You might expect Fabiani’s brand director to have a tuxedo collection to rival George Clooney’s. You’d be wrong though.
‘To be honest, I don’t have that much clothing. I have really good core basics that I just kind of move around,’ says Arie Fabian, looking dapper in a navy, double-vented, two-button Fabiani suit. ‘Contrary to what most people may assume, I don’t really think about what I’m going to wear. I just put something together because it feels right. I can dress it up, dress it down, mix it up – it makes no difference. For example, I may wear a tux jacket with a T-shirt, jeans and a pair of sandals. It’s a bit of a juxtaposition but I prefer thinking of it in terms of “imperfection is perfection”.’
Surely the snappy dresser must have plenty of footwear though?
‘I probably have about six pairs of shoes in total. I see no problem with wearing the same pair every day. I can wear one pair all week long. But I do change my socks and underwear daily,’ he laughs.
If Arie’s dress sense seems to be innate, it’s probably because fashion is in his genes. His father, Jeffrey, opened the first Fabiani store in Cape Town’s St George’s Mall in 1978. Arie, who was four at the time, remembers it well. ‘There is a clear first memory. We had a snooker table in the basement for customers. I remember trying to play but I was too short to reach the top of the table.’
It wasn’t long before he realised there was more to the store than snooker. ‘As a family, we were very proud because Fabiani was really a pioneer for retail in those days.
It was the apartheid era and you couldn’t generally find clothing of a good quality, so people came to the store because you’d get Italian fashion and great service to match.’ Unsurprisingly, that ethos rubbed off on the young Arie – and it still does. ‘I am always inspired by my father through his passion for life, his entrepreneurial spirit and his integrity. I think I grew up listening to many retail tales, so I loved it. Retail is largely about personal relationships. I enjoy interacting with people.’
Almost inevitably, at 16, he took to the store floor (‘My knowledge wasn’t all there yet, but I was very enthusiastic’) and later went on to study business management and clothing production. Following a year’s internship at Hugo Boss in Germany, he returned to the family business brimming with ideas. ‘I had a clear vision to build Fabiani into a powerful luxury brand, which it is today.’
In the 15 years since, he’s done just that. There are now 14 Fabiani and four G-Star monobrand stores across the country, although it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
‘I’ve done plenty of great things and I’ve made plenty of mistakes,’ Arie admits frankly. ‘I always tell people I have an MBA in mistakes! But it’s been a great experience.
‘From a commercial point of view, the best decision we ever made was launching a complete Fabiani collection and creating a powerful brand in premium menswear. The worst decisions have probably been incorrect selections for store locations.’
Not that Arie dwells on his mistakes. ‘I have absolutely no regrets. For me, life is all about experiences and what one can learn from them. One thing that initiates creativity is an openness to try anything. So I may not be good at something, but I will still always try it.’
A businessman, he keeps the bottom line in sharp focus too.
‘I am an entrepreneur by spirit and by action, so creativity must sometimes be tempered by the fact that you have to meet the financial goal,’ reasons the avid Financial Mail reader. ‘I do like nice things. I like nice design, I like good quality, I like luxury. But I don’t believe in overdoing it. When you are creating a collection, it’s not about what you like, because sometimes people won’t understand that. It is about giving people what they want, in the framework of the brand.’
For Arie, that framework is part of his DNA. ‘We will always have quality fabrics, things will always be well styled and there will be an unexpected “pop” – a detail that’s not in your face, but from it you’ll know what you’re holding is a Fabiani item.
‘For example, the last buttonhole on every shirt we sell is red, and the button itself has been sewn on with red thread. So, if you look at it, at first it seems like there’s a mistake.’
It’s no blooper though, it’s part of the company’s Last Red Buttonhole Project. For every shirt sold, Fabiani makes a donation to Cape Town’s Red Cross Children’s Hospital. Over the past three years, the project has raised enough money to open up a Fabiani room within one of the hospital’s wards.
Clearly the company is about making a difference, and not just in the world of fashion. And with the dynamic Arie in the brand director’s chair, it’ll do just that.
- This article originally appeared in Man, the men’s lifestyle magazine of the Foschini group. (Image: Andreas Eiselen)