Fashion is nothing if not a game of chance. Here, meet the people behind three new design firms who are rolling the dice this season. Who knows — maybe a few short years from now, Chris Benz will be as well-known a name as Mercedes. Three’s CompanyWhen it comes to young designers, you’d consider a certain degree of passion par for the course. But in the case of the trio behind the soigné new label Miguel Peña, their level of intensity goes far beyond the expected. And it pervades every aspect of their dealings — from the crisp suits that they choose to wear to appointments to the philosophy behind their business model. In fact, given their disparate backgrounds, it’s actually this shared drive that binds designer Miguel Peña, 27, and his partners Frank Skoch and Dan Otero, both 23.
The three met briefly in 2000 at the month-long summer program at Parsons, where Skoch and Otero were roommates and Peña their residential adviser. Though they kept in touch, it wasn’t until August of 2003, when Otero returned to New York, that they reignited their connection. “We were in a cab going over the Williamsburg Bridge,” Peña recalls. “And we had been talking about our plans and we just said, ‘Let’s do this.’” And the deal was sealed. Since then, they have been carefully building their business, block by block. Skoch and Otero now both hold the title chief of business operations, while Peña is creative director.
These days, they share a 2,000-square-foot loft in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg that serves as home, studio and office. The graffiti-scarred building is in stark juxtaposition to the interior’s minimal white decor and the elegant aesthetic of the clothing they make. “I’m attracted by contrast in life and clothing,” says Peña, pointing out the parallel contrast in Otero’s and Skoch’s backgrounds. They are both highly competitive athletes who are fascinated by fashion.
Their first collection is small — 13 looks in a neutral palette of browns, khakis, natural linen and an ochre-and-cream print. Wholesale prices range from $211 for a silk blouse to $705 for draped silk gown, though they haven’t yet snared a retail account. The geometric construction of tailored tops, dresses and skirts, crafted from panels of silk and linen, betray Peña’s background as a former architecture student. (He dropped out of the University of Puerto Rico’s program in his final year to pursue fashion at Parsons.) He chalks up the intricacy of his chiffon skirts and tops to a summer spent in London interning at Alexander McQueen — a much-cherished experience. However, when he’s asked about his favorite designers, Peña doesn’t miss even half a beat in answering. “Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent,” he says.
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"