Anybody just tuning into today’s fashion landscape could be forgiven for feeling a bit overwhelmed. Designers are playing musical chairs faster than we can keep track of. Seasons are being restructured to reflect the ever-changing retail demand (see-now-buy-now anyone?). And, we’re slowly bidding farewell to the separation of menswear and womenswear altogether. So, undoubtedly it’s a new and exciting time for the industry, but there are also uncertainties surrounding these rapid changes. In times of change, there are those who cling to the safety of old ways, and then there are the others. The chameleons who charge fearlessly into the unknown and blaze a new and exciting path for the industry. Enter Veronika Heilbrunner; fashion’s ultimate reactionary.
Based in Berlin, this German-born fashion editor and founder of Hey Woman! has pushed back against the status quo at every turn throughout her career. An impressive ticket that has seen her log time at the likes of Harper’s Bazaar and mytheresa.com. With extensive experience that spans each aspect of the business of fashion, Veronika has emerged as exactly the kind of leader the industry needs right now. “Everything is shifting”, she tells me. “The whole media industry is trying to adapt to what the consumer wants and it’s a very interesting time for fashion. I think in a hundred years’ time, people will remember this moment as the digital revolution of fashion”. This digital revolution has changed the retailer-consumer relationship into an evolving love affair, different one day to the next. Not only is this relationship difficult to predict, designers now need to present twice as many collections, throwing the age-old industry schedule into disarray.
When discussing the increasing popularity of showing menswear and womenswear collections in tandem, Veronika believes this “makes total sense, synergy wise”. She too is no stranger to blurring that line. A modern day gamine when it comes to her own wardrobe, Veronika often forgoes the full runway look in favour of a compelling mix of menswear and womenswear – designer and vintage, sportswear and feminine – always with comfort at the core.
In fact, her ability to re-mix fashion has inspired many other women to confidently play with different style codes. And, in an era where style is becoming increasingly homogenous, this is no small feat. Although Veronika downplays it by pointing out that “when everybody’s dressing the same, it’s a lot easier to stand out”. Her ability to react to the current forces in fashion or what’s happening on the street ensures she is always ready to become the next reference on someone’s mood board.
Ultimately, it’s clear that she understands that fashion is a far more powerful thing than just the threads. She feels that fashion offers a unique sense of belonging. “When I was a teenager there were certain groups: the grunge kids, the skater kids, and the posh group,” she tells me. “I have a feeling that this was totally gone at one point and now it has come back”. Except that belonging today looks very different. As the Internet dissolves borders, people are seeking out their tribes in the virtual world. Veronika says that “Location doesn’t mean anything anymore; everything is so global now”, explaining her efforts to foster this sense of virtual belonging through Hey Woman!, the initiative she launched with former Vogue Digital editor Julia Knolle in 2015.
Inspired by her own personality as a reactionary and nonconformist, Hey Woman! has come to represent the fashion zeitgeist and is the go-to style filter for the busy modern woman. Lending the intimacy of a blogging approach with the editorial vision of a magazine, Veronika’s whip-smart knowledge of trends and consumer behaviour has turned this platform into a force to be reckoned with. She’s achieved this by drawing from past experiences in her career. Learning the ropes old-school and working her way up the ranks to Style Editor at Harper’s Bazaar Germany, for example, Veronika’s refusal to stagnate became clear when she fearlessly left the magazine – one of fashion’s most prominent titles – and set her sights on digital commerce.
As Fashion Editor for mytheresa.com, Veronika says that she learned a lot about consumer patterns and the pace of the digital space. “It was the first time I had really worked online, which was crazy speed-wise,” she explains. “The priorities definitely shift when you’re approaching things as a retailer, but you also gain greater insight into consumer behaviours. You have all these inside views on which customer likes what; from which country; and which kinds of women. I thought that was super interesting and now I basically work on both roles, which gives me everything I need”. Departing from yet another fashion giant, Veronika proved again her prowess as a reactionary when she left mytheresa.com to carve out her own digital niche with Hey Woman!.
In many ways it is this confluence of experiences that has armed Veronika with the tools necessary to blend creativity with commerce in an authentic way at Hey Woman!. This nimble operation now represents a way for Veronika to realise her own creative vision. “In a bigger set up, I would say 90 per cent of all the good ideas never come to see the world, because it’s just not possible; it gets stuck somewhere,” she dances politely around the MO of most major publishing houses. She already has a team of six, and with two year’s operation tucked under their belt, Veronika says that Hey Woman! is still small compared to most other outlets. “This means that we can make fast decisions and say no to things we don’t believe in. We can be flexible and reactive, basically”.
This flexibility is what has allowed the Hey Woman! team to become both inclusive and selective in equal measure. “Everybody that works for us is specialised in their field, but they still write from a personal perspective”, Veronika tells me. “We think this is incredibly important, because an opinion always needs a face”. In terms of structure though, Hey Woman! is different to a blog and more akin to a magazine. So with this in mind, she is returning to the integrity of traditional publications and leading the team to push back against the breakneck pace of things right now. “[Julia and I] have this feeling that there’s too much of everything out there” she explains. “There’s too much information, it’s too fast and everyone is posting the same news. So sometimes we seem a little slower at Hey Woman! because we’d rather be really refined. We believe that nobody has time to consume so much”. Which comes as a sigh of relief amidst the current state of digital overload.
It is often said that it’s not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change. Never has this statement felt more apt though, than in the face of our ever-changing fashion landscape. And with that in mind, it’s hard to ignore that Veronika Heilbrunner is indeed fearless in the face of change, carving out a distinct voice and unique sense of personal style amidst all the confusion. Adapting to the state of fashion and forging the most authentic path forward, she is true to herself above all else. So it’s little wonder, then, that fashion’s ultimate reactionary also tends to favour brands with a distinct sense of self. “I love Erdem for example, because he does what he does and it’s always romantic” she reveals. “Every season is a little bit updated, but those brands will still go their way, no matter what. And I think that is true coolness.”
WORDS Rosie Dalton
PHOTOGRAPHY Alice Rosati @ Adamsky
ART DIRECTION Corinne Patron
FASHION Joy Sinanian
HAIR Chiao Chenet @ Airport Agency
MAKEUP Céline Exbrayat @ Call My Agent
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT Andrea Basileo
FASHION ASSISTANT Céline Gaulhiac
TALENT Veronika Heilbrunner