Few couples would take on joint roles with a luxury fashion brand during a global disaster – and still be on speaking terms.
But Joseph co-creative directors Anna and Frederik Dyhr are not your average couple. And not only are they still very much together, they are celebrating, after helping to reverse the fortunes of the British fashion house. Defying the odds, the label has just posted a profit for the first time in eight years – rising to £400,000 after a loss of £8.9 million.
The new autumn/winter collection epitomises this year’s ‘quiet luxury’ trend, which Vogue describes as ‘Sienna Miller in Anatomy of a Scandal meets off-duty Olsen twins’. Its timeless tailored trousers, teal satin skirts and cinnamon cashmere jumpers are catnip to the core customer (Kylie Minogue, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Heidi Klum are fans), who doesn’t balk at parting with £350 for a skirt or £500 for a jacket.
So how has this design duo thrived during a pandemic and cost of living crisis, where many in the industry have fallen?
The memorable eighties advertising campaign for Joseph Tricot knitwer launched the brand on to the world stage
From their atelier in Paris, near the home they share with their son and daughter aged 12 and 14 and two dogs (comically, a giant St Bernard cross and a tiny Jack Russell), Anna and Frederik are unfashionably modest about the company’s financial turnaround.
‘We only played a small part,’ says Frederik, a youthful 46 in black vintage Joseph trousers and T-shirt. ‘Being in a pressurised situation forced us to be pragmatic. We looked at what we wanted to focus on and, more importantly, what we didn’t.’
While the world wore sweatpants, the Dyhrs held their nerve and price points and remained true to Joseph’s DNA. In short, they designed more of its signature jumpers, which were snapped up. ‘We dialled up our knitwear and concentrated on the fundamentals,’ explains Anna, who looks the essence of the brand in oversized glasses, understated jacket and silk-satin skirt.
Post-Covid they read the room again, switching to smart tailoring, dresses and suits to chime with our return to the office and going ‘out-out’.
The ‘buy less buy better’ philosophy sits well with Joseph customers, who choose to invest in the brand despite the financial climate. ‘There is less price resistance as long as the garment feels timeless,’ says Frederik. ‘This resonates with our customers.’
The couple are typical global citizens.
They met 25 years ago when they shared a taxi home from a concert while living in Florence. Anna is Swedish, Frederik is from Denmark. They recently lived in Amsterdam and spent 13 years on and off in the UK, where their children were born. They describe London as ‘our second home’.
Between them they’ve notched up 40 years of industry experience with stints at Bottega Veneta, Lanvin, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger and Uniqlo. They never set out to work together. But when the opportunity came in October 2020, despite being six months into lockdown and with kids to home school (which like true Scandis, they divided 50/50), they grabbed it.
Frederik laughs at the suggestion that they must have driven each other nuts.
The power of two: Joseph’s co-creative directors Anna and Frederik Dyhr
‘For the first three months it was like falling in love all over again: “You’re amazing!” “No, you’re amazing!” Then another three months pass and suddenly you’re looking at each other like “Why are you doing it like that?” and it’s negative. But after six months it plateaued. We were forced to figure out what we were each good at, so that we could divide and conquer and play to our strengths. I’m making it sound easy, but it didn’t happen overnight!’
They look and sound similar and have that comfortable familiarity of a pair who finish each other’s sentences. Even their birthdays are a day apart: ‘I bake the cake for him,’ says Anna, who is two years older than Frederik, ‘and he recycles it for me the next day.’
But they insist that they are different people: ‘Anna is a lot more creative and visual. She sees everything in pictures, while I’m more boring,’ says Frederik. ‘But we complement each other,’ insists Anna. ‘It kind of flows organically.’
One thing that is non-negotiable is to stay true to the philosophy of Joseph Ettedgui, the visionary retailer who grew the brand from a tiny shop on the King’s Road in London’s Chelsea to global recognition. As well as championing designers such as Katharine Hamnett, Azzedine Alaïa and Kenzo, he was among the first to combine a store and restaurant. Joe’s Café on Sloane Street is remembered fondly by fashion writer Sarah Bailey as the epitome of the 1980s, with its ‘drop-dead cool and sophistication – everyone wearing matt black’.
In homage to Ettedgui, who died in 2010 aged 74, and in particular his iconic knitwear – playfully captured by photographer Pamela Hanson for the 1987 advertising campaign – the label is launching a limited-edition capsule collection next month. ‘There was a notion of fun when Joseph was around and this is a celebration of his knitwear,’ says Frederik.
Meanwhile, this month marks the 40th anniversary of the Joseph label itself (originally Joseph Tricot), created as a curation of timeless wardrobe luxury essentials. Its new campaign fittingly stars supermodel Amber Valletta, 13 years after she fronted the brand’s celebrated autumn/winter campaign shot by legendary photographer Peter Lindbergh.
At 49, Valletta appears more relevant than ever. ‘The Joseph woman is timeless,’ says Anna. ‘She has a strong sense of quality and a certain effortless in how she carries herself, with a great expectation of excellence and attention to detail.’
Agreeing that their core customer is more likely to be at Valletta’s life stage than in her 20s, Frederik says: ‘She is at a point where she knows what she wants and doesn’t flip-flop from season to season. Working with Amber again was exciting as she speaks naturally to the brand – that notion of style without age.’
Apart from a glass of champagne to celebrate Joseph’s renaissance, Anna and Frederik are not letting things go to their heads. ‘Our celebration is the fact that we can open new stores and work on new concepts,’ says Frederik. ‘It’s just heads down for us. It doesn’t sound sexy, does it?’ Maybe not, but it does sound successful.