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TIM LABENDA:SWITCHING GEARS
Würzburg isn’t exactly the city you’d expect an aspiring young designer to settle in. Even a local taxi driver was skeptical as he turned into a narrow residential lane on the outskirts of this hamlet, studded with cathedrals, castles, fortresses and vineyard-studded. But it’s precisely the setting’s quietness, and his atelier in what was meant to be the swimming pool house of this Seventies-era architect’s home, that made Tim Labenda fall in love with this “hick town,” as he put it.
“I have so much peace and quiet that I can really concentrate on my work, without distractions,” he said, sitting under the shade of the weeping willow in the studio’s adjoining garden. “And being in the middle of Germany, I can get everywhere I need to quickly, be it Paris, Berlin, Munich…”
Labenda trained as a men’s tailor at Hugo Boss, then went to fashion school in Pforzheim, during which time he held a men’s internship at Kenneth Cole and spent a guest semester in Halifax studying textile design. A stint with men’s wear designer Ute Ploier in Vienna followed. When the 28-year-old founded his own label here last summer, however, he switched gears to focus on women’s wear. While he’d like to do both men’s and women’s at some point, “for the beginning, it’s important to do one thing right,” he said.
It’s been an eventful first year. Vogue Germany editor in chief Christiane Arp — who spotted Labenda’s first stab at women’s fashion while guest-mentoring on the local version of TV reality modeling competition “The Fashion Hero” — invited him to participate in Vogue Salon during fashion week in Berlin in July. His second Vogue Salon season in January attracted the attention of German e-commerce giant Zalando, which signed him to design a 10-piece “Tim Labenda for Zalando” fall 2014 capsule collection. It hits the site’s Premium section Sept. 1.
Labenda won the German Apparel Industry’s 2013 European Fashion Award, and in April, captured the Steffl Best Newcomer Award, which provides him with sales space in Steffl, Vienna’s oldest department store. He’s also one of four finalists for the Berlin Senate’s next “Start Your Fashion Business” award, which will put some of his latest looks on the MBFWB July runway, and, if won, could net him between 10,000 and 25,000 euros, or $13,500 and $34,000, in prize money, plus a mentoring package.
The search for a sales agent is on, and in the meantime, Labenda caters to private customers as well as offering a limited selection online.
Spring 2015 finds Labenda using fairly transparent and open-work textiles, as well as working some heavier, even felted fabrics. Inspired by swimming pools, impressions of watery reflections appear in a chiffon print, net structures and metallic effects. The collection combines fluid and soft silhouettes with more structured pieces subtly revealing his men’s wear roots. For instance,a cropped navy cotton jacket resembles a cut-off tailcoat, the lapels tiny and shoulders pert, worn over a semisheer white cotton shirt with narrow placket and collar, and slouchy navy and white stripe pants, cut and pleated so the stripes fall in a chevron pattern.
His own line as well as the one for Zalando are made in Germany about 35 miles from his studio, and retail for between 199 and 989 euros, or about $270 and $1,345 at current exchange.
“When I started, there were brands using quality sustainable fabrics, but no one was using them to create avant-garde design,” recalled Aleks Kurkowski. “I asked myself ‘why not’?” and in 2012, her namesake clothing label was born.
The line of men’s and women’s wear marries contemporary design with a dedication to ethical production. All the materials she uses, from naturally washed wools to cottons, are sustainably produced in Germany or her native Poland.
“Even the leather is dyed naturally in a vegetable tank and comes from organic cows,” she noted.
After finishing her degree in fashion design in Hannover, Kurkowski worked for “very commercial German brands” for a few years, before rejecting their motivation to keep prices, and consequently quality, low.
“I began to hate this aspect of the job,” she said. “The theme of sustainability was growing in Germany, so I decided to start my own business with these values.”
Her own label also meant a return to her preferred androgynous style. Kurkowski chose to study fashion over her initial love of architecture, but the very structured cuts and clean lines of her pieces show that she hasn’t left her first passion far behind.
“From the beginning of my studies, I always preferred doing experimental, avant-garde styles because of the architectural aspect. I also really admired designers like Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and Maison Martin Margiela.
“I get really inspired by cities and traveling around looking at the buildings,” she added.
Recent collections have featured a women’s jacket called Gdansk and tapered Prague pants, while the men’s looks can credit U.K. cities including Glasgow and Bristol for inspiration. The palette is also typical of avant-garde design in that it is limited to “black and gray. I personally prefer to keep the colors simple because I like to experiment with different cuts and I don’t think you can experiment with both at the same time.”
Her spring collection will feature white “for the first time” in the form of a men’s shirt.
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