch. Just look how hard it was for Tom Ford, for example, and he came with such a great legacy. I wouldn’t say we have no plans, but it would be more difficult today. It takes a lot more work and more money in a crowded space right now.

You and your partners invested US$20 million (Dh73.4m) into the brand. Is it enough?

We might have to put more in, who knows? We’re still building, and with something that is going global this fast, it takes a lot of money. Twenty million is a small number, although it sounds like a lot.

Sarah Jessica Parker left the company as chief creative officer three years ago. Are you looking for someone to fill her shoes?

Sarah was great and she did what they wanted her to do, but I’m not sure how relevant it is to have a single person representing the brand right now. I think it’s important for us to make sure there’s a breadth of celebrities and brand ambassadors.

How about a Middle Eastern one?

Absolutely, of course. That’s why I’m here.

When might Halston Heritage reach the UAE’s shores?

We’ve just opened our first store in Kuwait and we’re opening in early January in Mall of the Emirates.

rduane@thenational.ae

brand bio

• Halston was founded in 1968 by the milliner Roy Halston Frowick. It rapidly became a titanic American brand.

• Halston was known for its signature use of jersey, cashmere and suede and for reinven­ting the jumpsuit, shirt dress and classic kaftan.

• The brand was syno­nymous with the 1970s era of Studio 54.

• Clients have included Eliza­beth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Bianca Jagger and Rachel Zoe.

• Roy Halston died in 1990.

• Ben Malka, the former president of BCBG Max Azria Group, joined as chief executive in 2011.

www.halston.com

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