NEW YORK — “I like dark, strange things,” says Rajo Laurel, 37, who, though new to the U.S., is already a noted designer in his native Philippines. “I like to find beauty in the unexpected.” That’s true of his fall collection, which revolves around an insect inspiration. The slinky body-con dress shown here, for instance, comes wrapped in a cobweb of shredded silk jersey.
Backstory: Manila-born Rajo Laurel, 37, has been making waves in his native Philippines since launching his self-named collection more than a decade ago. Exhibit A of this success? Laurel, a Central Saint Martins graduate, has been a judge on “Project Runway Philippines” since the show began in 2008. Exhibit B: The designer employs a staff of nearly 400, has two factories and oversees a number of lines, from bridal and made-to-measure to children’s wear (Rajito) and corporate uniforms (Laurel et Ross). This year marks Laurel’s entry into the U.S. market, with his main Rajo Laurel collection.
Collection: “My sisters always say, ‘Rajo, you’re so creepy,’” notes Laurel of his sensibility, “because I like dark, beautiful, strange things. I like to find beauty in the unexpected.” And, indeed, for his fall collection, the designer found inspiration in his love of insects. A slinky body-con dress, for instance, comes wrapped in a layer of shredded silk jersey for a gauzy, cobweb effect, while other frocks feature magnified dragonfly prints. “There’s a French phrase that I love,” Laurel adds, “jolie laide.”
Stats: Wholesale prices for the collection range from $85 to $265.
Backstory: A weeklong surf vacation in 2008 was all it took to inspire Samantha August, then a market editor at Domino magazine, to quit her job for a year of beach-bumming around the globe — Australia, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia, Bali and so on — with a friend. “I fell in love with surfing and sort of got over the [New York] lifestyle,” says August, 27, who began researching swimwear upon her return.
Collection: “Along the trip, my girlfriend was always in boyish suits, and I was always in fashion suits that would fall down when you surfed,” says August, who developed her collection of six sporty suits, each named for a famous surfing spot, using high-end Italian fabrics for the exterior and performance material for the lining. “It’s for a woman who wants to play on the beach, not just sit on it.”
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $34 for bikini tops and bottoms to $73 for a one-piece. All suits are technically reversible, although August recommends wearing them as shown for active endeavors. The collection is sold at Bastasurf.com and Shopbop.com.
— Jessica Iredale
Backstory: Partners Sally LaPointe and Sarah Adelson, each 25, subscribe to the old adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The two, who met while students at the Rhode Island School of Design, first launched their label in 2008, under the name S.Love. When that collection of party dresses fizzled, the friends decided to refocus and reboot the line for fall, now simply christened Sally LaPointe. Previously, Adelson worked in children’s wear for Little Me while LaPointe did accessories at Swank Inc.
Collection: LaPointe gravitates to more techy materials, including neoprene and vinyl, which gives the collection an experimental, futuristic feel, as in the thick, spongy foam blazers. Fall finds its inspiration in the rather unusual combination of aircrafts and medical syringes. “They’re very sterile, very minimal and represent stability to me,” says LaPointe. But there are crafty elements at the heart of this collection too: LaPointe hand-paints all the prints herself.
Stats: The collection, which wholesales from $100 to $500, is available at TC-170 in New York.
Nancy Van Ostren
Backstory: Nancy Tauber is so proud of her heritage — she comes from a long line of London tailors — that she even ditched her surname for her maternal grandmother’s “Van Ostren” handle. “I inherited my tailoring from her,” explains the British Tauber, 32. “I felt like I was born to do this.” After graduating from the London College of Fashion in 2002, the designer went on to work for Jasper Conran, Burberry and Victoria Beckham, just as the former Spice Girl was launching her now-defunct dVb denim line. “That [experience] was fantastic,” says Tauber, “because I learned to create a brand from scratch.”
Collection: Tauber’s first collection is inspired by a trio of sci-fi muses: Barbarella, Flash Gordon and the lesser-known Halo Jones, which lends the lineup its vaguely fembot vibe. But the influences are subtle — slightly sculpted shoulders on a dress allude to rockets from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” while futuristic prints stick to arty-abstract patterns. Come spring, however, the designer heads to more terrestrial terrain, with a collection based on enchanted forests.
Stats: Nancy Van Ostren wholesales from $125 to $560.
Backstory: “It’s a bit of a cliché,” says Chun, “but I started in fashion by taking my mom’s clothes and cutting them shorter.” Still, it wasn’t until the Ohio-born Chun, 33, was a pre-law student at American University in Washington that she began seriously considering fashion as a career. The catalyst: She spent a semester abroad in Seoul and came back with big-city dreams. “Seoul is a hundred times more intense than Manhattan,” she says, “and the fashion was great.” After graduating, Chun attended New York’s Pratt Institute and went on to work for Michael Kors, Derek Lam, Brian Reyes and Carmen Marc Valvo.
Collection: “My girl is uptown, but with a slightly younger, edgier feeling,” Chun says. For her fall launch, this translates to a collection of pretty and posh puff skirts, as well as more tailored trenches and vests. A recent trip to Barcelona, meanwhile, inspired the gold details throughout, while artist Ian Stephenson influenced the season’s abstract prints.
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $100 to $450.
Backstory: Suma Chander, 36, comes to the fashion world by way of finance. The native of India, who has a master’s in computer science and finance, spent 12 years working for companies such as J.P. Morgan and Visionics Corporation. By 2007, however, she “decided to take the plunge. I always knew I wanted to do fashion,” says Chander. “It was just a matter of when.” As for whether the dipping economy influenced the decision, she replies, “There’s always opportunity in turmoil.”
Collection: India-meets-American sportswear — that’s the premise behind Suma C. But expect more of the latter. Chander promises the homage to her heritage will be subtle, as in long, flared sleeves on a silk blouse and peacock feather embellishments on a gown. An added inspiration for fall: the two-season HBO series, “Rome.” “I’ll see a neckline or a little pintuck I like,” says Chander, “and put that on a dress.”
Stats: Wholesale prices for Suma C. range from $200 to $800.
Backstory: Felicia Jackson, 38, is a former journalist-turned-fashion designer. After making the career switch — and getting a degree from Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising — Jackson spent the past decade at big-name brands, including Levi’s, American Eagle, Gloria Vanderbilt and Nautica, mostly in the juniors and denim category. Her fall launch, however, will put the Syracuse-born designer squarely in the contemporary category. “I’ve never had the opportunity to design for the core contemporary customer that I am,” says Jackson.
Collection: Given Jackson’s experience in the jeans market, one can expect plenty of denim in her collection. But Jackson hits all the other contemporary marks — knit sweaters, sequin chiffon tops and dresses, jackets and floral-print frocks. “But they’re very nontraditional florals,” says Jackson. “If you just glance at the patterns, they actually look like animal prints.” The designer is infusing a shot of downtown edge, too, as seen in the lambskin leather lapel on a slouchy wool jumpsuit.
Stats: Wholesale prices run from $50 to $399.
Backstory: At first glance, designers Michael Abe, 26, and Jon Rhinerson, 36, seem unlikely partners. Abe is a West coast guy, from Pasadena, Calif.; Rhinerson, a born-and-bred Bostonian. The former took a straightforward route to a fashion career — a degree at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising followed by stints at companies such as Noah Tyler Inc. and Indigo Group USA — while Rhinerson’s was more circuitous. The poly sci major from the University of Rhode Island “stumbled around at various ad agencies and corporate-type jobs,” as Rhinerson says, before moving to California and launching a short-lived, reworked vintage collection called Chassis. The two met while working on a project for Los Angeles-based denim label Proportion of Blu.
Collection: “Jon and I both like an aesthetic that’s very modern and clean, but still kind of industrial,” explains Abe of the label’s name, “like something that’s standard-issue.” With Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi film “Metropolis” as inspiration, fall moves into edgier turf than last season’s debut. “It’s the past’s version of the future,” explains Rhinerson. The result is a stylish mix of Los Angeles ease-meets-graphic architecture, as in the leather moto jacket with spliced-in panels of felted cashmere.
Stats: The Issue Collection ranges from $42 to $590, wholesale, and is available at Eva in New York and Dish Clothing in San Francisco.
Backstory: Longtime friends Christina French Houghton and Louisa Guy Roeder, who met as bridesmaids at a mutual friend’s wedding, were on similar career tracks before they went into fashion. Manhattan-born Houghton, 25, worked for the art marketing and consultancy firm Resnicow Schroeder Associates, while Brit Roeder, 26, was at Sotheby’s New York in the fine arts department. “We started out just taking a sewing class together,” says Roeder. “It escalated from there.” The line’s label is a marriage of their middle names.
Collection: “I’ve been wearing blazers since I was 15,” says Roeder of the line’s focus on jackets. “Before that I obsessively wore cardigans, but was told they were quite frumpy. So I graduated into blazers.” The Guy French debut features nine elegant updates on that classic garment, including versions that come with an elongated scarflike collar, tiered sleeves or contrast-color lapels. There’s even one sportier reversible jacket Roeder’s dubbed the “Card-azer.” “It’s a cardigan meets the blazer,” she remarks.
Stats: Retail prices for the collection run from $250 to $450. The designers plan on donating a percentage of each sale to Women for Women International, which provides help to female survivors of war.
Backstory: It took Leila Shams, 35, a while to find her footing in fashion design. The Towson, Md., native enrolled at Parsons The New School for Design in 1992, but dropped out because, she explains matter-of-factly, “I didn’t do well. I’m not great at sewing and pattern-drafting.” She then went to the University of Maryland, but left after a year, itching to get back to New York, where she established herself professionally. Shams landed a job at DKNY Jeans in 1999. Seven years later, she left to take a position at Express, where she remained until she launched her collection in 2009. Last month, Shams was also hired as trend director for Bebe.
Collection: Shams works a sexy street vibe. “I’m not a girly girl,” she says. “I like things short. Tight, short dresses are my main thing.” But the designer takes the edge off that sexpot factor with a dose of wit. Take, for instance, her fall inspiration: superstition and bad luck. One dress flaunts a black-cat print; another features mirror-like shards as shoulder embellishments. As for the broken-mirror patterns based on actual fragments, Shams remarks, “I can’t tell you how scary it was to take a hammer to the mirror. I made my boyfriend do it. “
Stats: The line wholesales from $50 to $500.