Kotur expands into shoe market in Hong Kong

Hong Kong-based bag label Kotur has taken a giant leap forward into the world of shoes.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:59pm

New Yorker Fiona Kotur Marin has been a darling of the fashion scenes in Hong Kong and her hometown for several years. The bag designer's Sheung Wan showroom is a trove of beautiful box clutches, luminescent snakeskin, floral appliqués and delicate lace. Stylish employees type away at their computers and the walls are lined with pretty illustrations, all done by her illustrator and designer mother.

But what we are really here to see is the new range of footwear that is proudly displayed on the table. "We always say that we have little bags with great personalities and it's the same with the shoes," says Marin. "There is this fun whimsy about them, but they are also very chic."

It's been a complete advantage to live and work in Hong Kong
Fiona Kotur Marin

Marin agrees that her first foray into footwear is "a big deal", but adds that it's something she has always dreamed of doing. The design philosophy for the shoes is the same as it is for the bags, namely that the shoes must have "a large personality but will complement the woman's own style".

Jewel-toned satin flats with pointed toes reference Moroccan slippers; pretty tassels hang off an exotic Turkish-inspired stiletto sandal and pastel-coloured snakeskin is colour-blocked on to a classic stiletto pump, minaudières and zipped rectangular pouch bags. One shoe is corsage-like, with a bloom of colourful 3-D flowers. Inspiration, in part, came from the lush gardens of Yves Saint Laurent's famous blue house in Morocco and adventurous journeys into souks in search of hidden gems.

"For this first spring 2014 range we were really inspired by the 'gypset' - the chic, exotic traveller - and everyone in our studio has wanderlust," says Marin. "We also have references to the past [with] the likes of Tabitha Getty and heiress Iris Atfeld [and] how they all travelled so elegantly."

From day-to-day flats and sophisticated work heels to fun, whimsical cocktail shoes, Marin has created an impressive first collection. This is the label's first big venture beyond small clutches and one wonders whether it will eventually go into other fashion sectors.

Kotur appears to have all the makings of a powerful lifestyle brand, particularly as Marin has worked closely with both Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch, designers who now head two of America's most successful fashion and lifestyle brands.

"Who knows what the future holds?" Marin says. "[Lauren and Burch] have built their businesses on a very broad range of products and a very strong message … However, as much as I think we have a strong message and a singular viewpoint, for now we are very happy in our shoes and bags and potentially jewellery and scarves. I'm very happy in my accessories realm."

Even though Marin isn't following in Lauren's footsteps just yet, she says he was the one who really taught her about the power of branding and marketing. She cut her teeth on the business side of fashion at Gap, launching Old Navy accessories under the mentorship of Mickey Drexler. The experience she gained has been invaluable to her global success - Kotur is in its eighth year and has 200 stockists globally including Harvey Nichols. Her family background didn't hurt either.

"My mother was a clothing designer; now she is an interior designer and illustrator so she does all of our in-house illustrations," she says. "My sister was style editor at Vogue [US] and is now creative director at Town & Country."

Marin says moving to Hong Kong with her husband has given her a different point of view. "One thing that sets us apart is that we take inspiration [and source materials] from the region and interpret them in a way that is understandable to more of a Western market; [making them] no longer just things you'd find in a bazaar," she says.

The brand mixes high and low fashion and offers prices that range from US$300 to US$3,000. It is also known for doing glamorous clutches with a handmade feel - this was part of the brand's identity from the start.

Now Marin sources beautiful materials from around the world, like t'nalak, a woven fabric from the T'boli people from the Philippines. "Everything here is crafted; there are a lot of small workshops that we work with," she says.

Almost every Kotur item goes through three stages of manufacture, with each stage in a different location. One part could be made in a mainland factory, another in a boutique workshop in the Philippines and another at a European atelier.

In the luxury world there is a fair amount of smoke screening when it comes to where things are made, and often customers are none the wiser. Marin, by contrast, is open and proud about where her materials are sourced from and her products made - she feels that being in Asia adds to, rather than detracts from, her label.

"It's been a complete advantage to live and work here; to explore things in a way that other designers in Paris or New York might not have the advantage of doing."

Having a global outlook from the start is perhaps one of the secrets to its success as this has helped transform a small, expat start-up based in Hong Kong into a globally recognised brand with top notch retailers and Hollywood following. Adele, Kerry Washington, Carolina Herrera, Christy Turlington, Hayden Panettiere and Kim Kardashian are all fans who have been spotted carrying Kotur bags to red-carpet events.

This season Kotur will have its first official spot on the New York Fashion Week calendar - another big step.

"Success is about staying true to yourself and your creative style," says Marin. "You have to be sincere and love what you do. We have a strong vision.

"There is definitely pressure to go more commercial, especially from US retailers … but you have to stay true. It's been bumpy but very satisfying."

Marin says long-term success means staying focused on the business side, which requires time and effort. Having the right timing is also important.

Finding an opening in the market is key, and when Marin started her label, in 2005, there were few brands doing the same type of small evening bags and clutches. "We've made our name and have a following now … if I was to start my label today I probably wouldn't do the same product because there are so many brands that do this now. I would find another niche; I'd think of something different."

Helming an independent and growing business, the mother of four has to balance family, friends, design, production and publicity across two continents.

"I find it challenging but in a way I love," she says.