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The latest batch of designer talent comes from around the world — Canada, South Africa, Australia, Taiwan and good ol’ U. S. of A.
Backstory: Stacy Clark recalls creating patterns for garments when she was as young as eight. “I would lay down my clothes on paper, trace around them and allow for seam allowance,” she says with a laugh. But it wasn’t until after she graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in the arts that the Canadian began considering a career in fashion. In 2006, she enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles and received a degree in product development. Clark created her first collection last year; fall 2010 is her first season going into production.
This story first appeared in the April 27, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Collection: The label is named for the French artist Odilon Redon. “He still had that Impressionist technique but painted very morbid subject matters,” says Clark, 23. “I found him refreshing.” Her line takes a dark tack as evidenced by her recent collection, inspired by postapocalyptic images. To wit, the flashes of orange — seen in vests and jackets, some hooded — come from hazard signs, while textured nylon-coated jersey leggings are meant to mimic burnt flesh. “I’m influenced by horror and zombie movies, too,” says Clark, who also notes an affinity for juxtaposing natural and synthetic materials.
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $45 to $680. The collection will be available at Forty Five Ten in Dallas.
Backstory: Cleveland-born Cally Rieman caught the fashion bug while studying abroad in Taiwan. “I was teaching a gentleman English, and he owned a textile manufacturing company,” says Rieman. “I was surrounded by a world I had never been in before and thought it was really cool.” Rieman, now 39, studied poli-sci and East Asian studies at Denison University and graduated in 1993. After a four-year stint in finance, she enrolled in the fashion program at the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating in 2000. She has since worked for Rubin Chapelle, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and H by Tommy Hilfiger, the last two in the men’s department.
Collection: Given her men’s wear background, it’s no surprise Rieman works a masculine vibe — crisp shirting, vests and loads of tailoring. “I’m fascinated by the suit,” she says, noting she works with a men’s wear tailor for her blazers “so they’re made like a men’s jacket with canvas construction, horse hair….” New York-based Rieman adds that her stint at de Castelbajac proved influential. “What I pulled out of my time there was a sophistication — this dandy look for women, with high collars and structured jackets,” she explains, “but without the kitsch.”
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $150 to $550. The collection is available at P45 in Chicago.
Backstory: While a philosophy student at the University of Cape Town in 1997, Johannesburg-born Alexander Koutny launched a men’s wear collection, named Aka. In time, he would add a women’s counterpart to the line, which he describes as “structured and utilitarian,” before closing up shop to move to London in 2000. “I thought, if I’m going to continue and take it to the next level, South Africa wouldn’t be the place to do that,” says Koutny, who went on to work for Marjan Pejoski. The experience couldn’t have been more different — Pejoski is best known as the designer responsible for Björk’s 2001 swan dress. At Pejoski’s suggestion, Koutny enrolled at Central Saint Martins, graduating in 2003.
Collection: New York-based Koutny notes that his current collection, which he launched last year, straddles the line between Aka and the “extreme” one-off garments he created during his London years. “I started out on the commercial side,” he says, “and then pushed the boundaries of [avant-garde] fashion. This is the balance between the two.” For fall, Koutny found inspiration in earthquakes, plate tectonics and the underground, which explains the abstract lava prints throughout the collection. But the core vibe here is the collection’s sense of ease — even the more tailored jackets and coats come slightly slouchy and draped. “The lifestyle element we’re pushing is something more robust,” explains Koutny, 37, “something you wouldn’t mind throwing on the floor, picking up and still loving.”
Stats: Wholesale prices for the line range from $150 to $400. So far, Eva in New York and Una in Portland, Ore., have picked up the collection.
Backstory: New York-born Jonathan Simkhai launched his fashion career at 15 when the owner of Habana Jeans in Scarsdale, N.Y., hired him on the spot after watching him style his friends in-store. Simkhai would spend the next three years helping with the buying and window displays. After graduating from high school, Simkhai took design classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons The New School for Design and has since worked at Ravel manufacturing, which is owned by his uncle. “He makes missy clothing for [department stores],” says Simkhai. “We were doing great stuff, but that customer wasn’t my girl. I was hungry to get out.”
Collection: Simkhai works a major borrowed-from-the-boys sensibility, inspired by his female friends who would often dig into his wardrobe. “I thought, let me make them their own pieces, based on the items from my closet,” he says. “Then I have my clothes back and they have their own.” The result is a debut fall collection of men’s wear-inspired offerings, as in a sheath cut from men’s suiting or a zip-up dress shaped like a baseball shirt. There are more humorous notes, as well. For instance, Simkhai adds underwear details (à la men’s briefs) on lamé shorts and long johns bottoms. As for the wire hems in his Ts, they were inspired by a crooked laundromat hanger. “I wanted to incorporate that into the collection to keep giving it that closet feel,” he says.
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $44 to $275. Intermix and Glassworks-studios.com have picked up the line.
Backstory: Melbourne-born Zoe Twitt comes from a fashion family — her parents ran a textile company while her grandparents owned a small dress label. “I was obsessed with sketching from a really young age,” says the New York-based Twitt. But she had ambitions to be an actress, too. So she studied theater and writing at Columbia University and, postcollege, simultaneously enrolled at Parsons The New School for Design and the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. Twitt ultimately chose the design route and launched her collection this spring. “The fashion industry is a lot kinder,” she says.
Collection: “I wanted to create a mélange of Gothic, classic and feminine,” says Twitt, 27. “And there are undertones of the occult.” She uses rock crystal embellishments throughout the streetwise collection — tracing shoulder cutouts, for instance, on a black tunic top. Other motifs include exposed zippers and cutouts that punctuate chunky sweaters and loose chiffon dresses. “A main thing for me is the multifunctional aspect,” she adds. “You can wear [the garments] zipped up or use the cutouts as a second armhole.” Design influences for Twitt include Madame Grès and Maria Cornejo.
Stats: The collection wholesales from $70 to $125 and is available at Searle, Factoriem and Eva in New York.
Backstory: Toronto native Kaelen Farncombe may have studied English literature, but she always knew she was bound for the fashion world. So after graduating in 2007 from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, Farncombe headed to Parsons The New School for Design. While there, she interned at Jenni Kayne and Stella McCartney on the sales and marketing side. “What I took away from those jobs was that the creative aspect was something I was drawn to much more,” she says. Fall marks the designer’s debut collection.
Collection: “I have a classic sensibility,” says Farncombe, “but I’m interested in layering and off-kilter shapes.” The streamlined collection focuses on the dialogue between tailoring and drapery, often in a single garment. Left open, for instance, a leather jacket hangs gently in folds; belted, it creates an exaggerated peplumed silhouette. “A lot of the pieces don’t have sewn-in closures,” she adds. “I wanted my clothes to be something you make personal and style your own way.” Farncombe’s palette, meanwhile, sticks to an urban array of blacks, whites and grays, with the occasional pop of blush and vivid blue. “I’m not a print person,” she says.
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $125 to $385.
Iris von Arnim
Backstory: Iris von Arnim has a car accident to thank for her career in the fashion industry. In the early Seventies, she spent two years holed up in various hospitals in her native Silesia, Germany, after her legs were injured in a collision. With nothing else to do, she took up knitting. The rest is history. Arnim moved to Hamburg, Germany, opened a sweater shop and, by 1979, founded a self-named company that would be known throughout Germany and the surrounding countries — Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Luxembourg and Czech Republic — for its lush cashmere knits. Four years ago, her son, Valentin von Arnim, a former Wall Street banker, joined the company and is making a global push in the U.S. and Asia for fall.
Collection: Knitwear will continue to be the company’s bread and butter. The designs, however, veer “much more modern and sophisticated,” says Valentin von Arnim, whose mother still helms the Hamburg-based firm. “We have this very loyal customer base. But now we have to think about the new generation, who’s looking for something a little sexier and more exciting.” Thus, pullovers feature Crystallized-Swarovski Elements knitted into the shoulders while cardigans feature floral embellishments on the sleeves. The collection still hews to a classic, no-fuss sensibility, too, with the majority of design tweaks in the construction itself. “We’re subtly changing the knit patterns,” explains Valentin von Arnim, “by altering the speed and tensions of knit.”
Stats: The collection wholesales from $300 to $1,200 and will be available at Louis Boston in Boston, Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Boutique 1 in Dubai.
Backstory: Charles Henry is already act II for Kentucky native Meredith Fisher. The University of Southern California alum — she graduated in December — launched her first collection, WAYF (Where Are You From), as a junior in high school. At the time, Fisher was spending the summer in Los Angeles, interning for Jennifer Nicholson, when she caught the eye of the buyers at Satine. “I walked in [the store] wearing one of my dress designs and they noticed,” recalls Fisher. “So I started making things for them on the side.” She eventually signed with a showroom and, later that summer, launched WAYF, which sold at retailers such as Barneys New York, Shopbop.com and Intermix. Last year, Fisher took a break from design to “finish college,” she says.
Collection: Fisher named the line after her maternal grandfather, a clothing manufacturer in Tennessee, and it’s more grown-up-looking than WAYF. “The core is there,” she says, “but [my girl] isn’t just wearing sweet little dresses. She wants leather, she wants fringe, she wants a little of everything in her wardrobe.” The fall Charles Henry debut ranges from silk blouses and skirts, with tassel details, to velvet burn-out dresses, featuring custom prints by Fisher.
Stats: The collection ranges from $85 to $270 at wholesale, and will be available at Madison and Switch in Los Angeles and Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong.
Backstory: What a difference a year makes. In 2009, Johan Ku was just another young designer from Taipei who had enrolled at Central Saint Martins. Now, he’s a buzzed-about name in his native Taiwan — he dressed popular Mandopop group S.H.E for the cover of its March “Shero” album and was the subject of a recent show at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, called “Breakthrough: Johan Ku Wearable Sculpture Exhibition.” Not bad for a 30-year-old who fell into fashion because he failed the test for his first career choice: graphic design. “I didn’t get a high enough score, unfortunately — or fortunately enough,” remarks Ku, who received his B.A. and M.A. in fashion and textile design from Shu-Te and Fu-Jen Universities, respectively.
Collection: The designer has a one-track mind: Ku is crazy for the knitwear. “I always wanted to create something in three dimensions,” says Ku, whose aesthetic skews toward the experimental and arty side. “Even as a kid in art class, I would enjoy doing real sculpture instead of 2-D drawings. That influenced me a lot.” For his collection, he uses mainly raw wool, which gives his designs that ultrahefty, rough-hewn feel. “People use that material for spinning, not for knitting. That’s how I can create my chunky garments,” he explains, while adding that a more commercial collection may be in the pipeline once he gets enough financing.
Stats: Retail prices start at $800 and run upward to $30,000 for his one-of-a-kind designs.
Backstory: Twins Olivera and Vera Capara, born in Bosnia but raised in Germany, share nearly identical CVs. In 2000, both graduated from The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, where they now beside, and went on to work for Dries Van Noten. After participating in France’s Hyères fashion festival two years later, they launched their first collection, Vera and Olivera Capara, which only lasted a season; by 2003, both sisters were at Maison Martin Margiela, designing for his Artisanal line. They would spend four years there before going their separate ways — Vera to Jil Sande and Olivera, to accessories company Delvaux. “Thank god we had at least a different experience,” says Olivera. “It was very good to see that you’re capable of doing things on your own.” For spring, the two came back together and launched Capara.
Collection: “Innovative yet elegant” — that’s how the sisters would best like to describe their collection. “We want to give the clothes meaning, a concept,” says Olivera, “but still have it be elegant and feminine.” For fall, there’s a major focus on tailoring, in loose, boxy silhouettes reminiscent of Margiela. “It’s natural that you take away these influences,” Oliver remarks, noting that she’s partial to oversized garments herself. Other plays on proportion include jackets with exaggerated asymmetrical hems and half-coat/half-dress hybrids.
Stats: Wholesale prices for the collection range from $100 to $500.
Backstory: Three years ago, Hunter Bell and Jennifer Dixon were two Southern bells sharing an apartment in New York. Bell wanted to be a designer; Dixon, an entrepreneur. They partnered, dispensed with any romantic rags-to-riches notions and approached things pragmatically: Bell took a day job at a hedge fund while whipping up a collection on the side, and Dixon pounded the pavement, securing a few retailers and pitching potential investors. Their hard work paid off: In October, one of the financiers Bell worked with set Dixon up with venture capitalist John Pound, president of Boston’s Integrity Brands Inc., which is investing in the fledgling line.
Collection: Bell’s inspiration comes from her own closet or what she would like to see in it. At present, that’s loads of color and feminine flourishes done within reason. Dresses and tanks have ruffled details and vibrant prints, but Bell and Dixon are tuned into a working woman’s reality, which often entails day-to-night transitions and usually travel. Thus, they have a custom-blouse program of eight styles available in eight colors, that always include black and white. “Basically, after our first collection we found that blouses were the bestsellers,” says Dixon. “You can take them with you anywhere and wear them anywhere.”
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $90 to $200 for blouses and $80 to $250 for skirts, jackets and dresses. The collection is available at Saks Fifth Avenue as well as The Gallerie in Aspen, Colo., Tulipano in Atlanta and House of Eve in Kuwait. — Jessica Iredale
Backstory: Jane Oh was surrounded by fashion practically from the day she was born. Her mother owns the denim manufacturer Stone Blue Inc. in her native Los Angeles. And when Oh, now 30, received a business degree from the University of Southern California in 2002, mom offered her a job at the company, where she spent the next year learning the production and design ropes. “I started making my own clothes,” she says, “and showed them to a buyer for the first time. I showed her, like, 70 things, with no storyline or anything.” The buyer’s reaction? “‘Wow, you don’t know what you’re doing,’” Oh recalls now, with a laugh. That harsh reality check prompted her to enroll at Parsons The New School for Design in 2003.
Collection: Oh culls her inspiration from the posh and polished Fifties, à la Audrey Hepburn. And the designer, who also interned in the accessories department at Marc Jacobs and with the footwear licensee of Michael Kors, knows full well what a cliché it is to name the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” as her main influence — but it is. “Ever since I was little I always wished we could dress like that, with the gloves and the hats,” Oh says. “There’s just something very sexy and confident about that look.” Her debut collection, to that end, works a Parisian sophisticate vibe with plenty of LBDs, whether sheath-style or poufed, and beribboned jackets, blouses and dresses.
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $68 to $300. Blush and Blank in New York and The Finerie in Seattle have picked up the line.
MODEL: RACHEL COOK/ELITE AND EMILY PAIGE/TRUMP; HAIR BY PETE LENNON FOR CUTLER/REDKEN AT ATELIER MANAGEMENT; MAKEUP BY HOPE CHOMAN FOR SHU UEMURA; FASHION ASSISTANT: AMANDA RUMBALSKI.