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Marine Serre

Why does the world need another fashion brand? That’s the question Marine Serre has been pondering since winning the 2017 edition of the LVMH Prize for Young Designers in June, an event that propelled the 25-year-old into the international spotlight only a year after her graduation from Belgian school La Cambre.

It proved a bonanza moment for the young talent, who in the same year was a finalist of both the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography and the ANDAM Fashion Award Creative Label prize.

Serre has used the 300,000-euro prize to build her team. “When we won, there was just me, my sister [Justine Serre] and my boyfriend [Pepijn van Eeden]. Now, we’re around 10 people,” said the designer, adding that being thrust into the spotlight has led to some deep reflection on her newfound responsibilities as she moves from being a designer to the owner of a brand. (She quit her job on the design team of Balenciaga around six months ago in order to focus all her energies on her label.)

“I’m really happy to be given the chance to share a certain vision and to change, even if it’s super small, what I can change,” said Serre who has made responsible production — “who stitched it, where the fabric is coming from” — a priority. She works with factories in Italy, France and Portugal.

“What is important for me is that I don’t want to overproduce, meaning what you see [on the runway] is what you get; you won’t have 25,000 more pieces in the showroom,” she said.

Her first Paris show, on Feb. 27, will feature 30 full silhouettes, with a focus on outerwear.

In terms of mentors, Serre has worked on the teams of Matthieu Blazy at Maison Margiela and Raf Simons at Dior. The overriding lesson from Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, she said, and for her generation as a whole, “is that he’s made it obvious that we can do things differently, and this is good — to just have the guts to do something and go for it.”

But when asked about the relevance of the fashion show format today, she revealed another major influence. “I started fashion because of Alexander McQueen, so I don’t really believe in fashion without a fashion show — not meaning that a fashion show needs to be [this huge thing], but that you share this moment with people that you love, that believe in what you do and the energy you create there,” said Serre.

“Instagram and social media are clearly really important today because they’re relaying a lot of thoughts from people and everything is going around, but I don’t think they will ever replace direct contact with people and the exchanges you have with them,” added Serre. “I’m also from the countryside, so maybe I need to feel people, and I think a show is really good for that. And also for the team, for drawing the end-point of the collection.” (Born in the Corrèze department in southwestern France, Serre lived in Marseille and Brussels before moving to Paris in September 2016.)

Then again, the independent-minded designer said she may choose to go the Azzedine Alaïa way, and show when she feels like it.

Her own point of difference, she hopes, is based on action. “Today, we are a lot of brands trying to do things and say things that we believe. And the hardest thing is acting on what you say,” said Serre. “It’s really difficult — not just in fashion, but in the world in general. And it’s what I try to stick to, and to keep the enjoyment in what I do.”

The designer’s graduate collection, titled Radical Call for Love, was politically charged, merging Nineties sportswear influences with luxurious 19th-century Arabic garments. She mixed moiré taffeta with surfer jerseys, with the crescent moon symbol replacing the sports logo: “that most metaphysical, ideological element of secular consumer culture.” A small collection for spring followed, with stockists including Dover Street Market and Opening Ceremony in New York.

The role of the designer, she said, is to act as a sponge. “You keep your eyes and ears open, sponge everything up, and then squeeze it to see what sticks,” said the designer. “[In] the world today, we have so much information, and that’s what [my collections] reflect. But it’s not because we have a lot of information that things should not be sharp.”

It’s been a whirlwind few months for Serre since winning the LVMH Prize. But the goal, she said, is to remain grounded and keep working with people who love what she does.

“That’s how the story started,” she said. “People came to my [100-square-foot] studio in Paris even before we won the prize. That was quite a magical experience for me at the time, and quite unexpected. — Katya Foreman

 

Mame Kurogouchi

With her label Mame ranking among the five most important Japanese brands, according to Japanese fashion daily Senken Shimbun, Maiko Kurogouchi has conquered her home market. Next up for the Tokyo-based designer, as she looks to expand overseas business, is changing gears with a presentation scheduled for March 2 at the Mona Bismarck American Center.

Until now, Kurogouchi, who is passionate about highlighting the artisanal background of apparel production, felt the exhibition format was the best way to show her clothes.

“The clothes I make, each has a story, so I focused on collaborating with other artists to have exhibitions, and published books,” she said. “That way people could see each piece up close and feel the texture.”

In a world where information is instantly accessible, “I feel the strong need to make a piece of garment as timeless and special as possible, and my way of doing so is to breathe my stories into the clothes I produce,” she added.

As she enters the next growth phase for her brand, the designer is set to “introduce [her] story to the world from Paris.”

Motivating her decision was scooping the inaugural Fashion Prize of Tokyo in 2017, backed by the Japanese government. Buyers have also been putting pressure on for her to stage a show, said Kurogouchi.

In the preparatory stages of designing the fall 2018 collection, the designer was inspired by an old catalogue of an exhibition curated by Charlotte Perriand, titled “Choice, Tradition, Creation.”

“Looking at the catalogue through her eyes,” said Kurogouchi. “I was able to rediscover the beauty of ‘mingu’ [a Japanese term for everyday things elevated to art], and reminded myself to find beauty in the small things all around me.”

She did just that, taking the brown of fallen leaves around her office and a mint green found in a book of receipts to create her color palette for the collection.

The hue of the stone stairway inspired a velvet jacquard, and sketches of plants in her backyard and flowers from a local café were used for the prints. The designers also interpreted tatami flooring and details found in various everyday objects such as baskets, strainers and straws in the line’s knitted fabrics and woven textiles.

Marrying beautiful cuts and comfort, she describes her clothes as “armor” for the modern woman whose daily life “is filled with lots of small battles.”

But her aim, as she looks to grow her business on the global stage, is to act as an ambassador and preserve the factories she works with in Japan, passing on the techniques to younger generations.

“Japan has a high level of craftsmanship, but the reality is that not many people know about it, and these factories are closing down,” said the designer, who travels throughout the country to find factories that “match” her design philosophy. “Through my clothes, I would like to [introduce] people around the world to this level of quality and craftsmanship.” — K.F.

Ximonlee

It’s been a transient period for Ximon Lee. The H&M Design Award winner and LVMH Prize semi-finalist left New York and its developed fashion infrastructure for freewheeling Berlin two years ago, and is now switching from the London men’s to the Paris women’s show calendar. According to Lee, this is more a logistical than gender-related move.

“I try not to use the word unisex,” the young designer said in his Kreuzberg studio. “I was defined as a men’s wear designer because I graduated from Parson’s in men’s wear. But my muse was never really male or female. I always start with material first and textures, and whether something is male or female is not an issue. So I guess androgynous is probably the better word,” he suggested.

The women’s calendar shift, he explained, gives him more lead time for sourcing, et al, not to mention avoiding those pre-holiday deliveries. Nonetheless, for his Paris presentation “Master of Mess,” a collaborative performance with sound artist Pan Daijing in a residential apartment in the Marais on Feb. 27, Lee will be showing on “street casted boys versus beautiful girls. So you will see this kind of contrast between the garment and the character itself.”

Imagery of an idealized [male] body “almost being trapped and tortured with fabric wraps and ties” was the collection’s starting point. The starring “show fabric,” which took a year to develop with Dutch jacquard specialist EE Labels, is an abstract and painterly creation that moves and undulates in strangely organic ways due to the different shrinkage rates of the wool, polyester, cotton and elastic fibers used. “I wanted to create something brutal and almost disgusting,” said Lee of his dimensionally draped assemblages that veer from reptilian to elegant.

Serving a retail roster that includes Machine-A and Show Studio in London and LHP in Japan, Lee’s collection goes beyond showpieces, with proportionally accentuated more readily wearable styles to be seen in the designer’s showroom. Fall will feature boxy polyurethane coats, big jackets, roomy pants, and draped knits, with wholesale prices ranging from 80 to 260 euros.

Lee’s next moves include a show/performance with 20 professional dancers in Shanghai at the end of March, as well as new collaborations, including an almost finalized project with a major interior design chain. — Melissa Drier

Moohong

“The main design philosophy for me is counterintuitive thinking. I’m very interested in making something new from unfamiliar things — achieving our own aesthetic and beauty out of it,” said Seoul-based Moohong Kim who on Feb. 28 at the Ritz hotel will stage his first presentation outside of his home turf.

The 33-year-old designer, who studied politics at the University of Warwick in England, and launched his label three years ago, is entirely self-taught, with zero former training. He’s been tinkering with patternmaking since he was a kid — “I just started making clothes for myself, and somehow it worked.” That his mother is a designer seems to have filtered through the genes, though.

His store network is impressive, with L’Eclaireur in Paris, Antonioli in Milan and H. Lorenzo in L.A. among around 30 stockists.

“I just want to have some kind of community that can share the identity of the brand, our own culture and ideology,” said Kim, who likes to channel his favorite subjects — critical theory and constructivism — into his collections, melding
streetwear and conceptual deconstruction.

His fall collection, he said, will mix a mannish allure — think looks based on oversized men’s suiting in pin-striped cloths — with superdrapy feminine shapes, in a palette mixing black, white, gray and silver with pastels.

A footwear line will feature ankle boots in patchworks of leather inspired by sneaker classics like Nike Air Jordans and Nike Air Max. — K.F.

Beautiful People

“It’s something I’ve been aiming for since launching my brand,” said Beautiful People’s Hidenori Kumakiri, one of two evangelists of Japanese craftsmanship new to the official lineup of the Chambre Syndicale.

The master pattern maker, who founded his label in 2007, said his mission is: “to propose high-quality made-in-Japan items to the world at [a reasonable price].”

The country’s “delicate and sensitive” approach to craftsmanship, he said, tends to become very expensive, “so it’s important to work on a proper branding in order to convince our customers.”

His fall effort, however, is a tale of conflicting elements, a consistent brand theme, here exploring: “The comparison of North and South, East and West, men and women, difference between various cultures, tailored clothing and national costumes worn just by wrapping cloths.”

Out of that, the designer wants to create something new, “an ordinary that you’ve never seen.”

The brand, which is seeking to grow its international business, has four stores on its home turf and counts around 70 stockists, including five internationally. — K.F.

Ioannes

What’s in a name?

For Johannes Boehl Cronau, adopting the Latin translation of his forename for his fashion label was a deliberately chosen means of detachment. Or abstraction. “It (Ioannes) gives me a framing device for my own work, letting me then work with things I wouldn’t necessarily choose,” he said.

This pretty much describes the modus operandi behind “Orlando,” the fall 2018 collection with which the German-born and London-based designer will make his runway debut at the Palais de Tokio on Feb. 28. Not that it’s his Palais premiere. Cronau, who studied at Parson’s in Paris, interned with Haider Ackermann in Antwerp, and completed his Womenswear Design Masters at Central Saint Martins in 2017, has twice previously interacted in the arts space. Last season’s “A Thing to Wear” was about “the kimono as a manifestation of dress making, cloth as material and its interaction with the human body,” he explained.

When asked to do something more large scale, he jumped. “I don’t want to call it a performance, but we’ll be placing the studio, look-book shoot, backstage, hair and makeup — everything — in the middle of the public space” for about a 12-hour period. The show will have a specific time slot, he explained, but the whole action “helps democratize what fashion is all about, sharing the different aspects of creating the fashion image.”

As for Orlando’s serendipity, the 30-piece, 16 to 18 look lineup evolved out of a friend’s Princess Diana-worthy vintage jacket; his mom’s Nineties Jil Sander black blazer, and a blue cloth grocery bag he became obsessed with in Malta. “I had this monstrosity of an Eighties jacket I didn’t know what to do with. The sweetheart neckline was kind of nice, but applied to something else was awful. So we thought why not just extract the aspects we like, like the pleat from the bag, or the jacket’s puffed sleeve. It was a curious mix,” and helped spawn pieces like Orlando’s “tailored bra.”

Getting back to the Virginia Wolf nomenclature, “I’m surrounded by inspiring female characters,” he commented. “All the women in my life are masculine with unquestioned femininity. That is, a woman who oscillates between two identities without taking either too seriously. Orlando came to us,” he went on, “because we had pieces of a woman’s wardrobe she maybe collects her entire life, all those different identities we live, a cast of characters, with no hierarchy.”

The aim of this first walking show “is to slowly introduce people to the brand, to unleash the beast. The Orlando aspect is the fantasy aspect, and from a product standpoint it’s experimental in terms of cut and material. But the business angle is important as well,” he stated. “I have a studio to run, fabric to buy. The ultimate satisfaction will be seeing people wearing my clothes, not having a cover shoot.” — M.D.

Dawei

Dawei Sun’s namesake label figures among the week’s other newbies, with a presentation scheduled for Feb. 27 at the Palais de Tokyo.

Sun was born and raised in Dalian, a coastal town in the north of China he compares to the French city of Nice, and his label is very much a tale of two worlds. He lives between Paris and Peking where he has an atelier. He works mainly with Italian cloths.

The designer arrived in Paris in 2001 to study at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture before going on to work in the design studios of John Galliano, under the namesake designer, and Balenciaga under Nicolas Ghesquière. “They were polar opposites, it was an invaluable experience.”

In 2011, he launched the label Belle Ninon with fellow Chinese designer Ling Liu, and the pair in the same year were named artistic directors of Cacharel. In 2014, they parted ways with the house and wound down their own label. Sun launched his namesake label in late 2016.

He sees his approach as a mix of three universes: sportswear, “warm minimalism” and romanticism, “a bit of poetry.”

For his outerwear-heavy fall lineup, his fourth collection, he took as his starting point an excerpt from a letter penned by Charles Baudelaire on the subject of romanticism — as well as the French poet’s revolutionary spirit.

Items include military-inspired jacquard coats with clean flared volumes and face-framing collars and hoods (also revisited as jean jackets spliced with denim); voluminous camouflage anoraks, and guipure dresses with cat faces hidden in the lace. Deconstructed corsetry details surface on the back of a striped wool coat.

The label is carried in around 20 stores including Grain in Kuwait, Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Beams in Japan. — K.F.

 

Àcheval Pampa

“It’s very chic — [Yves] Saint Laurent in the Seventies was inspired by gaucho style, and Hermès continues to be, but we are gauchas, this is the real thing,” quipped Lucila Sperber, cofounder of Àcheval Pampa, a new women’s ready-to-wear label inspired by the outfits of the gauchos working on the ranches in Argentina’s pampas grasslands region.

The brand’s moniker plays on the surname of the brand’s other cofounder and muse, Sofia Achaval de Montaigu, and the French term for ‘on horseback.’

A Paris-based stylist who studied fashion at Studio Berçot, Achaval de Montaigu, who is editor-at-large of V magazine, met Sperber – brand manager for the Rochas men’s wear license in South America – on a campaign shoot four few years ago.

The Àcheval Pampa line is specifically hooked on the traditional pant worn by the gaucho horseriders, the bombacha. The baggy trouser, that narrows towards the bottom and cuffs at the ankle, is available in three cuts: fitted, loose and a mix between the two. The day-to-night range of fabrics goes from cotton satin to silver-plated, as well as satin, glitter and Loro Piana wools.

Each pant comes with a leather belt produced by Argentinian saddle makers. Tassel belts strung with precious stones are also available.

The pant will remain the collection’s core staple, with complementary lines – think summer skirts based on gaucho culottes and horseriding boots – to be added. Other items include turtlenecks, shirts and leather bags with horseshoe hardware and hand-made curves echoing a horse saddle.

Nodding to the Argentine flag, the label’s sun logo appears on everything from shirts to gold-plated bronze jewelry designed by artist Luna Paiva.

The collection is produced in Uruguay – “the Milan of Latin America” – except for the bags and belts, which are produced in Argentina, but the aim, the pair said, is to introduce the gaucho style to the world. “We want to go everywhere,” said Sperber, adding that they’re already in talks with some of the dot coms for exclusives. Prices range from $590 to $1,200.

Four Argentinian partners are backing the project: Patricio Fuks, Alejandro Pitashny, Alejandro Frenkel and Ivan Kozicki.

The presentation will take place March 3 to March 5 in the Salon Gramont of the Ritz hotel.

 

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