Bagging The World

Sibylle Schoen, CEO of luxury brand Aigner, tells Aarti Nagraj the story behind her success.

Dressed in black, Sibylle Schoen, the CEO of designer brand Etienne Aigner AG, embodies her brand’s motto- modern and classic. She removes her wallet to give me her card, and is quick to point out that it is one of Aigner’s signature creations. “I never go out without an Aigner bag.”

The 43-year-old, who was in Dubai to launch the German brand’s cinematic collection, says that she’s really excited about Aigner’s growth in the region. It’s been a long journey for Schoen since she took over as the firm’s CEO in 2008. She was tasked with reviving the dwindling luxury brand, a job that she admits was challenging.

“When I joined the brand, its DNA was not clearly defined. The DNA of a brand comes from following up the process of product distribution and marketing. And when I arrived and checked, I saw that the bags don’t sell because the product was not right. It was too heavy; it was not sexy, elegant or feminine.”

Schoen immediately brought in Christian Beck as head designer, and worked closely with him, to create a team that she calls “a miracle.”

The company currently turns over E34 million business per year, and E58 million including licencees. “To be honest, at the end of the day, it’s not the turnover that matters; it’s the question of how much money you earn with it,” says Schoen.

“When I joined the company, I would keep checking – what is the sellout of the bags? How are my partners? – I still do. But it took more than two years for my partners to get back to me saying ‘thank you, we are earning money again.'”

With partners in 47 countries around the world, Schoen admits that it’s a tough job to please all the markets. But being a relatively small brand, their designs are not culturally specific, and are created to have a worldwide appeal.

“The definition of Aigner is that we are a modern classic brand that we are proud of. To be modern means not highly trendy, but trendy enough so that even a young person can wear it,” she says.

For Schoen personally, the connection with the brand is a long and cherished one. “When we grew up, Aigner was the luxury brand in Germany. I even stole an Aigner belt from my mother to wear for a couple of hours and then I returned it,” she reminisces. “It was so precious for us.”

The initial attraction had a lasting impact – Schoen decided as a young girl that she wanted to be in the fashion world, and started off as a pattern cutter at Escada 22 years ago. “I did everything a designer needs to do – I visited a fashion school, I drew, and I even got to know everything about how a bag is made. I did nearly every job in the fashion business,” she says.

Schoen worked with Timberland, Wolford, Gabriele Strehle Blue and Goldpfeil before joining Aigner. And all that experience has made her an extremely confident CEO.

“If I didn’t trust myself, then I could never perform in such a position. So you don’t ask if you can do it – you just trust yourself and your power. I always ask myself ‘is this the right way I’m going now,’ but I never doubt my person. Otherwise I would never have taken such a job,” she says.

Being in this position has also eaten into most of her personal time. “But I’m still married,” she says, laughing.

So has Aigner’s famous logo, the horseshoe-shaped A, brought her luck? “I hope so,” she says, quickly adding: “But at the end of the day, everybody is their own luck maker.”