We made ourselves at home at Rakinos on High St amidst the plush leather couches and the odd coffee-seeking suit. Being the ever-prepared writer (sometimes obsessively so) I had a prepared stash of questions but they were put aside as conversation flowed
Murray is an Auckland fashion man that I greatly admire so having the opportunity to chatter uninterrupted was a delight. I first met Murray Bevan in September 2008 when he discussed P.R. representation with my graduating class from the AUT Bachelor of Design - Fashion program at AUT University. We had the fear of God instilled in us before Murray came to speak. It was drummed into us how influential Showroom 22 was in our local industry.
Murray launched his Fashion PR company at the tender age of 22 after having worked as Karen Walker's personal assistant for two years. He made the move to Karen Walker after taking what he thought would only be a year long break from studying towards a Bachelor of Architectural Design but his ability to keep up in the fashion world and natural aptitude for getting the job done saw him take a step out on his own.
He fondly recalls (well, at least with a grin on his face) one of his first tasks at Karen Walker. One season each customer on the database received a set of fortune cookies that had a message along the lines of "You need a new dress" and "Karen Walker sale on now". Guess who got to package the fortune cookies into little boxes, stick on the address labels, stamp each box and take them to the post office? Yes, Mr Bevan. I joke that having an aptitude to getting these tasks done with a smile and perfection is the sign of a person who can make it in our industry. He grins!
Murray had been managing the NZ Karen Walker showroom and communication between showrooms in London, New York, Tokyo and London and saw that the concept of the fashion showroom existed but it wasn't available here. He decided to give it a crack!
"I've always had this idea in my head that came from my mum: she said to me one day (my parents aren't entrepreneurs - dad is an airline pilot) "Muz… What about tax and those things?" Murray replied" I'll employ an accountant to do that for me…" (He was not a fan of getting in trouble with the IRD..) and she replied "If it doesn't work out you can always go pump gas" and he thought "Yeah, you're right!"
Image: Fun and games at The Department Store
Murray acknowledges the important role of fostering good relationships in our industry, especially in such a small country.
"I've never thought I'm going to take on the world… but what I'm really good at and what the company is really good at is New Zealand. It's all about relationships. To be successful in any market you have to know that market really well and we know New Zealand really well. I'm proud to be supporting the New Zealand fashion industry and knowing we have played an immensely important role in (fashion designers') businesses."
If you follow Showroom 22 on Twitter you will have no doubt seen the odd football-related tweet. Murray has played the game since he was five years old and coached his nephew's team for seven years. Balance is definitely crucial in this industry and he has found a neat way of recharging.
"It's a really good way to turn off the fashion/party thing and go knock around a football with five year old kids in the weekend. It means that I can clear my head and then get back on monday and be really into it. The thing that I love about my job is that I love going to work every day, I love who I work for and I want to come up with new ideas and do the events we run. I've never thought "I don't want to go to that thing tonight…." Long may it last!"
Murray's drive is infectious! I ask for his advice to young ones starting out in their professional lives.
"When I talk to younger people I always say to them "Don't panic if you don't know what to do or if you have come out of a three year degree and you are not sure if that's what you want to do because you will find something that you love and if you love it you will be good at it. It will happen!"
Image: Manet Stripe by Twenty-Seven Names, Winter 2012
I was encouraged by these words! But what about advice for young creatives?
"The bones of what you achieve is going to come from a point of difference. You need to know your market inside out. Walk into every shop you can, look at what labels are sold and what labels are sold next to them, price points, foot traffic, which stores are busy which aren't? When its cloudy which store is busy? When its sunny who is busy and who isn't?"
If you take a look at twenty-seven names, they went from zero to pretty high quite fast. They hit the market at the right time. They had a good price point, they had fun product, limited edition prints. Know everything you possibly can before you even create that first pen stroke of design so understand what you are good at and push that. If you want to do footwear and know nothing about it, don't attempt it. Go and get ground knowledge!"
Event management is one of the services that Showroom 22 offer their clients so I asked Murray about the most exciting event he has produced over the last ten years? He names the famous launch of a Karen Walker Eyewear campaign in 2006.
Image: She wears Iris in Black and Yellow by Karen Walker. Shot by Derek Kettela
"Karen and Mikhail had this idea that the bigger sunglasses you wear, the more power you have. They had looked at powerful dictators and looked at the size of their sunglasses and they were huge (insert Frank Bainimarama and his aviators and Kim Jong Il) They dreamed up this campaign called "Vote Karen Walker Eyewear". We had an event just after the launch party of Fashion Week where we set up two massive lecterns and dummy microphones and you could take a pair of Karen Walker Eyewear and get your photo taken by Derek Henderson. Insert gestures of peace symbols and raising speeches. The photos got transferred to an on-site HP printer so you could get your photo in a little card to take away. So awesome! The funny thing was though that on the night there was about 15 pairs of sunglasses that got stolen.
I had women calling me on monday saying "Hi Murray.. you don't know me but I woke up on Sunday morning with two pairs of Karen Walker sunglasses in my handbag. I don't know who put them there. I might have taken them..I was a little bit drunk at the party" and I said "That's cool, let me know where you are and I'll come get them. Amnesty assured, you are not in trouble!"
It was so funny all these sheepish people calling saying "I was a bit drunk.. I think I stole a pair of sunglasses.." We didn't get a few of them back. It's great when that kind of product creates such a ground-swell of hype and excitement. That story has gone around and around… Mikhail keeps recounting that time we did that party and all those frames were swiped!"
I've always wondered how P.R. companies manage big events like New Zealand Fashion Week. The diplomacy needed just to create a guest list must be intense! Murray says he doesn't buy into the ego surrounding event management. At the end of the day it is about working for the client and what they want goes. "I have to be an unfriendly diplomatic doorman sometimes!"
"Fashion Week brings out the worst in people. Some people assume that if they are in fashion they need to act a bit fabulous and I can understand why people get into it but I don't want to ever create that allure. I want what you see at the front to be as polished and as perfect and as aspirational as possible. I want people to take that away. Luckily I get to the end of the week and I can laugh it all off … not taking my laptop home I'm playing football tomorrow with the kids!"
Image: Screengrab from Showroom22's new website
Celebrating 10 years in business this year I ask Murray would he do it all again? He warmly responds "I think I would!"
"We have been an incubator of sorts. Our designers ask us questions that relate to many many topics well outside of P.R. We've become an integral part of their day-to-day process which is really really cool! It also means that it is really exciting for us because it means there is different stuff to do all the time!"
On the topic of social media I joke that I feel like I know so much about Murray's kitten via his instagram feed. Instagram is his current favorite social media platform with Rise being Murray's go-to filter. On a more serious note we chatted a bit about the growth of the bloggersphere:
I'm looking forward to finding out what that is too! Thanks Murray!
Is there someone in the local New Zealand fashion industry or further afield in the international scene that you would love to see featured in this "On Fashion" feature? Drop me an email, Tweet or message on Facebook!