Her lifestyle is her brand
Charlotta Gandolfo created her own clothing brand in 2017. In less than a year, she has already sold two collections and is on her way to international expansion.
TEXT: Jan Hökerberg
PHOTO: Lili Record
20 DECEMBER, 2018
When Charlotta Lagerdahl Gandolfo was growing up in Stockholm, Sweden, she became interested in clothing from an early age, when her aunt would take her shopping twice a year for a new set of clothes.
“We started the weekend by going through every single item in my closet and I would try it on to determine what I already had, what the theme for the new ‘collection’ would be and what I needed to add. She asked when I would wear it and how many items I could match with it? She was ruthless, but with a mindset of creating a cohesive collection with key pieces,” says Lagerdahl Gandolfo.
The number of items in Charlotta Gandolfo’s second collection.
However, clothing wasn’t the career path that Lagerdahl Gandolfo chose upon returning to Sweden from studies in the US. She joined a Swedish PR agency called GCI, which today is part of Burson Cohn & Wolfe. There, she worked for a decade until she decided to go to China to look for new pastures.
In Shanghai, she went to the PR agency FleishmanHillard as vice president. After one-and-a-half years she joined the PR network MSL Group, first as director of the China organisation and from 2013 to 2017 as regional business director for Asia. She was selected by the leading industry media Campaign Asia-Pacific as one of the top 40 players below 40 years of age in the region.
“I had a good career but I also had to work some 80 hours a week. When our daughter Gabriella was born, I felt I needed to redefine myself. I decided to take a break to find out what type of person I really want to be to be a good role model for my daughter,” Lagerdahl Gandolfo says.
Even though she had no education in fashion design, she decided to design all her items herself. She went to trade fairs and visited factories to source the materials and the manufacturing.
She has always been interested in how the clothes she wears made her feel and the impression they make: “I’m not so interested in fashion and trends, but I really like styling. I like clothes with good materials, proportions and details. So I decided to develop a collection of clothes in a style that I would like to buy for myself.”
Every piece in her collection starts with a vision. The inspiration could be a picture, a piece of art, something from nature, or a specific situation in her life when she wished she had a specific item. Then she makes a drawing of what she hopes it will look like, and discusses it with her tailor.
“It’s a lot of trial and error, and every piece you see in the stores is probably close to version number 15. My forte has never been the technicalities of making clothes. Rather, my strength is my vision and the fact that my perspective on taste is very well defined. I know what I like and what I don’t like, and I stand 100 per cent by every single piece in my collection,” she says.
She made a test collection in 2017 and it was an immediate success. She invited friends and their friends and was able to sell all of the items very quickly.
“That was when I realised that this was something I could actually do. I started by taking some smaller steps, testing the clothes among friends and stores to find my target group and get loyal followers. I couldn’t afford to set up shops or use expensive advertising. Since I’ve been in the PR business, I know what a PR campaign would cost. So I decided to do it all by myself and with the help of my network,” she says.
I couldn’t afford to set up shops or use expensive advertising … so I decided to do it all by myself and with the help of my network.”
In 2018, she produced 1,300 garments for her first real collection, which was launched together with a boutique high-end online store, XinleLu.com, which sells her clothes while showing them at their offline showroom on Shaanxi Bei Lu in Shanghai.
When the store wanted to publish a press release about the fact that they were going to market her clothes she hadn’t even come up with a brand name for her business.
“Every good name I thought of was already taken so I decided to use my own name, Charlotta Gandolfo,” she says. Gandolfo is her French-American husband’s surname.
Later in 2018, she launched her second collection with 4,000 items, among them dresses, skirts, pants and jackets – many of them made from silk. She calls it resort wear, or clothes that can be worn at resorts or on other occasions when women are not working.
“My lifestyle is very much my brand. My friends also like to wear luxurious silk clothes. Like me, they are socially active, travel a lot, go to parties, dinners and events,” she says. “They’ve all been fantastic. Without their support, I would never have been able to do this.”
Today, her clothes are marketed in many shops, including XinleLu, where it is the top-selling brand, and at the luxury hotel group Aman Resorts, which has recently opened a hotel in Shanghai’s Minhang District.
Lagerdahl Gandolfo regards China as her home market, but in 2019 she plans to expand her business to other countries and regions such as the Philippines, the Middle East, Hong Kong and Singapore. In 2020, she is aiming for Europe, California and South America. Sweden is not really part of her plans since it’s too cold for silk clothes there.
“Almost all other fashion brands have started in the West before being launched in the East. I am starting here in the East,” says Lagerdahl Gandolfo.