INTERVIEW: MALCOLM CARFRAE, PR GURU
words by JVB • Fashion
Fashion branding has never had a more exciting time. And no one understands that better than Malcolm Carfrae.
The genius behind the #MYCALVINS campaign, Malcolm is a pro at navigating digital spaces. After holding down stints at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, where he oversaw their communications teams, he left the corporate world to start his own consulting firm. I talked with Malcom to discuss his latest venture and how he’s helping to build the next generation of fashion.
Julia von Boehm: It’s been two years since you left corporate fashion to start your own global communications firm. How has that experience been?
Malcom Carfrae: I think that I’m really glad that I worked in a high-level corporate job when I did because of the doors it opened for me. I met so many people around the world that I’ve maintained connections with. I think you need a corporate job to have these kinds of connections. It was very helpful when I set up my company.
[In the end], I wanted to really go back to what I love, which is to work with brands on their messaging, marketing, and communications plan. When you work for a corporation, you spend so much time managing people, so I appreciate being able to focus on the work.
JVB: When you started your own consulting firm, did you intend to branch into new industries other than fashion, like tech and lifestyle?
M.C: I [thought] that I would be working predominantly with fashion brands because it was what I was known for, but I had hopes I would branch into other industries as well. And it worked out. All my clients have very similar attitudes toward what they are aiming to do with their companies, that’s why it worked so well — the synchronicity. I really appreciate having a direct line of communication with my clients.
JVB: Have you encountered any new challenges you didn’t experience previously?
M.C: In the beginning, running my company was more difficult because I was used to having such a big team. At a corporate, you have your HR team, your finance team, and teams that approve 87 things. When you’re on your own, you don’t have any of that support and have to figure it out. The people you hire have to love what they are doing and be good at everything because there is a little bit of everything involved.
I was mostly surprised that clients came to me so easily. I didn't have to struggle to find people to work with. Most of my surprise was positive actually.
JVB: You were in India for the launch of Bumble India, of which you assisted with its move into this new market. How does your experience working with fashion brands translate to crafting messaging for other industries?
M.C: You would think that it would be an entirely different ball game but what they are trying to achieve is the same thing. They are trying to build consumers, followers, users, — it's generally the same person in the same region living on the same salary. Everything’s the same.
The media landscape is the same so you’re still targeting the same talent, VIPS, and similar kinds of people. It’s surprisingly similar. You wouldn’t think it from the outside.
JVB: You managed global communications for two huge brands through the digital revolution. What did you like about using digital media when it came to reaching consumers directly?
M.C: I absolutely love adapting to change and I remember when I was at Calvin Klein when the advent of Instagram happened. There was so much potential because so many actresses, models, and influencers were gaining millions of followers very quickly. My team and I sat down to figure out how we would navigate, and we came up with the #MYCALVINS campaign.
For me, that was exciting because it was a whole new world. If you don’t adapt, you might as well pack up your shoes and go home. You have to be nimble. Keep your ears to the ground so you can change to what people are wanting.
JVB: What lead to your decision to start the Australian Fashion Foundation?
M.C: I was talking to a friend who’s Australian and works in fashion. We were talking about how so many Australians work for magazines, are models, or have many other industry jobs, so we thought it would be cool to set up something where we could connect them all with one other. We specifically wanted to set up something that would be meaningful and could actually help young people. So we started a scholarship and built it up from there. This summer will be our ten years anniversary.
JVB: How does it feel to see designers who’ve come up through the Foundation make waves in the industry?
M.C: It feels really good. They still would have found a way to get themselves out there, but we make it a little easier for them to get to the next step. We help them get the recognition they require to go to the next level.
JVB: What is your one fashion must-have?
M.C: A cashmere coat. Classic but beautiful. It also lasts forever.