Simon Lock proved sophisticated fashion could come from Down Under

Simon Lock says he has pissed a lot of people off.

That’s what happens when you are, as he puts it, “bloody minded” about something. For Lock this was launching Australian Fashion Week in 1996 and now expanding his business, an online luxury wholesale platform called Ordre.

Kirsten Lock (left) and Simon Lock (right) with Stella McCartney.
Kirsten Lock (left) and Simon Lock (right) with Stella McCartney.CREDIT:

With an estimated USD $20 million in funding from Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, Ordre has signed up the likes of British fashion label Stella McCartney and most recently, American brand Marc Jacobs.

Such is the force with which Lock has made his plans come to life, some in the industry may have decided he is pugnacious or, to borrow that classic Australian insult, full of himself.

“People confuse my enthusiasm and perseverance with arrogance, I think that’s the problem to be honest,” says Lock. “My family and friends who do know me, know it’s not arrogance, it’s that I don’t take no for an answer.” Lock sold Australian Fashion Week to IMG Australia in 2005, eventually falling out with them. The experience is covered in his 2015 memoir, In The Front Row: How Australian Fashion Made The World Stage.

“My success was based on being absolutely bloody minded – I have a vision and I’m not going to stop or let anyone distract me.”

A self-described “boy from Melbourne”, in tandem with his career as a professional ski instructor in Australia and Japan, Lock also founded PR and events agency Spin Communications before starting Australian Fashion Week. In 2011 he won the Australian Fashion Laureate, the first non fashion designer to do so, and he has also judged the International Woolmark Prize.

Lock attributes his fascination with fashion (he was an early adopter of flares in the ’70s) to his grandmother. “I’ve always loved fashion. It was instilled in me by my grandmother actually, who was very traditional about her approach to clothes and would change her wardrobe each season,” he says.

Now based in Paris with his wife and co-creator of Ordre, Kirsten, and 3-year-old daughter (Lock has three other children from previous marriages; his two older sons both work in the Ordre business), Lock will be in Melbourne next month to speak at the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF) Fashion Summit on March 8.

In his talk he will call for fashion to be more diverse and to think beyond the American and European markets. “It’s essential. Fashion in the past was not reflective of its community. There are lot more people interested in it than skinny white girls around the world.”

Lock has long been a champion of Australian designers, well before it was fashionable. He recalls travelling the world to promote Australian Fashion week in 1992 and being laughed at for suggesting sophisticated fashion could come from Down Under.

“Times have changed – some 30 years on any Australian designer could walk into one of the great retailers and people will say, ‘We hear great things about Australian designers,'” he says.

He credits Zimmermann and other “powerhouse” labels like Ellery and Dion Lee (and Collette Dinnigan, Akira Isogawa and Easton Pearson before them) with helping to change the perception of what Australian fashion is.

Zimmermann was started by sisters Simone and Nicky Zimmermann in 1991 and now has boutiques as far-flung as St Tropez and California, with further expansion planned. Last month the label showed its autumn winter collection inspired by World War II spy Nancy Wake in New York. American Vogue said the brand understood how “a lot of women want to dress.”

“The world has a love affair with Zimmermann, we all realised this many years ago when they launched at Australian Fashion Week. Now they’re a powerhouse globally and opening eyes and doors around the world to what’s possible. They created a pathway in building a brand on their DNA, which is an Australian attitude toward chic dressing,” says Lock.

VAMFF chief executive Graeme Lewsey worked with Lock for more than 15 years, including on Australian Fashion Week. He says Lock is a “visionary” and a “futurist” – two things he admits can rub people up the wrong way.

“But it’s tenacity not ego, he’s so passionate about making something happen … it can just be: ‘if you’re not with me, get out of my way’,” Lewsey explains.

Kirstie Clements, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia and now an author, consultant and partner in luxury lingerie business Porte-à-Vie, disagrees that Lock was divisive.

“I think he had real vision and I used to always say that he deserved a medal or an Order of Australia for the egos that he put up with, and the sponsors and everything. Everything was Simon’s fault. If you couldn’t get a coffee it was Simon’s fault … I think he did a phenomenal job.”

In any case, says Lewsey, Lock and his sheer doggedness is often proven right. Lock’s vision for an Australian Fashion Week did make the world take notice of Australian fashion and its designers. In 2016 Australian Fashion Week changed its timing from April to May to better align with the international fashion week calendar and with a focus on resort wear rather than spring/summer collections.

Lewsey believes Lock’s new business, Ordre, is part of a revolution in fashion centred on the impact of digital and technology, as well as sustainability, discovering and fostering emerging talent and diversity. Lock says the company expects to turn over around USD $500 million within two years.

In May he will present a report at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the world’s biggest sustainable fashion business event, on the carbon emissions the world’s fashion buyers rack up flying on buying trips. Enough, says Lock, to cover a country.

“The fashion industry is finally waking up to the sustainable vision [and] we are pleased to be part of this,” he says.

Ordre utilises technologies such as virtual reality and a new kind of data capture tool which allows designers to take 360-degree photography at scale to create a virtual showroom for fashion buyers to place wholesale orders. It takes away the need for travelling to shows.

It was an idea born from Lock wanting to address the falling number of international buyers attending Australian Fashion Week, and to support emerging talent in the way he did in the early days of Australian Fashion Week.

Not that any of it was, or will be, easy. Especially, it must be said, for Australian designers who are geographically isolated from the rest of the industry.

Lock, who started Australian Fashion Week on “blood sweat and tears … and every cent I’d ever made,” says fashion will always be a tough gig.

It requires persistence. But also the sheer love of it.

“People will say fashion is catty and bitchy. But I’ve found the opposite, it’s full of creative inspiring people trying to do new and exciting and innovative things.”

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