Lýdia Eckhardt is an extremely successful, yet ordinary woman. Like any other teenage girl, she wanted to look nice and wear nice things. Since the stock in our stores was somewhat limited at that time, to put it lightly, she decided to go the other way. Although she studied law, she is currently one of the most famous fashion designers. Every year, she presents her collections at fashion shows in her country and abroad and promotes herself through large social events. Mrs Lýdia is convinced that everyone should wear what they look good in and what they feel good in. In an interview for LP-Life.com, she told us about her beginnings, her first dress, the ideal model and what women want.
How has the past coronavirus year affected your work?
It's unbelievable, but it didn't affect us at work. Personally - certainly so... It was not easy to accept this situation, but I stopped, gave it some thought, and finally accepted it. I think that from all the negative stuff that has happened, we should come out stronger and more humble at the same time. It is important to realize that life is very fragile and runs by too fast. And most importantly, that our life is one big premiere without the possibility of reprise. It is important to take in values, the value of one's health, relationships... so carpe diem - enjoy the day.
On May 7, 2021, you celebrated your 30th anniversary in the industry. However, the pandemic did not allow for mass events. Has any special event been prepared for this occasion?
Definitely yes. Even in the past, we held all the round anniversaries following a lengthy theme. I had a lot of interesting entries, commemorative films... but I won't talk about it, because I believe that we will succeed on November 5th. After all, it is possible to celebrate every year... and in fact we will still fit into thirty this year.
What does fashion mean to you?
It used to be a hobby that turned into my job, which I enjoy and find fulfilling. And I'm also happy that I had the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing people thanks to my job. We have prepared thousands of models, but I am probably most proud that the girls who started with me at the very beginning still work in this salon today. So I also have employees who have been working with me for thirty years, and four have even "made it" to retirement with me.
Do you remember the first dress you ever designed? Does it still exist?
I remember it very well. I was fourteen years old and I sewed a denim daisy skirt for myself, which absolutely did not live up to standard when it came to the quality of craftsmanship. My mother immediately told me that I couldn't go out like that. But you know, when a person is young, they get away with anything, they can wear a model inside out, youth excuses everything…
A lot of people think that designing a dress is basically an easy job - you draw a model of a dress that someone else sews for you. But how is it really?
I also get a lot of emails from people interested in this line of work. Of course, fashion is a very familiar thing to every woman. But doing it as a job that feeds you is a completely different level. It is different when one dresses oneself because one can get a better feel for it, and completely different again when one has to dress others. When I work with a client, I have to put myself in their shoes, adjust to their needs and desires and respect their feelings. There is a big difference between a dress size 34 and size 52. The design is one thing and the other is its concrete implementation. So if you don't have a "strong workshop" behind you, and I thank God for having one, you never know if the client's expectations will be fulfilled to her satisfaction.
Today, the Lýdia Eckhardt brand is housed in a luxurious, sunlit lounge. But many years ago, you started in a dark basement, without a phone and with only a handful of employees. How do you remember this period? Your beginnings were certainly not easy.
No beginnings are easy. I started in 1991, at a time when entrepreneurs were not viewed very positively. My father and brother were doctors, I graduated from law school. I grew up in a family that focused heavily on education. And this decision of mine violated these principles - why did I even bother studying then - was my father's reproach. My business beginnings were led by great enthusiasm, but also absolute ignorance. For example, when the accountant told me during the first payments that I had to pay some extra charges in addition to the wages, I immediately replaced her - a bad accountant. But the second one went even harder, and brought up paid vacation, holidays, meal vouchers... you know who could have taught us to do business?! We grew up under socialism, where even owning the fashion magazine "Burda" made you a class enemy. It was not easy. When I wrote the book "Uvařme si úspěch" (Let's Cook Success), I prepared a large number of 7-8 dishes for each photoshoot... when I finished the book, I thought I wouldn't cook for a year and I had gained sincere respect for all chefs. By that I mean that every profession looks completely different from the outside... Even my beginnings were not easy, but we managed it all!
You certainly owe the fact that you have come this far to your family and acquaintances who have stood by you from the beginning. You must have received the greatest support from your husband. I hear it was love at first sight with you two...
Definitely. We met a little unconventionally, in a trolleybus. Choosing a partner is very important in life. Of course, one can't guess at the first moment how it's going to turn out... I'm happy that we succeeded. I supported him, he supported me. It's important to have friends around you who have trust in you. And also to enjoy small successes, because even the big ones can come out of the blue... and then it depends on whether they last or not...
Is it true that your husband brought fabrics home for you to use for sewing?
Yes. When I was in college, in addition to the classic university part-time jobs - I also earned money by sewing. Since my husband travelled, he brought me some fabrics and I sewed and sewed. In fact, I'd made the things for my first show all by myself.
Where do you get inspiration from?
For me, the biggest source of inspiration is a satisfied client. It's this huge burst of energy that hits me. If you feel inner satisfaction and joy, you can do anything. We've done hundreds of shows in those thirty years. Of course, one walks with open eyes, perceives colour combinations, nature, but it's still about that inner well-being…
Do you design and sew only for women or for men too?
We have the main Lýdia Eckhardt Fashion collection for women, but we also sew for men, for example suits or tailor-made shirts. It's simpler when it comes to men, but we play with details there... Women's fashion is closer to my heart though.
What do you think women want?
To be happy and internally happy with themselves. If a person is internally happy with themselves, it radiates out of them and then everyone around them is satisfied. And then there is feedback. From my own experience, I can say that when a woman comes who is internally happy with herself... she can be plus-size too and does not have to have the figure of a model... she ends up satisfied with everything. And sometimes a "model" comes along who isn't internally at peace and I know she won't be happy with anything.
How would you characterize your models? What is typical of the Lýdia Eckhardt brand?
It's timelessness, fashion that doesn't get boring, quality materials, attention to detail, and I'm also not a supporter of heavy extravagance. I like subtlety, fashion at second sight. That is, the lady comes in and one suddenly has the urge to turn around and ask what was it that she was wearing?
Who is your role model?
There are a lot of amazing designers. I was at world fashion shows too. For example, Armani, although a classic, has long been widely recognized and is said to be the only designer who is the 100% owner of his empire. Karl Lagerfeld was amazing, so were Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto and I really like Blu Marine.
Your work has garnered a lot of success. Why do you think that is, what makes it unique?
What exactly is success? Quite often, your surroundings perceive you through a media bubble and I don't know how much it reflects reality. For me, the success is that we have survived those thirty years. Slovakia is a small country with a small number of people that you can reach. We have a fantastic team, we go on vacations with the girls, we look forward to working. One spends more than half of one's life at work, so it is important to spend it well.
In the past, you said that one has to actively run towards happiness...
Definitely so. And why run towards happiness? People behind your success see everything but the work. In my book Běžet štěstí naproti (Running Towards Happiness), I emphasize that a person must have a piece of happiness in their life, but it is necessary to get up from sitting in front of the TV and run towards it. If you sit at home and complain about how bad everything is, you probably won't be happy. You must not give up after the first failures. One day the sun will shine upon you.
You are a beautiful woman with a big heart, always perfectly groomed. You look very young and you're always smiling... you're radiating a lot of positive energy. How do you manage this?
You know how it is in life. I'm talking about that inner happiness again. I know. What you give, you get. We often criticize things, how bad it is here... but I feel that it is important to start with yourself. Let's smile! This is a great signal not only for our surroundings, but also for ourselves...
When did the first media successes and the desire for runway shows manifest for you?
I never wanted to do business, I was originally supposed to practice law. It started in 1985 at Fashion Studio, where my first media appearances started too. By sewing everything myself and, of course, wearing it afterwards, I was probably good for advertisement. The neighbourhood people told me that they also wanted such clothes. It went step by step. The salon was created because I could no longer sew for my friends myself. I had my models created in one salon on Šafařík Square. And a curious situation arose - it was at that time, in 1990, when socio-economic relations fell apart, when they decided to close the salon. Considering that the seamstresses and I already knew each other, the decision was easier on both sides! So I was very lucky to start with a professional team... I started with shows in 1990, at a time when my salon was not yet established.
What does your wardrobe look like?
It is very modest. My female vanity is probably happy that I can have everything at the salon. I don't really want anything. But you know how it is. Others' cooking always tastes better. So I like to go for the creations of other designers, even though at work I only wear our models of course...
At the time you began to discover your talents, Burda was popular. Were you inspired by the patterns from this magazine?
An amazing magazine for all women who want to sew something, create something of their own. In my beginnings, I also used mainly their great patterns.
You have been working in the fashion industry for several years. How do you view fashion events in Slovakia? Do Slovak ladies have a knack for choosing clothes or is there still some catching up to do?
The Slovak lady is very receptive and of course, she wants to dress nicely. It is also necessary to respect the certain professional classifications of a specific woman. Some people work in business, which is stricter, there are certain limitations... But I perceive the Slovak lady very positively.
What do you like best about your job?
There is a lot of stuff. I love meeting and working with people, but also creating models. My favourite thing is when I come to work on Saturday, we pull out fabrics and I start pinning them to mannequins. I like my job because it's never the same. I'm also happy to live in a part of the world where the four seasons alternate. I also love travelling, when I went to countries where it's warm all the time, I told myself it'd be quite boring if we could only make summer models.
The presentation of each fashion piece is closely connected with the presentation on living models. What does the ideal model look like through the eyes of Lýdia Eckhardt?
For me, the ideal model should have a height of about 176 cm, strong feminine curves both "front" and "back". Clients who buy models right after the show are always stressed out about whether they will fit into the models on display. Because the collections are set up in size 36. Of course, the clothes are adapted to the body of the model for the show... That is why it is much more acceptable for me if the models aren't just these "stick figures".
We each have something that is extra important to us, even if we are on a desert island. What would it be for you?
If they let me take one thing, it would be hairspray... if they let me take three things, then three hairsprays.
What do you think of the various influencers who are trying to design their own collections? Today, almost every popular personality has their "brand" of clothing...
Let everyone do what they want. The market will decide!
What would you change about the Slovak fashion scene?
And why should I change anything? I don't have the need nor the competence to do that.
How does a fashion designer like to spend time when she is not a fashion designer, at least for a while?
Surrounded by family and friends, with good wine, in sneakers, in nature or by the sea... I also love travelling - sightseeing, but I also like to read a good book, I go to the theatre...
What can your customers look forward to in 2021?
I will be especially happy if November 5, 2021 comes through for us with the fashion show and the thirtieth-anniversary celebration. And I hope each reader can find their own style that will fill them with a sense of happiness. To make them feel good in the model. If you like yourself in something and feel good about it, you will start smiling at yourself in the mirror. So when you put on something that makes you feel good, you smile continuously.
So my short message for readers is: Even Armani said that a woman who has her own style would never change it, not even because of fashion trends. So I wish all women to find this happiness with themselves and to wear what suits them and what they feel good in, because then they will be successful with others as well. And to perceive trends as inspiration, not as dictation.