Q&A: BELMA GAUDIO
The founder of holiday wear boutique Koibird on travelling the world, packing concisely and her intuitive approach to sourcing
Words: Clare Finney
You describe Koibird as a one-stop shop for holiday wear. What kind of holiday does Koibird stock for?
Every four months we do a whole new travel destination and theme, and produce an edit accordingly—so right now, it’s Koibird goes to California. Before that we went skiing, and before that was the beach. Our customers really enjoy it—I think because it makes the experience of shopping more interesting. Every four months the shop is a whole new environment. People want an experience when they are shopping these days: somewhere that’s fun to come to and browse. It’s interesting that our shop actually does better than online when it comes to sales figures.
The store design is indeed striking. Who is responsible for dressing the shop?
I love art and collect certain artists. The store design always starts with a piece of art that I love—that sets the colouring. I work with an amazing set designer called Anna Burns, who helps me redesign the store for each new edit. Each one has been inspired by a particular painting.
Why did you feel there was a need for a holiday shop in the first place?
I always thought there was a big demand for a holiday shopping experience. I travel a lot, and I am always looking for new holiday wear—it’s what gets me most excited about going away. I wanted to create a one-stop shop where you could go and get a great selection of bikinis, handbags, sunglasses, jewellery—everything you need for a specific trip, in one place.
Obviously, there are practical items you need for some holidays, such as skiing. Do you stock technical, practical wear as well as the fun stuff?
We were really serious about the ski edit. We had three or four proper technical brands for the skiwear, and the rest was more après ski: nice jumpers, and moon boots and fur boots, which are great for the mountains, but not really London wear. The important part of an edit is to touch all aspects of the destination. So, with California, we have sneakers, summer dresses and flipflops for the day, sequin jumpsuits and heels for the evening. A lot of these items you could wear in a London summer of course, though it is very much the style of LA.
Where is Koibird heading to next?
Korea. It’s going to be very different. Up until now, we’ve sourced from designers all over the world, but with this it will be just Korean designers. We were there last month, picking and choosing. It’s very different to other Asian cultures: not as commercial as Japan and China, for example, and we’re doing as much research as we can and liaising with the embassy to ensure we are as authentic as possible. It’s going to be pretty heavily beauty focused. Korean women are seriously into makeup and cosmetics. There are masks everywhere: tightening, moisturising, anti-ageing, all made with different things. One I saw contains caviar. It’s been a big thing in Korea for ages, and they’ve actually supplied masks to a lot of the western world for years.
The Koibird aesthetic is very distinctive and comes through in each edit. How would you describe it?
To be honest, it is a feeling—a mood really. I am a visual person: I pick art and clothes that visually excite me and gravitate toward things that are unique. If I have seen something lots of times before, my eyes are tired. We buy eclectically, and we never feel obliged to buy someone’s whole collection, which is very different from most retailers. We pick a couple of pieces from lines and collections and hope for the best when it comes together. It is intuitive, and very much about us loving something so much we just have to have it. If I put my all and my love into buying something, I am hoping the customer will see that, and love it also. It’s very different from the usual way of doing retail—it takes some education of customers and brands—but it works, and I am proud of it.
What are you most excited about in store right now?
Right now, it’s my collaboration with this amazing vintage designer in New York, who recycles old 1940s chenille blankets into coats and kaftans. They are beautiful. To produce these from scratch would be seven times the price. Another is the California street rock brand R13, who are really on point.
Where do you find new designers?
Instagram, trade shows, but mainly through travelling. I travel a lot and am always on the lookout for things that are new and exciting. I travel to each location we edit for beforehand, on the lookout for brands they have.
Have you thought of designing yourself?
No. I dabbled a few years ago, but it’s the buying and the collaborative efforts that make me happy. I can’t see myself going back into designing any time soon.
You must be something of a professional packer. What are your tips?
I actually like to pack really concisely. I get properly nervous when I am overpacked, because I hate lugging around stuff I’m not wearing. I start preparing my case a few days before I travel, taking into account how long I am going for and what kind of trip it is. I actually tend to colour code my trips, so I only pack certain, similar colour palettes. That stops me from the ‘oh this bag is cute, I’ll pack that in case I need it’ mentality. When I went to Korea recently, I knew it would be rainy and cold—so I stuck to blackish palettes and only needed one pair of boots, one pair of sneakers and a pair of dressy shoes. As soon as you start packing more colours your shoe collection doubles or triples.
Where were you before Koibird?
I worked in finance for about 10 years, but I was always in and out of fashion, working with the British Fashion Council and various friends of mine. We moved to Hong Kong, and I dabbled in design there before having two kids. After my second child, I made the leap: I’d just come back from a summer vacation, and I’d curated a really fun summer wardrobe. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I took all of these brands I have found and learned about over the years, and created a place specifically for holiday wear, where you can buy from a curated collection? Shopping for your holiday is exciting, but it can prove hard work. In the past, I usually ended up having to go to six or seven different places, which takes time and effort that people just don’t have these days.
What made you alight upon Marylebone?
My whole life is in Marylebone. I live here, my kids go to school here, my husband works in the neighbourhood. This is my area. Aside from that, I do think it has what New York neighbourhoods have: not too hip, not too conservative, not too commercial, with a nice mix of people and a good vibe and energy about it. People just love hanging out here, and the retail is quainter, smaller and more interesting than the offering on big streets. When I look at the kind of brand we are—creative, quite quaint, more speciality—Marylebone just made sense.