Photo credit Pamela Berkovic
Interview

Elana Nathan

12.01.14

Elana Nathan is the Chief Executive Officer and 50 percent owner of Peter Som Inc. Prior to joining the Som team as a fashion executive she was a corporate lawyer. In the years Elana has been on board she has changed the direction of the brand significantly; she successfully re-built, and catapulted Peter Som from an emerging brand into a Designer brand with global recognition. With Elana’s passion for the brand and business experience she steered the company into greater publicity, strong retail accounts, and obtained design consultancies and collaborations with Anthropologie, Kohl’s and Bill Blass.

Interview

Peter Som launched his collection back in 2001, were you on board from day one?

I did not start with Peter from day one. I actually met Peter almost twelve years ago through a close friend. We started working together in September 2003, around the time of his Spring show, very casually but it eventually grew into what we have today.

As CEO of the company what are your main responsibilities?

I am responsible for driving the strategic direction of the brand, the P and L responsibility, our partnerships and for basically everything outside of design. My position allows me to work across sales, marketing, public relations, and creative while focusing on and promoting a brand I feel truly passionate about.

What did you see in him that encouraged you to make a shift in your career?

When I saw Peter’s collection for the first time, it was a single cabana print dress in Kirna Zabete that caught my eye. There was something so incredibly fresh about it at the time. After I met him and had a walk through of his collection, I kept thinking and talking about his clothes. A friend of mine finally convinced me that I should call him because I could help his business. I probably called around three times before he finally called me back. We met over coffee in the West Village and the rest is history.

Who else was considered an emerging designer then?

There really weren’t any others around the time of Peter’s start other than Tuleh. The following year, after I joined the company, Proenza Schouler and Derek Lam started their businesses.

Are you surprised by the new, current crop of designers launching collections?

I am honestly because I know how hard it is even with all of the wonderful opportunities afforded to the great talents in this industry. It is very challenging to have both commercial success and critical acclaim. I was an advisor for the CFDA Incubator program a few years ago and that was a wonderful experience to be a part of. I was able to apply my experience from building Peter’s brand into useful advice for emerging designers.

How has your customer changed in recent years?

I think the Designer customer has completely changed. Eleven years ago our customer was a designer-only buyer. She shopped at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue – you only found her in designer clothes. Now our customer is a high-low shopper mixing designer pieces with lower-priced options. You can find her in Uniqlo, J.Crew and Bergdorf.

Has there been a conscious initiative to go after a new audience? Keep the original one?

We are always evolving and have been lucky to have a mother/daughter customer. We love them both!

What do you think is the secret to a successful line?

I am not sure that there is one secret that works for every label. For the Peter Som brand, I think our secret was getting our production deliveries right as well as Peter’s natural talent. As co-owners of the brand, I think we can also credit our success to the commitment and hard work both Peter and I have put into our company.

What does an average day look like for you?

One of the things that has kept this fun for more than a decade is that there are no average days. No day is the same. One thing that is consistent is I try and always take one of my kids to school in the morning. Peter and I touch base by email in the morning when we aren’t in the same place and then the rest of the day is filled with meetings and conference calls. Depending on the time of year it could be show related, or have something to do with one of our many collaborations, which I tend to spearhead. And sometimes it’s more nuts and bolts, like meetings with a retailer or our accountant.