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NEW YORK — Not all fashion designers pop out of the womb with a burning desire to sew or make little dresses for their dolls. Sometimes serendipity plays a role, and those whose dolls had to settle for store-bought frocks find themselves in an unlikely role. Paul Graves never expected a life in fashion, but he may have a bright future ahead, if his spring collection is any indication.
Graves, who named his line Ant after the largest organized society in the insect kingdom, began his working life directing videos and commercials. He fell into fashion while working on a Reebok commercial with then-wardrobe stylist Natalie Chanin. The two founded the successful one-of-a-kind T-shirt line Alabama in 1999. When he was bought out by Chanin and Enrico Marone, a partner who later joined the company, Graves decided that his short, happy fashion life was over. But job offers kept coming in.
His backers originally contacted him to relaunch a denim line. After turning them down, he advised that they start something new instead of trying a revival. When they asked him to design the new line, he said it would be only on his own terms. They concurred, and the deal was inked in June: half the financing with total autonomy.
Ant’s denim pieces are not your typical jeans. Graves doesn’t bother with the staggering number of washes available, opting instead for basic white, dark indigo and light blue. The jackets, skirts and pants are tailored and fitted with curving seams and sharp cuts. He makes ample use of piping (no mean feat in denim) on cuffs and shoulders, also using it to outline the clothes. Other details are subtle but distinctive — cutouts on jackets and skirts, for example, that evoke paper snowflakes.
When it comes to denim, Graves isn’t a student of the low-rider school. Instead, the waistlines of his jeans start high on the behind and curve down in front. His tops, made from tony Swiss jersey, transcend the average T, with pieces like a reversible T-shirt that unfolds into what looks like a mirror image. Ant will debut at Barneys nationwide in the spring, retailing at $200 for a jersey top to around $400 for jackets.
Although each piece is a collaboration, the idea is always his, and he looks to others to help put the notion in motion. Graves believes that there is always a way to get the results he wants and has had a design team from the beginning. When his first team, hired from London via Central St. Martin’s, kept telling him, “It’s not done this way,” or “You can’t do that,” he politely asked them to leave. His new troupe comes from across the globe, and includes “a tailor from the mountains of Austria,” along with others from Germany, China and Malaysia.