It seems for every apprentice taking the designer seat, there’s a stylist doing the same. Andrea Lieberman, Tabitha Simmons and Rachel Zoe recently launched collections; now Melanie Ward is getting in the game. The Harper’s Bazaar fashion editor and stylist is in town launching Blouson Noir, designed with Graham Tabor, a former knitwear consultant at Karl Lagerfeld’s blink-and-you-missed-it New York-based collection, where Ward was creative director.
To anyone who questions a stylist’s ability to seamlessly transition to designer, Ward says: “There’s no reason why you can’t be an editor, a consultant and a designer. You can wear many hats, you just have to have integrity.” And it doesn’t hurt to have a major résumé like Ward’s to back things up. Prior to her time at Lagerfeld, Ward spent 13 years as creative director of Helmut Lang. “I’ve been making clothes since I was 13, but I’ve always done it for other people,” she says. “It just felt like the right time to do something on my own.”
Still, Ward has brought distinct notes from her past to her new venture. Like Lang and Lagerfeld, Blouson Noir has a cool, citified quality, but done with a light, fresh eye. Spring, for example, was inspired by tea towels, their texture and classic patterns. “I opened up my kitchen drawer and saw all these tea towels,” said Ward. Their soft, laundered look and blue and white ticking stripes looked great on crisp cotton linen jackets and wrap skirts with nylon raffia edges. There’s a clean spirit to the clothes countered by a few tribal effects, such as detachable feathers on a simple white cotton dress. Still, Ward stresses that “our girl is very much an urban girl.” Thus, edgy black hardware, zipped perfecto jackets and cropped leather bustier tops added subtle sex appeal.
Ward and Tabor are positioning the 35-piece collection, which includes scarves with prints by artist Miguel Villalobos and opened for sales on Sunday, at entry-level designer price points. They’re targeting department and specialty stores such as Barneys New York, Browns in London and Pool in Munich, though none had been confirmed as of press time. The line is produced in New York, where Ward and Tabor are based, and Italy, and will retail from $550 to $1,400.
As for how her styling background comes into play, Ward sees it as a practical tool. “Often, a designer will draw something without vaguely thinking about how it will look on the body,” she says. “During my years working with Helmut, he would start with an art reference, but for me, I think about the body. I would take a tea towel and wrap it around myself.” Pants and skirts with detachable waistbands, so women have both high-waisted and hip-slung options, are prime examples of Ward’s styling experience put to use.
Ward and Tabor, who started on the collection in May, say they’re open to investors, but for now they’re on their own. It’s quite a cutback from the resources, human and otherwise, at Ward’s disposal during her Lang and Lagerfeld days. “[Back then] you had someone to Xerox for you or run to the button store,” she said. “Now, I’ve definitely seen a lot of the garment center.