Resort dressing should be considered a great art. As many of us will know all too well, it's a fine line to dance between "wearing all of the sarongs" and achieving covetable casual poolside elegance.
So when we find a brand that ticks all the boxes in delivering chic, effortless glamour – so much so that we want to wear the pieces in real life as well as whilst on holidays – it’s a rare, beautiful day.
Bird & Knoll have managed to do just this, with the brand founded by Natalie Knoll and Macayla Chapman. Inspired by their love of travel, Natalie and Macayla launched with a signature line of luxury scarves using the softest cashmere, silks and cottons as the “canvas” for their artistic photographic narratives of global destinations. In 2016, they successfully segued into the resortwear market with the launch of a collection of timeless kaftans, elegantly relaxed dresses and chic beach cover ups – the ultimate compliment to the brand’s existing range of wearable wanderlust.
We spoke to Natalie about the label and its growth (which has included being stocked in resorts including Four Seasons Bora Bora, Soho House Miami and Ritz Carlton Puerto Rico), making flexibility work and how to dress effortlessly while on holidays (and beyond).
What inspired the launch of Bird & Knoll?
I have always had a passion for travel, fashion and photography so creating our signature cashmere blend scarves with our images digitally printed onto them was the perfect fulcrum of all of these. We wanted to offer an accessory that was beautiful, versatile and felt not only gorgeously tactile to wear but made the wearer feel special too. We selected destinations to showcase that were iconic with a photographic narrative of those places that many of our customers have a strong emotional connection to. We have really tried to complement this “feeling” of the brand with the design aesthetic of the resort wear too. Many of the pieces in our collections will be inspired or influenced by the style of the local women that we have met on our travels, or by the culture and the atmosphere of some of our favourite travel destinations e.g. Mexico or Greece.
What did your career entail prior to Bird & Knoll?
I started my career in banking, working in both London and New York, but once we started a family I wanted something that was more flexible and pursued my passion, photography. In 2013, that segued into the seed of an idea for Bird and Knoll and here we are!
Tell us about being represented in The Sugar Mill and being endorsed by India Hicks. Is this a career highlight?
We first worked with India Hicks in 2017 when we were one of 12 international brands selected to create three beautiful cashmere blend scarves for her debut Curated Collections. It seemed like a natural fit then, given how well received the scarves were, for us to explore having our resort wear in Sugar Mill. It was most definitely a career highlight when she reached out to us again! She is a delight to work with!
Where do you look for inspiration when designing a new collection?
Oh gosh – all around us. We are not heavily influenced by trends although we do take some direction from them. Macayla will create amazing Pinterest mood boards that may start with a colour or texture and work from that. The shade may be from a photograph of a wall in Morocco or the texture from a dress she saw in a Slim Aarons book; it’s amazing where you can find inspiration. We are also tuning into the feedback from our customers and offering new interpretations of some of our previous bestsellers.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in running your own business?
The work-life balance has been challenging to get right at times but Macayla and I support each other as much as we can in working towards that. If either of us needs time off, we make it happen for each other.
I think that one of the major challenges as a luxury fashion brand in Australia is that you don’t often get heard locally until they are shouting your name in the US or Europe. It is an interesting consumer psyche. That is starting to change now that we are getting more international traction.
We have also had our fair share of disasters with logistics or production issues and even though these were things out of our direct control, the reality is that the buck stops with us. That customer service learning curve can be very steep at times, but you will always come out stronger and better on the other side. I truly believe that there is no such thing as a mistake, only a lesson to be learned.
What style predictions are you most excited about for 2019?
I love that raw fibres and crinkled or textured fabrics are a strong prediction – this works just beautifully for the Bird and Knoll aesthetic. Jumpsuits remain strong on the forecast …and I LOVE a great jumpsuit. We always try and include one in our collection. Shoulder volume will be big too. We have a few beautiful interpretations of this in our next collection.
You are stocked in some incredible retailers across the world. How have you gone about growing your business?
In the early days it was very much us researching the stockists and reaching out to them but these days much of that growth has come from either being approached or through our agents here in Australia and New York. We showed at the Cabana show in Miami last year which was great fun. It is one of the premium resortwear shows and was a great platform for us to get noticed by the likes of One & Only, St Regis resorts and Soho House.
We also have a strong focus on growing the business online and with that in mind, we are starting to work with some great micro-influencers like Nina Karnikowski from Travels with Nina and Alanna Smit of Alanna Smit Design. We are big believers in collaborations too – as long as it is a good fit, we are open to having that conversation. It is such a great way to connect with our customers or with new customers in a unique way. We are so fortunate to have worked on collabs with some amazing brands like Qantas, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Wilderness Safaris, Zoe & Morgan and India Hicks of course.
How have you approached scaling your business and the challenges that come with stock, cash flow, and so on? Has this been a challenge?
Our growth has been pretty slow and steady. We have never wanted to over-extend ourselves and get into debt so it has been bootstrapping all the way with a couple of bridging loans here and there. Macayla and I made that conscious decision from the start. We had seen so many businesses flying and expanding and doing amazing things on borrowed money and then crashing and burning when they could not meet their financial obligations. I think that creating that kind of pressure is also often when brands make rash decisions that compromise their integrity.
Managing stock and cashflow is a constant challenge so having almost a daily snapshot of your fiscal health is really important – I am always on Xero keeping an eye on things. Inventory management is also challenging, especially as we hold stock in Australia, NZ and the US. We are still exploring the best management tool fit for this…
What tips do you have for aspiring creatives and entrepreneurs?
Trust your instincts. More often than not, it is when we have gone against those instincts and listened to too many other voices that things have gone wrong. And don’t try to wear all of the hats in your business. You cannot do it all and be across it all 24/7. Learn to delegate if you can and create a good support network, whether that be in-house or contractors. Try and find a good mentor who can be your sounding board. Sometimes it is good just to sound something out to be able to work through it.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I like to give myself time to wake up, have my first cup of tea and catch up with the news and have a quick first glance at emails. I then get my girls out of bed and ready for school and will try and be at my desk by 8am. Macayla is in NZ so she has already been at it for a couple of hours. We will talk through a few things re. design, marketing and production etc and will often then have a call with our sales agent in NY or our production agent who is based here in Australia. Now and again I will manage to catch up with friends for lunch but otherwise it is a quick salad from Bake Bar next door before I am back on calls or emails. I try to be available to my girls from the time they get home around 4pm but if not, I am pretty disciplined about shutting my laptop at 5:30 and focusing on them, their homework and dinner. A bit of Netflix with hubby when he gets home and then we try for lights out at 10:30.
What do you think makes for a beautifully elegant - yet completely effortless - outfit?
I am a very big fan of elevated utility. Simple designs made from natural fibres that transition easily from day to night with a change of shoe. I want to feel feminine, but comfortable without compromising style.
Do you subscribe to a uniform? How do you go about choosing your outfit each morning?
I definitely dress according to my mood in the morning and what I have on that day. I work from a home office but always make sure that I am dressed to feel good about myself…even if I don’t have any meetings that day. I don’t really have a uniform, but my style is classic with an edge, something a little bit unpredictable in the outfit. Maybe it’s the shoes or the earrings or the jacket or the scarf….
What does a week in your wardrobe look like?
These days it is a lot of Bird and Knoll resort. I can see myself wearing it still through winter with chunky sweaters and boots or trainers and a new Isabel Marant coat I just picked up in the sales. I save my exercise for the weekend so there is no workout gear in the mix until Fridays.
What tips do you have for vacation dressing and packing?
I start planning my vacation wardrobe in my head for a few weeks and then a couple of days before start laying it out for a quick edit. You want pieces that will travel well, can be worn in different ways – dressed up or dressed down for an easy transition from beach or pool to lunch or cocktails – and that you feel comfortable and stylish in. I still end up taking too much but I like to have choices…
I swear by packing cubes. They are the best way to keep everything organised especially if you are on the move a lot.
What is your favourite piece in your current collection?
I am a little bit obsessed with the Astryd jumpsuit… Like a massive girl crush! She is made from an unbelievably soft and breathable cotton linen blend with beautiful wide legs and pretty shoulder ties. I wear her with sandals now and have no doubt that the romance will continue into Autumn with a long sleeve T or silk shirt underneath, trainers and a leather jacket.
What’s next for Bird & Knoll?
We have a few exciting things in the pipeline including a collaboration with an amazing candle and fragrance brand – yes, you read that correctly! Wait and see!