Danaja Vegelj is the Creative Director from Uzwei, our favorite Hamburg-based fashion store
Three and a half years after it first opened, Hamburg-based fashion store Uzwei has put a face-lift on its brand portfolio and balanced its vast selection of avant-garde designers with some of the industry’s most sought-after names, including Balenciaga and Givenchy (which itself is currently undergoing a transformation under the creative direction of Clare Waight Keller). Creative director Danaja Vegelj is responsible for all of this good taste and she sat down with us to explain her vision for this new, younger branch of the family-owned business, Unger Fashion: Uzwei! (Yes, their new campaign is out too. See below.)
How did the idea for Uzwei come about?
Florian Braun, CEO of Unger, Hamburg’s first address for luxury fashion, wanted to create a space that would cater to fashion-savvy, well-travelled, modern women. The idea behind Uzwei was very simple: It has to be about a certain way of life (as opposed to just seasonal trends). When I first interviewed for the job, there was one thing that made me truly believe it was the right position for me: Mr. Braun said that Uzwei was created for a French woman, with “French” being a rather metaphoric expression for an independent woman who dresses for herself. An Uzwei woman does not dress for her man or to impress others; for her fashion is an extension of her personality, a powerful, silent communication. What made me fall in love with Uzwei was its deeper take on fashion: It’s not just the clothes; it’s sociology.
I believe that the essence of this quest also reflects in the store’s portfolio: Apart from A-list brands (Balenciaga, Givenchy, Loewe, Stella McCartney), we offer avant-garde designers (Jacquemus, Sacai, Rokh, to only name a few), fine jewelry (Ana Khouri, Fernando Jorge, Delfina Delettrez, Carolina Bucci), cosmetics (in cooperation with Niche Beauty), and an in-house deli which is an extension of the store and gives serious shopping the right, laid-back balance. In other words: Uzwei is a place to inspire and be inspired.
What makes the store and the selection special? What’s important to you?
As my boss always says: We want to be the place for people to discover and embrace novelty. Luxury fashion is a strong backbone to our portfolio, and yet we always try do discover something new. That said, we put a great value into our “avant-garde” brands – we love Jacquemus or Rokh, a brand that will cater to a woman who loves modern constructed minimalism with a twist.
We like to call Uzwei an “editorial” store, meaning the store takes on a new shape with every season. It’s a bit like a well-curated magazine: It reflects our personal tastes and suggests an aesthetic preference that is essentially different. As opposed to shopping being a necessity, Uzwei strives to offer a trip into the world of experience. Yes, we are well aware that online shopping sometimes ticks all the right boxes in our busy everyday lives, but then there are times when you need to touch the fabric, smell the perfume, and taste that salmon poke bowl. You come to us to spend time, hang out, and participate.
1 / 2
What had you been doing in your career before taking this position, Danaja?
I always say I’m a “Friday girl” and I have a track record to prove it. There are very few things I have categorically said no to in my life – professionally as well as privately – meaning I never feared moving to a city I’d never been to before just for a project I found exciting. Slovenian-born, I’ve been to Paris, the States, London, and Berlin before moving to Hamburg in 2014 to work with Uzwei. Needless to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into since I’d never been to the city of the Alster Lake and Astra beer before.
I think this natural curiosity actually comes from my academic profession – a journalist by education, I decided to dig deeper into books and wrote my master’s thesis on sociology of art and fashion. I worked as a fashion journalist, a stylist, did some TV work for a while, and then perpetually landed in the mysterious wilderness of retail, first by working for Agent Provocateur (I often refer to that as the “rock ’n’ roll era” of my life) and then by taking over as creative director at Uzwei. Oh, and to inject the story with some old-fashioned romance: I still write on the side, mostly about literature, philosophy, and life’s many (im)perfections. Because, you know, why not?
The store has been around for three and a half years now. What have you learned? What has been the most enjoyable part?
That there is always room for exceptional ideas and that it’s okay to stand out from the crowd. To be bold. If I was going to single-out one particular lesson, it must be fine jewelry. Uzwei is one of the very few stores that offers jewelry in the context of a fashion store and at the beginning it wasn’t clear if these works of art (because that’s what our jewelry selection actually is: works of art) would find their place in this peculiar environment. German customers are used to a completely different approach when shopping for jewelry: They go to stores that specialize in gemstones and diamonds and gold, but they are not necessary willing to experiment and spend large amounts of money in a place that isn’t essentially just dealing in fine jewelry. We started small and gradually grew a beautiful portfolio – now our annual fine jewelry dinners happen to be welcomed with much anticipation. Reserved for our exclusive clients, they offer an opportunity for them to get to know the designers, try their pieces, and invest wisely. We had Ana Khouri and Fernando Jorge as hosts and we are planning on a dinner with Delfina Delettrez this year.
1 / 6
What can we expect for 2018?
We just launched our first-ever advertising campaign to accompany the new era of Uzwei. We put a great chunk of our budget into the luxury brands that are now leading the way – Balenciaga and Givenchy are both new in our portfolio. The campaign was shot in a young, flirty way to show that we know our business but don’t take ourselves too seriously, hence the warm yet raw images that are full of natural emotion.
Apart from that, we promise we will continue to spoil everyone with a new wave of fantastic events (that somehow became our trademark throughout the last three and a half years) and to integrate our customers into every step of the process, because – really – where would we be without them?
– IN COOPERATION WITH Uzwei –
Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.