Myrna Loy, Mommie Dearest and ol’ Miss Marple. Meet the latest crop of new designers and their eclectic pantheon of muses — and looks.
This story first appeared in the May 19, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Fashion editor: Mayte Allende; Written by Venessa Lau.
MODEL: KATIE BALL/WILHELMINA; HAIR BY JENNIFER BRENT FOR KERASTASE PARIS; MAKEUP BY MIZU/SUSAN PRICE INC.; FASHION ASSISTANT: JILLIAN HUGELE
Backstory: The fashion formula here seems a bit improbable. Footwear designer plus eveningwear designer yields…Nonoo Lyons, a tightly edited collection of jackets and coats? There’s nary a heel nor frock in sight, despite the fact that Bahrain-born, London-bred Misha Nonoo (inset, right) cut her teeth with dressmaker Jovani while partner Deborah Lyons launched her own footwear company, Méchante of London, earlier this year. “The way we see it is that jackets and coats are the ultimate accessories,” says Nonoo. “It’s a way of updating a wardrobe without changing everything else.” Nonoo is based in New York; Lyons, who has no plans to abandon her shoe line, shuttles back and forth across the Atlantic.
Collection: Classic with a little bit of attitude — that’s how Lyons and Nonoo describe their small eight-style collection. “[The garments] are named after literary heroines,” explains Nonoo. “Each has its own character.” Thus there’s Bovary, Lolita, Gigi, Karenina, Golightly, Eyre, Bennet and Marple. The Karenina is rife with military references; Golightly is embellished with feathery details, and Lolita (right) is peplumed and short — “very coquettish,” Nonoo says. As for the garment named after Agatha Christie’s old-biddy detective, it’s a wool cape, natch. “You can just imagine Miss Marple riding along her bicycle with her cape on, looking for clues,” says Nonoo. Lyons does the print illustrations in the linings.
Stats: Wholesale prices for the collection range from $240 for the Bennet and Gigi jackets to $375 for the Golightly coat. Intermix, Henri Bendel and Takashimaya New York have all picked up the line.
Backstory: “I’m obsessed with textures and different fabric weaves and processes — that’s what really draws me to fashion,” says Annie Novotny, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. That interest in textiles eventually led her to launch an eco-friendly collection, Frei Designs. “I started to get more interested in the origins of things,” she explains. “What started out as just looking for organic fabrics has led me to this whole new direction. I’m doing fair trade now.” Novotny, who’s still based in Chicago, cut her teeth working at local retailer Robin Richman and with New York designer Gary Graham. In addition to designing for Frei, Novotny teaches an early college program for high school students at the SAIC.
Collection: “I was playing on the word fray, like fraying clothing,” says Novotny to explain the label’s unusual moniker. “At the end of the day, it’s just cloth. It’s not permanent.” That mind-set also helps explain the melancholy, slightly macabre undercurrent that pulses throughout her collection of gentle layered tops and dresses. Take, for instance, the inspiration behind her fall collection. Back in December, as part of an art-performance piece, Novotny staged her own funeral, complete with a casket-shaped piñata. Thus, the lineup is rife with Victorian mourning references. Even the artsy batik prints evoke an otherworldliness for her: “spirits or smoke or spiderwebs,” she says. But it’s not all doom and gloom: Novotny chooses to line her garments in silver silk.
Stats: The collection wholesales from $130 for a tunic top to $450 for a wool mourning coat. Pivot and Robin Richman in Chicago; Nomad in Cambridge, Mass., and Worthwhile in Charleston, S.C., have all picked up the line.
Alex & Eli
Backstory: Anna Zeman and Aja Singer are serious science buffs, making them an unlikely pair to start a fashion label. Zeman studied biochemistry at the University of Washington; Singer, anatomy and cell biology at McGill University in Montreal. But the creative arts beckoned, and both soon found their way to Parsons The New School for Design, graduating in 2008. After stints interning for Zac Posen and Carolina Herrera (Singer) and Rodarte and Chado Ralph Rucci (Zeman), they launched Alex & Eli, a suit-based line, this spring. Explains Singer of the name: “We ended up masculinizing our middle names. Mine is Alexandra, and Anna’s is Elizabeth.”
Collection: “We both really appreciate tailoring and patternmaking,” says Singer of the decision to launch a suit-centric collection. “I mean, you love Yves Saint Laurent, but that’s one end of the spectrum that’s very expensive. For someone in our age bracket and price point, there’s not really interesting suiting available.” For fall, that tailoring conceit led the designers to look for inspiration in Joan Crawford, as played by Faye Dunaway in “Mommie Dearest.” Thus, the Forties vibe throughout, punched up an edgy notch with wayward seaming and zippers also inspired by stained glass windows. Those pops of yellow and fuchsia, for instance? They come from the garden scene when Dunaway angrily slashes her way through the rosebeds.
Stats: Wholesale prices for the collection range from $150 for trousers to $295 for jackets. TenOverSix in Los Angeles and Maryam Nassir Zadeh in New York have picked up the line.
Backstory: Partners Anne-Fleur Broudehoux and Roxane Thiery go way back — the two were childhood friends in their hometown of Lille, France. Both enrolled at the French fashion school l’Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode (ESMOD), with Broudehoux graduating from its business arm, the Institut Supérieur Européen de la Mode (ISEM). “During our studies, we had a desire to create something together,” says Broudehoux, “but we followed our own paths.” Indeed. After earning their degrees in 2001, Broudehoux went into distribution for Alberta Ferretti, while Thiery began to design for French label ba&sh.
Collection: Roseanna, christened after their nicknames, was initially launched last spring as a swimwear line. By fall, the designers had expanded to include lingerie, loungewear and beachwear. Now the collection runs the full span of ready-to-wear options, without losing sight of that original nonchalant, casual vibe. “The idea was not to create something too sophisticated,” explains Broudehoux. “It’s a mix between refined details and shapes that are really comfortable.” Think Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirsten Dunst, according to Thiery and Broudehoux: louchely layered tops, cozy knits and arm warmers, along with roomy jackets.
Stats: Wholesale prices for the collection range from $75 to $95 for shirts; $95 to $100 for jackets, and $130 to $160 for cashmere knits. Swimwear goes from $60 to $85. Roseanna is available at Gas and Merci in Paris, Antonios Markos in Athens, Satine in Los Angeles, Maryam Nassir Zadeh in New York and Hejfina in Chicago.
Backstory: Caron Callahan has her seamstress grandmother to thank for her fashion interest. “She planted the original seed,” says Callahan. “And that’s what primarily drew me to New York — I wanted to go into fashion.” Still, the Birmingham, Ala., native opted to enroll in New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, focusing on marketing and fine arts, rather than attend a conventional fashion school. “I was looking for an education, not a training ground for my profession,” she explains, adding that she’s racked up plenty of industry experience since graduating in 2000. And, indeed, her CV speaks for itself, with stints at Barneys New York, Tracy Feith and Derek Lam.
Collection: The name of the line, Standard Finery, says it all: “I think of quiet, special pieces that are lasting,” she explains. “That’s where I got the idea of something standard; it’s not this precious thing you only pull out for your date night. I don’t want anything to necessarily be complicated to the eye.” Which isn’t to say her designs are for the Plain Jane sort — her loosely cut dresses and tops are elegantly restrained and subtle, with most of the visual interest courtesy of tone-on-tone seaming details. “I like classic trimmings,” she adds, “like grosgrain. It’s really simple but beautiful. It’s a great example of what I consider standard finery.”
Stats: At wholesale, the collection ranges in price from $98 for camisole tops to $300 for coats. Retailers include Mick Margo in New York, Feature and Satine in Los Angeles and Address in Philadelphia.
Backstory: Mario Moya may not have a fashion degree — but that hasn’t stopped the Mexico City-born, Chicago-bred designer from working for the industry’s top names. Moya trained at such varied houses as Thierry Mugler, Jacques Fath, Marc Jacobs, Byron Lars, Katayone Adeli and Zac Posen. Mugler, however, would have the most lasting impact on his own design sensibility. “I’m a futurist,” says Moya, adding that his first project chez Mugler was Susanne Bartsch’s wedding dress. “I mean, I come from the Eighties. I love Grace Jones.”
Collection: Moya’s girl is sexy, with an Eighties fierceness to her look. Consider some of his muses for the fall debut: Catwoman, Barbarella and Lara Croft. “It’s that kind of fantasy girl,” says Moya, noting he was initially inspired by “alter egos, women in different moods and villainesses.” To that end, everything is super body-conscious: form-fitting sheaths and bustier dresses in tight-waisted silhouettes. His tailored pieces, meanwhile, owe much to his Mugler schooling — jackets come sharp and with strong shoulders. “Everything’s got an elegant kink to it,” he notes.
Stats: Wholesale prices for the collection range from $400 for a pullover to $7,000 for a pleated organza gown. The line is available on his Web site, hautecouture.com.
Backstory: Londoner Louisa Parris began her fashion studies at Kingston University before transferring to Central Saint Martins, graduating in 2004. That Parris would go into something creative wasn’t surprising, given her family’s professions — mom is a fashion illustrator; dad, a retail interior designer (she notes that he worked on the first Topshop building “many, many moons ago”), while her sister Georgia studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Parris herself worked at Ghost, Mulberry, Gharani Strok and with costume designer Mark Bouman in London, before moving to San Francisco in 2005. She then spent a year with lingerie label Zovo, nabbed a Gen Art Fresh Faces Award in 2008 and is teaching at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University.
Collection: “I wasn’t one of the kids who got dressed up in crazy outfits every day at Saint Martins,” remarks Parris. “I was the geek, the conscientious kid doing my sketchbook. It’s not a bad thing if I just want to do beautiful dresses.” Which is exactly what Parris does — simple, easy, no-fuss silk gowns with flyaway panels and draping. “I like to keep things very streamlined and fresh,” she says, “not glittery.” Geometrics also play a large part in her designs, both in cut (giant circle or square patterns) and colorblocking (inspired this season by Piet Mondrian and Josef Albers). For spring, Parris promises more structure and a dramatic Egypt-meets-Op Art-meets-Alphonse Mucha theme.
Stats: Dresses wholesale for roughly $700. Retail venues have yet to be determined.
Backstory: While a student at Parsons The New School for Design, Houston native Caycee Black interned at both Mimi Turner and Anna Sui. After graduating in 2003, she went to work at Club Monaco and then became a knitwear designer at Tibi. “Club Monaco taught me more of the corporate side,” says Black. “At Tibi, I really started from the bottom up. There were nine of us when I began, and there were about 45 when I left.” Since launching her eponymous collection for fall, Black has also been dressing rock bands The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and The Depreciation Guild for their videos and performances. Of course, her boyfriend’s connections help; he’s the drummer for the former and the lead singer for the latter.
Collection: If there’s one word Black likes to use for her collection, it’s “autobiographical.” “It’s everything in my life that I love,” she says, bringing up her years spent studying ballet as a case in point. “There’s a gracefulness in everything,” explains Black, who still takes adult ballet classes in the city. “The silk jersey bodysuits, the use of silk organza — it’s that feeling of ballet without it being a huge tutu or anything.” But there’s an arty polish to her designs, as well — draped dresses and watercolor-print tops — that stems from her own artistic background. To all this, she folds in her enthusiasm for what she calls “old-lady movies from the Thirties and Forties.” “I could totally get down like a grandma,” Black quips, noting that her muse for fall was Myrna Loy — thus the strong-shouldered tailoring throughout.
Stats: Wholesale prices range from $110 for sweaters to $350 for coats. The collection has been picked up by Feature in Los Angeles, Bijou in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Jamie in Nashville.
Backstory: There are ambitious young designers — and then there’s Fabiola Arias. When she was a junior at Parsons The New School for Design, Arias decided she was going to launch her own line before she graduated. “That was my goal,” says the Miami native, whose mother is a local costume designer and father a journalist for El Nuevo Herald. “The hard thing is to have persistence and not to allow yourself to get knocked down.” Arias’ efforts — including much cold-calling of top retailers — paid off. Her spring debut was nabbed by Ikram in Chicago, and things don’t seem to be slowing, either. She recently picked up a business partner and, as she shopped around her second collection last month, she finally graduated from Parsons.
Collection: Arias’ eveningwear designs owe much to her art background: she studied at Miami’s main art magnet school, Design and Architecture Senior High School, and continues with her painting and sculpture today. Her favorite technique echoes the former — Arias piles on small organza appliqués to create texture and ombré effects on her gowns. “It’s like brushstrokes,” she remarks. “I love texture and working with my hands.” Another influence behind her collection? Gustav Klimt, which also explains the theatrical and mosaic vibes throughout.
Stats: Gowns in the collection, available at Ikram, are priced from $640 to $900.
Backstory: Haleh Nematzadeh hails from Tehran, Iran, but emigrated as a child to Israel, then New York, because of the Iranian revolution in 1979. “I like to tell people I’m a child of the revolution,” she quips. “But I have no memories of Iran, actually.” Still, her clothes do have a rebellious streak. The FIT graduate, who has worked at Necessary Objects, Patricia Field and as a freelance stylist, has been dabbling in design for several years, doing one-off deconstructed punk pieces. “It was a lot more raw,” says Nematzadeh, “a lot of very torn-up T-shirts and reconstructed Boy Scout shirts as dresses.” Last year, she decided to try her hand at a full-fledged collection and launched her eponymous line for fall 2008.
Collection: Nematzadeh cites the 1981 flick, “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains,” about a three-girl punk band, as a major inspiration. Singer Debbie Harry is another. Not surprisingly, her collection is street-chic edgy with an Eighties disco vibe. “I love theatrical clothing and things are sparkly and glittery,” explains Nematzadeh. “I want to inspire women to play dress up fearlessly.” Her fall lineup, dubbed “On the Fringe of My Spirit,” includes such kicky wares as a leather fishnet catsuit, fringed pants and allover fringed tops. “My mission is to light up women’s lives with the clothes,” she says. “Have fun, and enjoy it.”
Stats: The collection, available at Patricia Field in New York and 25park.com, is priced from $100 to $500 at wholesale.