It’s been over 80 years since Oroton was founded in Sydney by Boyd Levy. The iconic Australian label, known for its leather goods, was established in 1938, making it older than many European fashion houses.
In November 2017 the label entered voluntary administration – a result of years of slumping sales due, in large part, to a dated approach to design.
On Monday Oroton entered a new chapter. Sydney’s Sophie Holt, the new creative director, has just released her first collection. Inheriting a $14.2 million sales loss, Holt has had to pull out all the stops to set a fresh direction for the company.
Holt has a strong history of rejuvenating embattled Australian fashion labels. She started at Country Road in 2002 when the retailer was in a slump and is largely responsible for transforming it from a dowdy, historic company to a progressive Australian label. In her 13 years at Country Road, sales surged.
Soon after her appointment to Oroton in August last year, Broadsheet spoke with Holt about her vision for the label. She promised silk scarves, natural fabrics and a focus on a more modern customer. Has she delivered?
“Well, I wouldn’t say we have turned the brand around already, we are part way through an exciting journey,” she says. “With Oroton’s [design] we are taking an international approach.”
The first collection, “The Botanist”, is inspired by nature and all things botanical. Silk-twill scarves (made in Lake Como, Italy) feature butterflies, bugs and plants, and canvas totes and straw bags add to the theme. The collection takes classic shapes such as bucket bags, work-appropriate totes, overnight bags and textured evening clutches and adds contemporary details, such as resin-chain straps. Lines are cleaner. There are also more on-trend pieces, including leather belt bags (otherwise known as “bum bags”).
But Holt’s strategy to revive the label extends beyond this initial collection – she is also working on revitalising its 50 Australian stores, strengthening marketing, modernising the visual merchandising and amplifying Oroton’s social voice.
Holt points out that balancing the label’s heritage and engaging a new, discerning customer was important to her. “I’m very proud of [Oroton’s] history and for the reputation of quality and craftsmanship the brand upholds,” she says. “To respect the heritage was not at all difficult.”
She been careful to stay true to the essence of Oroton, focusing on smooth leathers in classic shapes. “These have a new simplicity and are sophisticated and have been consciously created in wearable colours,” she says. Leather comes in slate, deep tan, blush pink and a striking emerald green, while prints include checks, prints, canvases and straw. “I don’t want the brand to ever be predicable, so while there will always be an element of classicism, it’s important to pursue unexpected details,” she says.
Holt also flags the label’s return to ready-to-wear – “[it’s] going to be hugely exciting for the fashion landscape” – but won’t disclose further details.
For now, we can only wait and see what the future holds for this Australian icon. But one thing is clear: Oroton is back in form.