Stephen Ferber, Stephen F
Stephen Ferber sums up his philosophy in one simple phrase: “dare to fail”. It is a maxim that has guided him all his life, allowing him to take outrageous risks in his career without concern for the consequences.
This charming, open and refreshingly humble Swede cites his family background as being highly influential. His maternal grandmother, “a wonderful human being” was an Auschwitz survivor and taught him that “even though it is super dark, you can still see the light”. She was the inspiration for Ferber's acclaimed Lili collection launched in February in the Oak Room at New York's Plaza Hotel.
His essential sense of style comes from his mother, who has always had an interest in fashion and encouraged her children (he has a younger brother and sister) to look good. Their bond is clear. “She is a very warm and generous person and I know she will always support me no matter what I do and whether I succeed or fail.”
Ferber's father, who died ten years ago, also had a major influence on his life. He was a clothing retailer in Sweden for over 30 years and Ferber grew up working in the stores, learning everything his parents could teach him about the garment business. He became a manager and buyer, learned to love sales and delight in having a happy customer.
But he knew he didn't simply want to sell clothes in Sweden.
He remembers his father telling him that if he wanted to make it with his own brand, it wouldn't happen in Sweden, he would have to go abroad.
The death of his father had a profound effect on him, making him push himself even harder, dig even deeper. “I think it all started because of him, I guess I thought: 'I'll show him!'” And so Ferber set out to achieve something crazy – to create an internationally successful high end menswear brand from scratch. Stephen F was born.
New York! New York!
Europe's fashionistas were soon dreaming the Stephen F dream. They ran with his vision of luxurious, meticulously crafted, subtle clothes with one slightly bonkers detail, like a flash of red in an otherwise conventional pinstripe suit, or tailored trousers with reindeer skin pockets.
He became quietly popular - European fashion's guilty pleasure, their secret weapon in the war against drab or overly camp male design.
Never one to sit by and bask in his success, Ferber was already onto the next phase of his global vision. “I knew I wanted to move from Stockholm to one of the world's fashion capitals and at one point Paris, Milan and Madrid were also in the running, but New York won out in the end.”
It was a move that took almost five years to plan, but he has been living in Manhattan since November 2014 and his new store in the edgy Meatpacking District has its official launch in September 2015, although its doors are already open for business. So enthused is he by the vibrancy and potential of the city that he is already researching “new locations” for 2016/2017. He won't get any more specific than that, except to say that he is considering widening the Stephen F brand. “It may be a bar, a cafe, a hotel... Everything is lifestyle these days.”
Ferber has hit the Big Apple running. Hunky ice hockey superstar Henrik Lundqvist is a walking ambassador for his brand, top male model Alex Lundqvist (no relation) is his business partner and actor and writer Alan Cummings donned a lavender Stephen-F shorts suit at the recent Tony awards. The cool Swedish brand is now very hot indeed.
Made in Italy (Really)
Stephen F clothes appeal to celebrities and sports stars fed up with the super-big brands whose clothes may scream “made in Italy” but are, in fact, stitched together somewhere else entirely. “People are moving towards the smaller brands,” he says. “They want the genuine hand made stuff with a twist. I want my clothes to be interesting. It's all about how things make you feel, about the emotion. I want people to feel special when they put on one of my designs. But it's good if there is that element of the unexpected as well.”
One big reason that Ferber has found an elusive gap in the highly competitive luxury market is that he understands the knife edge balance between relaxed, comfortable style and precise tailoring and fine materials.
“Ninety five per cent of my designs are made in Italy,” he says. (The other five percent comes from his native Sweden in case you were wondering.) Ferber is clearly a big fan of the country: “No-one does it like the Italians. Italy is definitely the best place to produce in.”
“Italy is all about connections and I didn't really have those when I decided to switch all my production there. I needed someone on the ground who knew what he was doing, which is why I contacted Ben Radomski and Ronny Nessim from Business e Via Italy (BEV). They are just amazing. Not only do they produce results really fast, they also totally understand the product and believe in it. I didn't have to explain my vision, they got it immediately. Our meetings were very productive and very easy. The BEV team seem to have connections everywhere. I needed to source a factory that could make socks and the next day Ronny had found one willing to work with us!”
Ferber is adding more accessories to the Stephen F brand and that means more work for the Italian producers that BEV is introducing him to. The relationship is such that he is content to leave a lot to Ben, happy in the knowledge that things couldn't be in safer hands. With the details on the Italian side being taken care of, it frees him up to do what he does best – create and develop new ideas.
“Everything is possible. For me it's not about the money, it's about the fun, about meeting interesting people and being an inspiration. About daring to fail.”
What would his father think of all this? It is a question which affects him very deeply.
“You know, whenever I have a decision to make, I still think 'What would dad do?' He is my driving force and my guiding light. And as to what he would think – well, I hope he would be proud.”
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