Macayla Chapman and Natalie Knoll are the creative duo behind Bird and Knoll, the luxury brand of cashmere-blended carry-on scarves which are more than an accessory, but rather a lifestyle statement. As someone who often uses cinematic references to talk about fashion, I appreciate and take great interest when a blend of different artistic mediums gives birth to an item of style – that piece of fashion that has more to do with style than trend. Bird and Knoll combines fashion, photography and travel to create their exquisite products. Natalie is the artist behind the lens (her own photographs represent the scarf designs), Macayla is the creative mind with a background in the industry, and they both are avid travellers. It’s their individual talents, as well as their teamwork that are the forces behind their successful partnership and the cornerstone for, I am sure, a bright future for the label.
I now have the pleasure to properly introduce you to Natalie and Macayla (I’ve previously written about Bird and Knoll here), who have talked to me about the start of their business, the importance of quality accessories in the modern woman’s wardrobe, and their favourite things to do in Sydney and Auckland, their respective residence cities.
Natalie, you are a photographer first of all. What is the story behind Bird and Knoll? How did it all begin?
I grew up in the fashion industry in South Africa (my father had the agency for Calvin Klein there) so I think that it was inevitable that I would come full circle back to it (after nearly 20 years doing first banking and then photography.) I had been looking for another creative outlet for my photography for a while and the epiphany of combining my love of fashion, travel and photography came to me (quite fittingly) on a sun lounger in Hawaii. I knew that there was only on person I could do it with – friend and fashion aesthete, Macayla Chapman. Even though Macayla is based in Auckland, New Zealand and I am in Sydney, we quickly set to work researching and developing…and Bird and Knoll was born.
Your photographs are what makes your beautiful scarves authentic, transforming a regular accessory into a daily luxury. How do you choose the images you imprint? Is it something very personal or are there any other factors taken into consideration? Do trends ever play a role in your decision?
We are a brand very in tune with what is going on with the rest of the fashion industry…and being an accessory, we need to be on cue with colour trends and patterns so that we compliment a fashionista’s outfit perfectly…be the final edit. We start with this as our blueprint and based on our colour criteria, select a number of images from my vast travel imagery archive. This is when emotion comes into play…The final images need to be of iconic and exotic destinations that are inspirational and aspirational and that tell an interesting narrative of the place. They always have a lovely anecdote behind them and always mean something special to me. E.g. Santorini Blue was taken when my husband and I were in Santorini for our ten year anniversary. Medina Motorcycles (from our first collection) was taken when we got lost in the alleyways of Marrakech on my birthday weekend there…
Bird & Knoll studio
Who and what inspires you?
Macayla and I are both very inspired by street style. Whether it is what we are seeing on Pinterest or blogs or on the streets of Sydney and Auckland, we love seeing the way that individuals interpret current trends or the classics. Of course we are inspired by the cornerstones of the fashion industry – Chanel, Balmain, Celine, Isabel Marant etc – and the amazing designs, both lifestyle and fashion, coming out of New Zealand and Australia. But ultimately, we are inspired by travel and the colours and textures that each and every different culture and destination introduces us to.
What are the perks and challenges of running a trans-country business? What is the secret to a good partnership?
Natalie: It is surprisingly easy running the business between New Zealand and Australia. Dropbox, Skype and email cover it, but of course there is nothing like having our in person brainstorming sessions. Macayla was just in Sydney for a few sales and PR meetings and there is no doubt that we are more effective in sales as a team…especially given that we are really the brand. Being in two different countries has also meant that we were able to launch quite effectively into both markets simultaneously…
Macayla: I would love to be able to be in an office with Nat every day and vice versa…but we have really made this work very well and it actually stretches the Bird and Knoll work day out a bit. I start two hours before Nat (NZ is ahead of Australia) and Nat finishes two hours after me. Over the last year and a bit that we have been working together we have identified each other’s strengths and really play to those now – I think that is the sign of a good partnership. We are just about to shoot our next campaign and Nat knows that she can leave all of the styling to me and I know that she will nail the photography…we kind of know what the other one is thinking now. It is either very “Bird and Knoll” or it isn’t and neither of us will compromise on what works for the brand.
Bird & Knoll studio
Which is the most challenging part of the process design? What about the most rewarding one?
We get asked a lot if we are only ever going to do scarves and how we are going to keep it fresh. We introduced beautiful digitally printed canvas pouches with our second collection, the perfect complimentary accessory to take with a Bird and Knoll scarf on vacation and we are currently working on a new product that we think is going to be huge. But the scarves will always be the core of Bird and Knoll and we are committed to maintaining the same high quality with every new addition to the Bird and Knoll label. We get the greatest buzz when we have the same customers returning to buy from us online or from our stockists and buying multiples from each collection. It tells us that we have got it right – the size, the finish, the blend, the quality and the packaging – the whole Bird and Knoll experience from start to finish.
Where do you make your items?
We manufacture in a factory just outside of Shanghai. Our supplier is an Italian owned and family run business with wonderfully effective and responsive representatives in China. Their attention to detail and quality is probably only surpassed by eagle-eye Macayla.
Which is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from the travels that have influenced your pieces?
We knew that we wanted versatile pieces that can be worn in many ways and both smart or casual. We travel a lot and always have a couple of our scarves with us. They are so incredibly lightweight – easy to throw into a carry-on and be worn as a wrap on the plane, a scarf for a city-break, a sarong for pool-side glam or even as a headscarf. The cashmere makes them so soft but the modal makes them hard-wearing so they can stand up to a lot of travel. Even when they get creased, just throw them over a bannister and they smooth out beautifully.
Stripe and Safari scarf
Bird and Knoll is also a brand with a good cause, your charity aiming to support communities in the destinations showcased on your scarves. Do you think this influences your customers’ decision when they purchase a product? Or do customers respond to product first?
I would like to think that it does influence them, but I do believe that customers respond to product first. The charitable element may make them feel a little bit better about indulging, but ultimately they still want something that is aesthetic, tactile and makes them feel good, both physically and emotionally.
Who do you design for?
A woman who believes in quality. She knows that a killer pair of shoes, a great handbag…or a beautiful scarf are the final edit to an outfit. She is not afraid to step out of her comfort zone and explore new destinations and new designers and she recognises great quality when she sees (and feels) it. She can be 25 or 65 but she knows what she wants.
What is the next step for Bird and Knoll?
We are working with a great Australian designer on a collaboration for next year and head off to New York next month to explore distribution channels there (we have had a lot of interest from the States.) We also have our next campaign shoot in Auckland next month…there is a lot going on for us!!
New York Concrete Jungle, one of my favourite pieces
What does style mean to you?
Natalie: I think that style is a lot about attitude. If you “own” what you are wearing and look comfortable and confident, that is great style.
Macayla: I agree with Nat. Style is also about introducing your personality into your outfit. How you “style” the cuff of your jeans or jacket, how you tuck your shirt, how you wear your scarf ..these are all great ways to stamp your own style on an outfit.
Natalie/Macayla, which is your favourite thing to do in Sydney/Auckland and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else?
Natalie: I have lived in London and New York for extended periods of time. We have only been back in Sydney for four years and I am always blown away by the beauty and proximity of the local beaches just five minutes down the road from us. I would really miss having them on my doorstep. We love our long lazy days on the beach during the summer months. I would also miss the amazing coffee culture here.
Macayla: The scenery in and around Auckland is quite spectacular. You can do some amazing day trips – Rangitoto and Waiheke Islands, Piha Beach, Matakana Farmer’s markets – all equally gorgeous and all amazing culinary experiences. Yup, I would miss the food!!
You wish people appreciated more:
Natalie: Intrepid travel. Really try and get beneath the surface of a destination and explore what makes it tick. Don’t follow the crowd.
Macayla: Good quality fashion and less throw away trends….and the importance of a good coffee!!
The Bird and Knoll scarves are available here.
photos: courtesy of Bird and Knoll