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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

A dreamer made good

Despite having no formal training in fashion, Izumi Ogino has made her label, Anteprima, a fixture on the Milan Fashion Week calendar. Her secret? Fearlessness
The Straits Times - March 12, 2013
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A dreamer made good

Today is International Women's Day, as good a time as any to talk about a woman I had the pleasure of meeting recently at Milan Fashion Week's autumn/winter shows.

Ms Izumi Ogino, the Japanese creative director of Anteprima, has quietly defied the odds to establish her brand in a market that was previously impervious to Asian names.

Twice a year, Anteprima shows its collections in Milan quietly and without fanfare. They may not inspire reams of gushy fashion prose, but have been a solidly consistent mainstay on the city's fashion calendar since 1998, when Ms Ogino became the first Asian to be given a slot in the prestigious Fashion Week line-up.

The brand has also been, since it started in 1993, an essential staple in the wardrobes of stylish women who don't necessarily want to make a splashy entrance, but prefer to glide in with unrippled sophistication instead.

This year, it celebrates its 20th anniversary with the same characteristic understatement: There are no big parties or special collections; just business as usual, in the form of refined collections marked by fine fabrics and knits, workmanship and subtle design flourishes.

LIKE DOING A BACKFLIP

The story of Anteprima, however, is anything but simple. It is the story of a woman who found success by breaking down geographical and cultural barriers, armed with nothing more than a good fashion eye, supreme confidence and a little bit of luck.

"I am fearless," says Ms Ogino, 58, with a laugh. An avid sportswoman who was a champion junior golfer in her youth, she had no formal training in fashion, apart from being born into a well-to-do family which made and supplied sashes, or obi, to the Imperial family of Japan. Instead, she studied art and philosophy at Seijo University in Tokyo.

"I don't think too much about danger, otherwise you will never do anything. It's like doing a backdive or a backflip in gymnastics; I just throw myself backwards," she says of her approach to life and its challenges. She also pays little heed to naysayers.

DETERMINED TO MAKE IT WORK

This steely conviction led to the birth in 1998 of the brand's iconic Wirebag, which is made up of interwoven reflective spectacle holder cords. Initially, no one thought such a strange concept would fly. But she stuck to her guns and it has become the prime mover of the label, accounting for more than 50 per cent of its sales.

We are in her apartment-cum-studio in Milan, situated above the Anteprima boutique in the city's trendy Corso Como street. It is neat and grey, spartan but stylishly furnished, as befitting her brand's aesthetic.

Ms Ogino is petite and youthful looking, her delicate features reminiscent of Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung. She is shorn of all embellishments and make-up, dressed in a simple black knit top and matching skirt.

But, as with her designs, she offers a cheeky nod to whimsy - on her feet are fluffy white bedroom slippers, the kind you find in plush hotel rooms.

She was already 39 when she started Anteprima. "I started very late, but age means nothing to me. I had a dream and I was determined to make it work."

Indeed, Ms Ogino could have well settled into a very comfortable life of the privileged stay-at-home trophy wife. But she chose instead to do something more with herself.

After university, she married an American businessman and became a housewife. The couple soon divorced and, in 1988, she married Mr Masaaki Ogino. Now 72, he is co-founder of Hong Kong's Fenix Group Holdings, which manufactures knitwear and owns and distributes retail brands such as Marimekko and Atsuro Tayama in Asia.

Ms Ogino's son from her previous marriage, Hideki, 34, studied art in Paris, set up his own company at the age of 21 and is now a top e-marketing consultant in Japan. He helps out with social media for Anteprima.

Mr Ogino's daughter, Kaori, 42, studied in Boston University and Harvard and is now a freelance linguistic consultant in the United States.

GOING IT ALONE

It was Ms Ogino who told her husband about a newly rejuvenated Italian brand called Prada.

"I loved fashion and I loved Prada, so I asked him to look into investing in and distributing the brand in Asia." What followed was the stuff of legends.

From 1986, the Oginos spearheaded the spectacular rise of Prada in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, until the brand decided to take over its own worldwide distribution in 1999.

Faced with this sudden void, MsOgino decided to go it alone with her own fashion brand, Anteprima, which had started as a knitwear offshoot of Prada.

The Oginos bought it over and started building it as their own, with MsOgino as its creative head. She based herself in Milan because it is a fashion capital, busying herself with setting up a design studio; while her husband remained in Hong Kong to manage the business side of things.

FOLLOWING HER DREAM

The early years were difficult as she spoke little Italian. She relied largely on her close friendship with the Prada family, who helped Anteprima in the first two years with the manufacturing of its leather goods.

It is a bond which continues today. "I admire the Prada family and I always learn a lot from them," she says.

Unlike other creative heads, MsOgino prefers to keep a low profile. "I don't really socialise because I am busy."

Anteprima was an immediate success. Today, there are more than 100Anteprima stores worldwide, including in Singapore.

As the brand celebrates its 20th year, she is unsentimental about her legacy as she prepares to look for a successor.

"I have no ego. I want this brand to be forever but I cannot be here forever. I would like to step back in a few years and offer support behind the scenes."

At the same time, she is still pushing the boundaries for Anteprima. Her next dream is to open a flagship store in NewYork.

"I always look far ahead. I always think of role models such as architect Tadao Ando, who also had no formal training.

"I believe if you have a dream, you should just follow it."

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