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Designer: Vaughan Alexander
Backstory: Alexander, a native of Perth, Australia, says he learned how to design from books and never formally studied fashion. He began his career at a leather company in Australia before moving to Tokyo, where he styled Japanese pop stars for a few years, something he’d rather not talk about. Instead, he prefers to focus on the present, including his partnership with Javier Garcia, the business side of Verlaine, whom Alexander met in New York in 2009. They launched their line in fall 2010.
Collection: Having lived and worked all over the world, Alexander (Australia, Japan, New York) and Garcia (Spain, Paris, London, New York) envision their woman as a global citizen who’s “leaning toward the darker side,” says Alexander. The mostly black collection focuses on technique and handcrafted pieces, such as a dress with cotton poplin tied into bondagelike mesh.
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $60 to $600; sold at Kirna Zabête in New York.
— Jessica Iredale
Designer: Victor Bellaish
Backstory: After serving his conscription for the Israeli army, Bellaish headed straight to Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, Israel. One of his first designs was a dress made from 10,000 safety pins, which could easily translate to the va-va-voom required for a position at Roberto Cavalli, where Bellaish worked on women’s ready-to-wear from 1997 to 2000. Since then, he clocked time at Les Copains and Gianfranco Ferré, before launching Maison Bellaish in 2006. Earlier this year, Bellaish made a grand entrance into the U.S. market with a 1,500-square-foot store in New York’s Meatpacking District.
Collection: A self-professed Art Nouveau fanatic, Bellaish designs rtw, eveningwear and bridal collections with an emphasis on silk, lace and feathers. Everything is handmade in Israel.
Stats: The collection is sold exclusive at the Maison Bellaish Atelier in New York, where prices range from $95 to upward of $6,500 for made-to-order pieces.
Designer: Leticia Garcia
Backstory: Garcia was introduced to the fashion world as a model. At age 15, she left her hometown of Mexico City to do international runway shows and editorials for Italian Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar Russia. Upon her return to Mexico, she started designing the first incarnation of Lekuin, a line of T-shirts made from recycled fabrics. “I got a lot of attention from everybody on the street, exhibitions, shows, wherever I went,” says Garcia. “I started being harassed by buyers and store owners. That’s how everything went from zero to 100 in a very short time.”
That was five years ago. Garcia’s collection was picked up by Barbara Porter, a store in San Miguel de Allende, before unfortunate circumstances (her father was kidnapped in Mexico) forced the designer to relocate to Los Angeles, where she launched Lekuin — a word that combines Garcia’s first name and a take-off of the Spanish word “reina,” which means queen — in 2007.
Collection: Everything is still made from recycled fabrics. Garcia describes the look as androgynous, “urban, a little bit punk but with a strong, feminine spirit.”
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $50 to $150; the collection is sold at BoutiqueToYou.com.
Backstory: Vancouver native Sara Roka has been based in Milan ever since she graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology. Her CV includes stints at Ruffo (designing leather and outerwear), Valentino (working under Yvan Mispelaere, who’s now creative director at Diane von Furstenberg) and Dressing SpA (which owns Roberta Scarpa). Roka launched a small capsule collection in 2009, which didn’t fare so well. “I cried,” she recalls. “I only sold 60 shirts.” She counts spring 2010 as the official debut for her shirt-centric label, which was partly inspired by her brother Steven. He’s a swimmer with very long arms, so Roka frequently made him custom tops.
Collection: It goes beyond the straightforward white shirt. She whips the garment into frothy ruffled blouses, shoulder-baring dresses and sashed, puff-sleeved tops. There are prints, too, as in spring’s geometric butterfly motif. Despite the collection’s narrow focus, the designer says she never runs out of ideas. “If I have too many options, I wouldn’t know where to start,” she says. “This gives me a boundary and I find I can get a lot more creative.” Up next: jackets and blazers.
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $97 to $299; the collection is available at Gregory’s in Dallas, Nia Roma in Rome and Bugatti in Dubai.
— Venessa Lau
Designers: Courtney Bennett and Stephanie Giorgio
Backstory: Bennett and Giorgio may not have design pedigrees, but they’ve got plenty of fashion experience between the two of them. Bennett has done time on both the edit and retail side — at Elle magazine and Intermix — while Giorgio is a former publicist who has worked at numerous firms, including Alison Brod Public Relations and Kiehl’s. The two were introduced three years ago by mutual friend Roxana Zal, of One October handbags. “It was great to partner up,” says Bennett. “Her strength is in marketing and p.r. and mine is in merchandising, but we both have the same goal in mind: accessible, simple clothing you can accessorize around.”
Collection: Although Giorgio took a liking to the name Penumbra after reading it in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” the partners say they chose the term for its literal, not literary, meaning. “It’s partial illumination,” explains Bennett, “between dark and light.” Or in other words, between day and night — the clothes, mostly draped and cut from rayon jersey or sand-washed silk, transition well between the two. Spring 2011, their second collection, adds a Seventies vibe to Penumbra’s simple and effortless mantra: palazzo pants, maxidresses, jumpsuits and open-back button-downs.
Stats: The collection, which wholesales from $65 to $198, is sold at saks.com, Intermix, Shopbop.com and Revolveclothing.com.
Backstory: Joy Cioci has racked up more experience than most 26-year-olds. While a student at FIT, she interned at Gucci, under the Tom Ford reign, for two-plus years before moving over to intern at the Puig Group, which owns Carolina Herrera, Nina Ricci and Paco Rabanne (she spent time at all three labels). Shortly after graduating in 2006, Cioci was tapped as the creative head of contemporary label Chelsea Flower, and then, in 2009, she joined another company, Wink. Fall 2011 marks the debut of her own collection, to be unveiled during New York Fashion Week in February.
Collection: Cioci’s two big fashion influences are Ford and Olivier Theyskens, with whom she worked when he was head of Nina Ricci. “I really took in Tom’s cuts and shapes as my base layer, but once I went over to Puig, I just fell into the romance side of fashion,” Cioci says. Her collection leans more toward the latter, with an emphasis on cool-yet-elegant cocktail wear — dresses with deep V-backs and gently ruffled tiers, as well as capes and sexy silk separates. Fall’s inspiration, Cioci adds, “is the way light can embrace an object. So the colors are muted and washed out, and there’s a sense of freedom with the silhouettes and shapes.”
Stats: Retail prices range from $150 to $2,300.
Irwin & Jordan
Designer: Zoë Jordan
Backstory: Jordan’s entrée into fashion came late in her career. The Dublin-born, London-bred designer (whose father, Eddie, is famed Formula One driver and founder of the Jordan Grand Prix) graduated from Newcastle University in 2003 with a degree in architecture before entering the finance world as a trader for HSBC and Credit Suisse. Then, in 2007, she says, “I lifted my head out of this crazy world and realized I wasn’t fulfilling my potential in the creative sense.” Jordan launched Irwin & Jordan in 2007, with former partner Georgia Irwin, but didn’t unveil her first full collection until last spring.
Collection: Although Irwin is no longer with the company, her name will remain in the label. “I wanted the British heritage feel of men’s tailors from Savile Row,” Jordan says. “There are all those famous names there, like Anderson & Sheppard and Gieves & Hawkes.” Jordan’s specialty is tailoring, which she describes as being a mix of the classic and avant-garde. “You’ve got Vivienne Westwood on one hand and Ralph Lauren on the other,” she says. “We sit somewhere in the middle.” Other looks, as in the slouchy T-shirt dresses, blouses and lace sheaths, work a decidedly clean and elegant vibe, infused with a boyish edge. Jordan, who recently won the Elle/British Fashion Council award, is also known for her artist collaborations. For spring, she’s teaming up with Chinese painter Jacky Tsai for a watercolor tiger print.
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $76 to $462; LouisBoston and Arcade Boutique in West Hollywood have picked up the collection.
Backstory: In what could quite possibly be Howard Street’s most unmatched space — a table made from a Ming dynasty door is among the decor — Ferrari shows her outerwear in the intimacy of her SoHo atelier. Inspired by Edith Head, Marlene Dietrich and a few other fashion forces, her figure-enhancing jackets and coats feature such unexpected touches as kimono snatch sleeves, pockets wide enough to spread your palms in, dramatically oversize hoods and thigh-baring slits. Having designed pieces for select clients for the past few years, Ferrari launched her signature label in fall 2010.
Collection: Willing to splurge $750 on a lining for a customized piece, Ferrari is a big believer in high-quality designs that can be passed from one generation to the next. A sable vest lined with nylon, a pale pink leather jacket and an array of stylized furs are in the mix. Ferrari is also a proponent of Made in New York goods, and to personalize her garments, each one is signed by a factory seamstress. “That’s something I wanted to bring back. I knew we could do it here because the hands are here,” she says. “I am a born and raised New Yorker. This city made me. I feel indebted to it.”
Stats: The Norisol Ferrari line of leather, suede, lamb and deer is sold in Maxfield in Los Angeles; wholesale prices range from $1,250 to $3,350. Her custom-made fur and exotic skins styles, which include coats, jackets and accessories, are decidedly more costly, with wholesale prices ranging from $5,000 to $350,000.
— Rosemary Feitelberg