Eszter Áron grew up watching her mother get into a frenzy over glamour. “She was obsessed with fashion and she travelled a lot – which was very rare during the Soviet era for Hugarian women,” she tells me when we meet in Budapest – “My mother was full of inspiration, she really loved to play with fashion.” We are sitting in the middle of the cavernous gold leaf-encrusted central hall in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. Surrounded by 17th century murals and ornate stucco, it feels like an appropriate place to be talking about “energetic fashion” as Áron describes the Hungarian fashion industry. It was seeing the power fashion gave her mother that led Áron to start the namesake brand Aeron from her apartment in Budapest in 2014.
“Fashion in post-Communist countries is often described as a new phenomena, but we always loved fashion, especially during communism” Áron says – “ growing up without a commercial fashion industry actually strengthened the sense for me that fashion can transport you somewhere else.” Tailoring clothes was an instinct Áron always had – “There is something about structure that I find so appealing” she says. In 2014 she launched her first collection with a range of tailored separates and dresses. It was a formula that worked until the Covid-19 pandemic where searches for suiting on the e-tailors she was selling with, including Net-a-Porter and Browns, quickly shifted to loungewear — “almost overnight we really had to re-configure”, Áron says.
In 2019, the Hungarian company Vanguard stepped in and offered to partner with Áron. Founded in 2008 by Peter Baldaszti, the co-founder of Hungarian label Nanushka, Vanguard are responsible for transforming Nanushka into an international lifestyle brand, and their aim is the same with Aeron. With this new partnership has come a pivot into knitwear to cater to a growing post-pandemic market for lounge and knitwear. Again, it was her mother’s spirit the designer channeled during the process of respositining Aeron as a knit label. “I always had a connection to knitwear that really started from my mum. She loved knitwear and she always collecting knitwear pieces, so it was something that was around me from a very early age. After the pandemic, we had to rethink our structure and our main categories, and we decided to connect to something that is a platform for innovation and, and innovative technologies – knitwear is just that.”
I ask Estzer about going from a one woman show to a conglomerate-backed operation with ambitious performance indicatiors. How does she negotiate the line of what’s merely catering to the market, and what’s following her desires as a designer? “It was very important to strengthen our brand”, she says, “and I am always wanting to innovate and deliver something new to my customer.” As part of their investment in Aeron, Vanguard have applied Nanusha’s successful design and marketing strategy to Aeron. The brand has a new ‘A’ logo, lifestyle imagery and a newfound influencer network posting the collection on social media.
With Vangaurd’s support, Áron has invested in a sample making machine called Shima Seiki that cuts the wastage of Aeron’s production process down by 90 percent, according to Vanguard. The technology is called Wholegarment. “It works like a 3D printer” she says “you program the machine and the garment comes out in one piece, which means that there is no waste in production. It allows us to create a truly sustainable knitwear brand.”
With this technology, Aeron have created a collection of tailored knitwear. “It’s such a big challenge for us. Because if you create woven pieces, you buy the fabric and you create the silhouette. But here you kind of design the fabric itself, you design the technology. And it’s just an endless pool of options, creative directions and opportunities. I love combining knitwear with leather or with suiting.”
Aeron’s supply chain is an area that Áron keeps a tight handle on. “We try to source materials locally or in surrounding countries” she says, “so it’s always been from the very beginning that production was very important for us to keep it local. I think you had a previous question about Hungarian fashion during the communist era, and I think what’s really important is that here in Hungary we have a lot of craftsmanship, and a lot of smaller, remote places where you can turn to in terms of production and development.”
Aeron’s current FW22 collection is the first time they’ve offered sizes above US 12. What took them so long? “We want to be diverse in terms of sizes and I’m so happy that finally we could showcase things differently, which is a very big challenge for us and its knitwear gave us the opportunity to do that. Usually, the industry prepares a sample collection size small, and then you have zero time to develop different sizes. But with Vanguard behind us, we’ve really decided to do a lot of things differently.”