Never afraid to experiment, Yes Master is about to launch its coolest swimwear collection yet, complete with a comic book story about a girl transforming herself through a vortex. Eccentric designer and trained scientist Igor Pacemski talks Sarah Blackman through his brand’s 10th anniversary range.
Psyching yourself up to design tropical swimwear out of a concrete textile factory in western Bulgaria is no mean feat – Yes Master designer and creative director Igor Pacemski is the first person to admit that.
“There’s a heap of grey around us,” he tells Lingerie Insight. “The closest thing I can compare the factory to is a very heated-up restaurant kitchen, with several bad-tempered chefs throwing pans everywhere. It was a massive culture shock for us, coming here from a nice London office.”
But despite the bleak picture Pacemski paints of his surroundings, his voice is animated and cheerful. You can clearly hear the passion he has for his work over the crackling of the trans-European telephone network. And, somehow, from the dark four walls of his manufacturing facility, he’s created a range of cool and edgy swimwear lines that have got everybody talking.
A trained scientist – and an eccentric one at that – Pacemski is gearing up for the 2015 launch of Igor’s Laboratory, Yes Master’s 10th anniversary collection, consisting of 10 swimwear designs.
“It will be a limited-edition range and we will put out a commercial story. So there is a whole comic strip that I have drawn myself and it’s basically exploring my warped mind,” he says, before laughing at himself.
The collection is inspired by Pacemski’s fascination with the female ability to quickly transform herself into an immaculate vision, as if she’s just stepped through a smoke screen and into the spotlight.
He describes the commericial story: “There’s this girl who takes an overdose, which is all a bit dark, and she goes on a near-death experience trip to various exciting places. She then falls through a vortex and ends up at her boudoir table looking very middle class. The things on her boudoir table are all things that she collected on the vortex trip.”
“It sounds pretty mental, but I’ve always been fascinated by the female transformation and how a woman can make herself attractive very, very efficiently. It’s something boys can’t really do and it’s pointless even trying,” he adds.
Igor’s Laboratory is only the second major swimwear collection that will run as part of Yes Master’s main line. In the past, the brand’s swimwear designs have generally been launched as part of collaborations with high-fashion retailers.
“The first collaboration we did was with Urban Outfitters in 2012. That was in the UK and in the US and has been incredibly successful. We sold out in three days, which was crazy,” explains Pacemski.
“Then Topshop came along and took swimwear from us and then, in 2013, we launched our first full swimwear collection.”
In May 2014, Yes Master will once again design a swimwear collection exclusively for Urban Outfitters. The 20-piece collection is inspired by the work of artist and social activist Keith Herring, and features oversized digital prints and mesh inserts.
So why the sudden focus on swim? After all, Yes Master was founded out of Pacemski’s love for lingerie.
Originally from former Yugoslavia, Pacemski arrived in the UK in 1993 where he attended boarding school in Uppingham, Rutland. Then, when he turned 17, he studied chemistry at Leicester University, before deciding to pursue a career in London, where his passion for fashion was born.
After a brief stint as a waiter and a shop assistant, Pacemski found himself working as a warehouse boy.
“I was in my jogging bottoms offloading lorries and such, and it was all very bloakey and wonderful. Then I got promoted to an office assistant and eventually worked on buying and design – this was at Lambretta Clothing. Then all of a sudden I found myself in Coco de Mer. I got head-hunted by them and that’s how I started in lingerie,” he reflects.
“Back then, lingerie was extremely comical in my head. It was all frilly and ridiculous, and for housebound women who pounced on their husbands. Then, all of a sudden, I discovered I loved it,” says Pacemski.
Years later, Pacemski’s ability to design swimwear came as an unexpected surprise. “I can advertise as much as I like about how much I love lingerie, but the fact of the matter is, our swimwear has been selling four to five times quicker than our lingerie. The proof is in the pudding,” he explains.
“Unfortunately, America, the UK, Canada and France can’t all be wrong. Buyers in these countries told us to listen to what the consumers have been asking for and what they’re asking for is swimwear.”
Now, back in the Bulkans, Pacemski is leading a less glamorous lifestyle than when he was living and working in London, but he believes that being based in a textile factory gives Yes Master a competitive advantage over other brands.
He explains: “A collection costs a hell of a lot of money to make so unless you’re loaded you simply can’t afford to produce the things. I’m not talking about buying stock, I’m talking about sampling. Many factories are reluctant to do it, so you end up doing it in dodgy sampling studios, the product ends up looking dreadful, it sends the wrong message to the buyers etc.”
But it’s not all about making a profit. Over the years, Pacemski has discovered that, for him, designing swimwear is much more practical than designing lingerie.
“I used to specialise, and I still do to an extent, in beautiful printed silks and, you know, it’s a very unforgiving fabric base. First of all it’s really difficult to manufacture, but it’s also really restrictive as a fabric,” the designer explains.
“Ultimately, all the fabrics that I genuinely love and genuinely excite me, which are really pretty fabrics in really bold strong prints, have actually been better for swimwear in a funny sort of way. It started off when we did the same print in lingerie and swimwear and it absolutely flew out in swimwear, and not in the lingerie.”
“It’s a bit like starting off being a sprinter and finding out you’re better at boxing. I guess I’ve always had it in me but it has never crossed my mind to [design swimwear],” Pacemski adds.
Yes Master lingerie is renowned for its dark and decadent prints, featuring dragon scales, damsels in distress, starry nights, and even David Bowie’s face. But, Pacemski believes that, with swimwear, he can push his edgy design signature even further. “I believe that swimwear buyers are willing to take more of a risk than lingerie buyers,” he says.
“Also, a customer is less inhibited than she would be when buying lingerie and is much more likely to buy something that looks fabulous for her holidays.”
For 2014, Yes Master is shifting its focus away from selling product to independent stores. “The independent sector is very vulnerable globally. We do deal with independents, but there are only a select few independents that we feel could do the collection justice,” says Pacemski.
The few independents he refers to include Dolci Follie, a London boutique for which Yes Master has designed an exclusive capsule collection of lingerie and swimwear. The range, based on the brand’s SS14 range Wyrd, is being promoted by Farfetch.com, which offers consumers a unique shopping experience; bringing them designer fashion from boutiques around the world.
Yes Master’s two favoured retail segments are now top-end department stores and super fashion-led boutiques.
“They aren’t there for the profit because ultimately their orders aren’t that big, but there’s something very satisfying about retailing in Harvey Nichols or working with a retailer like Liberty,” Pacemski explains.
“So at the top-end we are going for a very narrow selection of retailers that understand their product and who we love working with, and we will be curating collections for them.”
“The second aspect is the mid-price American segment, so people like Urban Outfitters or ModCloff. We love working with these buyers because they have an incredible work ethic, they work round the clock. We’ve nurtured the relationships with these clients and they have opened incredible doors for us,” he adds.
Yes Master will co-design ranges with these American retailers, and also independently design ranges with them in mind.
“You may think that this is not the essence of what a brand is, but I think that the very definition of the word ‘brand’ has changed and that old way of doing two collections a year is no longer working.”
Yes Master is also considering walking away from London Fashion Week, an event it has been a part of since it was founded in 2005, and showcasing its products on a one-on-one bases.
Pacemski was one of the curators of Boudoir of London Fashion Week, an initiative that tried to make lingerie and swimwear a part of the fashion calendar.
“I haven’t considered doing London Fashion Week this season but I will certainly think about it going forward, possibly with New York and Paris in mind. It sounds like I’m turning my back on the UK, which is not the case at all – I just find London Fashion Week a bit meh” he says, with a frustrated tone.
“There was some great funding put into it around its anniversary, and that was all very well and good, but unfortunately, we all know that unless you show on schedule in the tents, London Fashion Week is not worth doing. And I also know that we are a long way away from a lingerie label being allowed to do that. This is the sad truth.”
So what makes Yes Master’s swimwear so popular among retailers like Urban Outfitters and customers alike? Pacemski is fully aware that digital printing in the lingerie and swimwear world is nothing new.
“What makes us really special is the fact that we are not just about print, but mixing print with concept and creative innovations. That’s quite rare because it tends to be one or the other,” he explains.
“We have a very, very conceptual way of thinking – it is an unusual thinking process. Whether it’s the fact that I’m a boy or whether the fact that it’s because I’m a scientist by training, my brain cells work slightly differently and the result is always quite unique.”
“I think what also makes us quite special is the added luxury element to our designs. No one can dispute that we were creative before, but certainly people would question whether our products were well made or well priced. I think basically they weren’t the finished package, and now they are, and that’s why the interest has increased.”
Pacemski’s weird and wonderful imagination is echoed through the commercial story of Igor’s Laboratory. But despite the obvious reference to Frankenstein, the ‘Master’ in Yes Master is actually a strong impulse that makes a customer buy something they’ve never seen or heard of before.
He explains: “We’ve all impulse bought. I once picked up a pair of jeans in Selfridges, and I was so excited by the fit that I took them to the counter and the shop assistant said ‘£430, sir’. Anyone with half a brain cell would have said ‘piss off’. But I was too embarassed, so I bought them. I had to have them.”