Inspired by the lounging pajamas worn by Coco Chanel and her contemporaries in the 20s, and longing for glamorous post-party wear, former luxury brand consultant Olivia von Halle began working on her elegant nightwear range in 2011. Launching at London Fashion Week the same year, the brand’s flattering cuts and directional prints are today our favorite.
Before I knew it, I had friends queuing up for me to make them a pair, too. It was the slowest eureka moment, but eventually I realized that there was nothing else like them available at the time. I set up Olivia von Halle and moved back to London in 2011 to launch the brand. I love a challenge and the fact that no one else was making luxury silk pyjamas at the time was the most motivating factor. I wanted to be the first, the best and the biggest!
Of course, my background in trend forecasting has really helped. I’ve always been a strong believer in following your gut instinct. I love creating products that feel new, exciting and relevant to the zeitgeist. We don’t believe in following other brands or designing what we think our customers may like. Yes, you might make a mistake but ultimately that’s how you learn and get better. Being too afraid to take risks is the biggest obstacle to growth.
TB: Who is the person you address with your designs?
OVH: We’re really lucky in that the type of product we make is considered a staple of pretty much every woman! As with the pyjamas, lots of our product categories have come about out of necessity: even our silk-cashmere tracksuits are designed with a use – travel – in mind. This aspect of utility gives it quite universal appeal, which I love. Often people will buy for all the women in their family, for Christmas or another special occasion, regardless of their age and I think there’s something really unifying in that.
TB: Tell us about your Psychedelic Picnic Collection collection.
OVH: The collection was inspired by a psychedelic version of the 1970s film Picnic at Hanging Rock. The prints are a totally mad kaleidoscope of references from prowling panthers to fantasy floral and mushrooms. This season we introduced a textured silk devoré in leopard print and a silk twill which offers more structure to our growing offering of readyto-wear pieces. The collection also has lots of really fun new details - the “Aureta Prairie” dress for example, has Swarovski crystal buttons and some of our ‘Minnie’ and ‘Bibi’ dresses have gold chain straps. I believe the devil is in the detail and so the finishing touches are always super important to me, they are what makes a piece feel extra luxe.
TB: A key piece?
OVH: I can’t get enough of my “Aureta Prairie” dress - it’s a bias-cut midi with voluminous sleeves and beautiful seam detailing to the bust that was inspired by a 1930s nightdress. The print is a delicate ditsy floral that playfully contrasts with the acid yellow base color. It looks great paired with cowboy boots and is so versatile - it’s the perfect day to night dress.
TB: What are some of the traditional techniques in your designs that are noteworthy or uncommon in clothing today?
OVH: OvH is about focusing on a few key styles and elevating them, it’s about putting real thought and effort into these often forgotten about pieces and trying to make them the best they can be. We don’t cut corners and invest huge amounts of time honing our product. For example, the Missy tracksuit took two years to develop – other businesses may see this as lost time, lost revenue, but to us the product isn’t finished until every last detail has been perfected.
Our signature silk pieces are made from 19 momme silk, which is much weightier than many other silks on the market today; it has the most incredible drape and lustre. All our prints are hand-drawn and then screen printed onto the fabric, our buttons are made from mother of pearl and our seams are hand-rolled using the same 19 momme silk. Many of these materials and heritage methods are rarely used today due to their expense, but they are what make our pieces recognizably OvH and what sets us apart from our competitors.
These things are a luxury, but as a designer putting new things out into the world it’s so important to me that they are loved and treasured. The system is broken, we need for people to keep and care for their clothes the way they used to, so our pieces are designed so that every detail can be enjoyed and last.
TB: Where is your collection produced?
OVH: We produce the majority of the collection in China, which is where I was living when I founded the brand and of course it’s the home of the Silk Road. Chinese sericulture goes back thousands of years and the silk produced in Hangzhou province, where our factory is, is the best in the world. The women who work there are experts at their craft, which has been honed over generations - the process is something to behold and I love nothing more than watching our pieces come to life there.
TB: Which fabrics do you mostly use for your nightwear?
OVH: The majority of our nightwear is made from 19 momme silk satin but as the brand has grown we’ve incorporated a more diverse range of compositions, such as marocain and crepe-de-Chine, into the collections. As well as feeling butter soft against your skin, silk also regulates your body temperature and controls moisture levels, making it the perfect material to sleep in.
I also love how versatile it is - you’d never know it to look at it but even our Missy tracksuit has a silk component. When we were developing this style, we stumbled across the most amazing double-faced knitted silk-cashmere blend and it proved utterly impossible to resist. None of the design team had ever felt anything like it. It has no “back”, so the inside is as soft and luxurious as the outside. Everyone knows how amazing woven silk and cashmere feel against your skin but the combination of the two creates a butter soft jersey effect which is pure heaven to wear. I love that a natural material as ancient as silk can still be reinvented in this way.
TB: Three things that make your brand unique.
OVH: As a brand we like to push the boundaries and I think this makes us unique and really sets us apart from our competitors. One of the things I’m proudest of is how we took the forgotten and humble pyjama and turned it into a beautiful, aspirational piece. With all our product development, searching for this point of difference is key.
We are also completely uncompromising on quality and every aspect of the garment, from the French seams to the mother-of-pearl buttons, is meticulously considered. If a product isn’t 100% perfect, it doesn’t go into production.
Our prints also have a really unique personality that has become synonymous with the brand. They are designed in our London townhouse and are exclusive to the brand. They are thoughtful and sophisticated but fun and have a real sense of humor. One of them, a zebra motif named Zebedee, was so successful we made it into a brand logo!
TB: Do you have a favorite historical reference that you always return to?
OVH: We intentionally look to different points of inspiration each season, so every collection feels new and exciting. But there is something about the roaring 20s that has perfect synergy with the brand and product.
TB: What does your usual working day look like?
OVH: I have two young boys so my day starts rather early. At OvH we have a leisurely 10am start so I’m able to spend some time with them before heading in to work. One of the things I love most about my job is that no two days are ever the same, so from design reviews to factory visits to Fashion Week sales I am always kept on my toes! The business and team are growing so quickly that no two challenges are ever the same and whilst that can restrict routine, it’s amazing to be in such a dynamic and exciting environment.
TB: Is there something that inspires you most in your work?
OVH: I love to push the boundaries of our category and get most inspired and excited when we’re developing new product. It’s so satisfying spotting a gap in your wardrobe and then creating something that fits perfectly in it. If I reach to wear it before it’s actually dropped then I know we’re on to a winner! Innovation will always be at the heart of the brand.
TB: What are the inspirations that come from other creative fields?
OVH: We don’t look to other fashion brands for inspiration so all our reference points come from other creative fields. I try to draw inspiration from anything and everything. When we begin work on a new season, the main requirement is that the starting point or theme feels fresh and exciting – and it has to hit the zeitgeist. Previous collections have begun with a single quote from an Ayn Rand novel, tattered copies of Italian Vogue from the 90s, and the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch.
TB: Which countries are your biggest markets?
OVH: Our customer is very international but the USA is our biggest market, followed by the UK and China.
TB: What advice would you give to young women today?
OVH: Always trust your instincts. When I first started out I received so much advice that, had I listened to all of it, the business wouldn’t have even got off the ground! It requires courage and a leap of faith, but if you trust your instincts, you can’t go far wrong.
TB: Where are you most at peace?
OVH: When riding my horse, Herman. He’s an 18.2hh Irish Draught and I find riding him is almost like meditating. When you really concentrate on something you’re able to let your mind unwind and disconnect - a rare treat in today's world!
TB: What is the secret of the good night’s sleep?
OVH: I’m completely obsessed with baths and now have the whole ritual down to a fine art. I put my phone on airplane mode, run a super-hot bath with my favorite Jo Malone bath oils and mix myself a G&T to enjoy in the tub with a good book. It’s the most therapeutic thing. I’ll stay in there for an hour or two before sliding off to bed, in silk pyjamas of course.
* The story “Kaleidoscopic Fantasy” by Tanja Beljanski first appeared in the April 2020 issue of L'Officiel Arabia.