Courtesy of Karla Otto

PR Executive

Karla Otto

Written by Saul Taylor

There may be no greater singular force in fashion. A global influencer long before social media and its acolytes appropriated the term, Karla Otto virtually invented contemporary communications advising clients such as Prada, Jil Sander, Givenchy and Off-White over the course of more than three decades and currently handling communications for well over 100 brands across the globe.

What is it about Milan that still holds such an attraction for you (and the rest of the world)?

Milan has been undergoing somewhat of a renaissance for a couple of years now and is currently one of the most desirable European cities in which to live, work, or visit. This is, in part, thanks to the recent EXPO and also the continued growth of the international Salone del Mobile design week and the continuing strength of Milan’s men’s and women’s seasonal fashion weeks. It is also a gateway to the rest of Italy and Europe, and is the beating industrial and business heart of Il Bel Paese. I fell in love with Milan when I first visited on a modelling assignment, and it became the city where I started my business and opened my first office in ‘82.

How have things changed in the fashion industry since you started at the beginning of the 1980s?

Fashion has always been powerful, but brands now have to have a strong political and ethical voice to cut through. The market and the clientele today are much more demanding of this and expect brands to have a raison d’etre beyond just creating coveted objects of desire, style or beauty. Also, the universal move into the digital sphere from analogue has ensured that the strongest brands can quickly succeed, whilst those that don’t fall swiftly by the wayside.

What has remained the same?

The ability to make one dream, aspire to something, to be part of something and also — conversely — express oneself. Fashion has always been intricately connected to music, youth culture, the latest trends in design, art and architecture — in fact, culture as a whole. Everyone looks to fashion as being the zeitgeist and having a finger on the pulse of the future and indeed the continuing change of collections reflects this and has always existed. Though not on such a rigid seasonal basis as before.

Events and experiences have become a new type of currency. How are you setting your own benchmark for this part of your business?

We were living in a world dictated to by big advertising. Now people look to more direct experiences. Today’s emerging generations favour experiences over owning something material. Hence brands now look to generate brand value and global awareness via events and experiences. This is the current currency that truly makes people dream and engage with brands.

Who are your top three events/experience producers?

Can I name four?! K2 (our sister agency specialising in production and events for the last 15 years and partner under the umbrella of the Independents Group), Villa Eugenie, PRODJECT of Keith Baptista and Bureau Betak.

How did The Independents come about and what do you hope to achieve with it?

K2 is the most important production company in Asia with offices in China, Korea, Japan. KO was established in Asia, but is perhaps better known for our more established offices in Europe and the US. K2 wanted to enter the West, and KO wanted to strengthen in the East, hence joining forces was the perfect way to establish a combined global infrastructure via which to better push our brands and clients.

Tell us about your focus on the Middle East and Asia.

As we all know, within 15 years 70 per cent of luxury goods will be purchased in Asia and we know how powerful the spending wallet is of the Gulf countries. We have therefore expanded in Asia, opening further offices in Seoul and Tokyo (now totalling five in Asia) and partnered in Dubai with the most important communications agency there, The Qode.

How have you adapted to the sudden supremacy of social media and digital platforms?

The Karla Otto business had always anticipated that the advent of a more digital world would fundamentally change things – hence why we established our Digital seven years ago. Today that department has developed beyond compare — along with our rapidly changing world – and is now our Global Creative & Digital Strategy Division, which responds to the needs of our increasingly demanding clientele by developing 360-degree creative digital strategies.

Where does this leave traditional media?

Traditional media, due to the fact that only the very best media (in journalism or image curation) have survived, means that those platforms are all the more coveted. A strange by-product of the immense industry changes we’ve undergone has been the incredible rise of the style title, biannual or coffee-table tome. It has become increasingly difficult to secure column inches in the best global media as the space is so fiercely fought over. Most of our clients still want these as the cherry on the cake, supported by a larger critical mass of digital and social media.

What magazines do you read?

All the main global and national broadsheets (in print on a plane, or online on my phone), the world’s leading fashion magazines, as well as more local niche titles. And many lifestyle, art and design mags, in line with our growing divisions covering Arts & Culture, F&B and Hospitality as the world grows smaller and different segments cross and blur.

What keeps you going?

I’m as hungry as ever to discover new labels, trends, openings, and ultimately opportunities for our businesses to grow and thrive. The seismic shifts are very inspiring for all our platforms and keep us constantly motivated (and up at night!)

Tell us about your love for the Engadin. How and why has it become such a feature in your life?

Not only its unique position, incredible landscape and stunning beauty all year round, but the incredible mix of interesting people that flow through during the year, give me so much pleasure and stimulation and inspire me to keep returning there for over 30 years.

What makes a great event?

A great event is like a good pasta dish — it is all about the ingredients! A good reason to have it, a great concept, a fabulous guest list, the right music and perfect lighting.