With just her second collection, Marina Cortbawi has established an aesthetic of transient, well-crafted getaway dressing with timeless design. Her Merlette label is at once minimal, effortless and exudes global appeal — featuring solid-color cotton fabrics worked into easy, lightweight silhouettes meant to be incorporated as a lifestyle uniform — without the connotations of any one season. It’s a smart concept as retailers sell lifestyle categories year-round.

In Collection 2, which delivers as pre-fall, Cortbawi advanced her debut from last year while sticking to core brand codes. There was a continuation of hand-embroidered smocking, beautiful eyelet fabrics and lightweight cotton and cotton poplins worked into wrap dresses, easy off-the-shoulder dresses, peplum blouses and blouses with hand-pleated sleeves. New this season, she introduced bottoms, like ultracool kick-flare culottes and shorts that appeared to riff on men’s wear, as well as the color blue, joining Merlette’s color library of solid white, black and red. The overall mood remained relaxed and comfortable. Additionally, each piece is named after an off-the-beaten path destination, like to align with the brand’s escapist spirit, like “Aix” in France for the culottes or “Essaouria” in Morocco for a dress.

As for brand and store positioning, Cortbawi is aiming higher than the collection’s contemporary price point. “We avoided the contemporary store route because we feel that even though the line’s price is low, it appeals to someone who would buy designer,” she said at a preview. That model appears to be working, with Moda Operandi opting in and additional stockists in Kuwait, Qatar, Singapore, and almost 20 different locations in Japan.

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