These four emerging houses are hitting fashion week.
This story first appeared in the June 24, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
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.
— Melissa Drier
ALEKS KURKOWSKI: SUSTAINABLE STYLE
“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.
— JESSICA SALTZ
MARINA HOERMANSEDER: BOUND AND DETERMINED
A dark horse with a light bondage touch, 27-year-old designer Marina Hoermanseder jolted a sleepy crowd to attention in January with her debut at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin. The French-Austrian Esmod Berlin graduate showed a deft hand at leather, working with molded bodices, strappy buckled skirts, capes and corsets, while the elegance of her softly formed wool and cashmere shapes belied their creepy inspirations — hairless cats and folded brains.
For spring, Hoermanseder is diving deeper, pulling inspiration from crenulated sea forms, the rough shells of mussels and oysters, and their pearly interiors. She’s also veering feminine in a friendly Fifties way — as in the structured shapes of the period’s underwear and swimsuits, while pale petticoat tones offered contrast to taut formed leather.
“I always have this tightrope to walk between the fetish and the avant-garde, and also fashion,” she explained. “So this is why I didn’t think of it as ‘is it cheesy that now I’m using pastel?’ I thought, ‘I’m going completely away from the sexual and the fetish by making the straps in light yellow.”
Organza printed with granite markings will be formed into flounces, while a sporty Neoprene jacket in opalescent white has rigid lapels cut from an unusual fabric made by attaching thin layers of stone to microfiber.
Calling herself a “materials fetishist,” Hoermanseder, who grew up roaming the woods outside Vienna with her family, loves all that is animal, vegetable and mineral.
Other looks are men’s wear-inspired, like a shirt placket with a thin leather strip that functions as a trompe l’oeil tie.
That and other leather-trimmed pieces show Hoermanseder’s decision to add more commercial, affordable and wearable items to her line, as well as expand accessories. She’ll be at the Collect showroom at Premium, her first trade show.
It’s part of her business model, formed by an education that included a stint at the London School of Economics.
Fashion was always a passion of Hoermanseder’s, but her parents were wary. They promised to invest in and support her design ventures if she first got a grounding in business. So, she did, then went on to Esmod, graduating in May 2013, and interned at Alexander McQueen.
“Now I see there’s more to it than just designing,” she said. “It’s a very good thing if I do collaborations, and also with suppliers. I think it gives me a level of expertise and legitimacy.”
Hoermanseder decided to go private-order-only for fall 2014, using the extra time to secure supplies and set up procedures that would guard against her not being able to fulfill orders. Prices for the season start at 139 euros, or $190, for a textured leather visor; cashmere trousers sell for 290 euros, or $392, and a structured top with leather buckled sleeves is 459 euros, or $620.
After July’s MBFWB show, Hoermanseder has been invited to show at the German Embassy in Delhi for India’s Reunification Day celebration in October, representing Berlin fashion.
— Susan Stone
TATA CHRISTIANE: THE SOUND OF FASHION
Julie Bourgeois and Hanri Gabriel have been doing things together since they met in high school — like going to flea markets in their home town of Marseille, where Bourgeois would pick up the most colorful clothes that, in turn, would also have suited “Tata Christiane.” This was Gabriel’s flamboyant great aunt who “looked absolutely fabulous with a lot of polyester and colors and prints and makeup and nail polish” and is their label’s namesake.
Moving to Paris, where Gabriel studied interior design at the École des Arts Décoratifs and Bourgeois studied literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne, they founded the band “Autist.” Their otherworldly music, a mix of electro and rock with heavy guitar and obscure vocals, also reflects Tata Christiane’s eclectic spirit.
The label was hatched in Berlin in 2007. Designer Bourgeois and graphic designer Gabriel produce a unisex retail collection and a selection of one-of-a-kind pieces that refer to each other in color and material each season. With Gabriel’s background in interior design and Bourgeois’ training in various theatrical costume departments in Paris, Tata Christiane’s DNA is a blend of styles and materials ranging from polyester to luxurious silk in unique graphic prints.
While the collection aimed at retailers relies on casual oversize streetwear shapes, one-of-a-kind styles look more dramatic, featuring hand-knitted details and rich draping effects.
“It’s kind of baroque,” Gabriel said, “always with a little story inside” as in the current Rock ’n’ Roll Petit Lapin collection that channels French poet Raymond Roussel’s playful and Surrealist process of writing.
Gabriel creates new print patterns every season from open-source photography found on the Internet as well as private photo archives, while Bourgeois experiments with shapes and materials, trying to move in a direction they’ve not yet been before.
“It’s a learning process for us. There is no single rule,” Gabriel said.
The interdisciplinary duo is also involved in art projects like the photo installation “22+1” with Viviana Druga and costumes for film productions.
“With clothes, you can create a fiction of who you want to be and how you want to live,” observed Bourgeois. “Fashion is fiction, it’s not really true, it’s just a moment, a fantasy, just poetry — playful aspects necessary in our lives.”
For summer 2015, “my story starts with an imagery trip to Hawaii,” she added. The colors are brighter, with more contrasts, more extremes and more structured shapes built in, yet the feeling remains dreamy.
Wanting to maintain a close relationship within their business, all garments are produced in Berlin by freelancers who work in the studio, which is supervised by Bourgeois. Prices start at 130 euros, or $180, for accessories, 190 euros, or $250, for T-shirts and 220 euros, or $300, for pants, and go up to 550 euros, or $750, for a jacket in the retail collection. Prices for one-a-kind garments can go up to 1,200 euros, or $1,625.
Mostly sold in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China, the label also has a presence at Galeries Lafayette Beijing. Last season has seen interest from London and Los Angeles, and Bourgeois and Gabriel are now eyeing France. The one-of-a-kind pieces are sold twice a year at the Wut Berlin Showroom in Tokyo.
Tata Christiane will participate in Collect Showroom at Premium in Berlin and the Berlin Showroom in Paris later this year.
— Quynh Trans