LONDON — Browns Focus is making a comeback.
London fashion veterans will likely remember the South Molton Street boutique-cum-talent incubator, attached to the retailer’s main space and dedicated to up-and-coming designers. Christopher Kane, Simone Rocha and Hussein Chalayan were all part of Browns Focus.
This time, Focus will be given a 2021 twist and take the form of hybrid creative concepts, including exclusive capsules; corresponding visuals, imagery and sounds that complement the clothing, and physical installations within the retailer’s Mayfair and east London locations.
Series One makes its debut Thursday and puts the spotlight on four women’s wear and five men’s wear names. They include Conner Ives, Maximillian, Mariah Esa, Commission, Bianca Saunders, Labrum, Ludeur, Saul Nash and Tsau Store.
The idea was to handpick a group of “future icons,” who could assume the title for both the fashion world and their respective communities.
“What was arguably just as important, if not more important, was that they needed to have a voice on topics such antiracism, social inequality and mental health,” said Joe Brunner, men’s wear buyer Next Generation at Browns.
Designers looked within their own worlds and to their heritage to create deeply personal collections for the project: Commission founders Jin Kay, Dylan Cao, and Huy Luong took inspiration from their memories of Asian women’s styles of the ’80s and ’90s to create a chic tailoring capsule and corresponding photo essay; Maximillian Davis looked to his heritage and childhood memories from Trinidad to design tailoring with bold patterns and splashes of color; while Bianca Saunders’ starting point was an image from a trip to Jamaica her mother took in the ’70s.
“The future of fashion is for it to become a more diverse place. I think it’s important for diverse stories to be told by authentic makers. That’s what really reflected in the range of designers that Browns have selected,” said Saunders.
There was also Mariah Esa, who built a collection using nothing but recycled garment labels and Conner Ives, who had been working with Browns while still a student at Central Saint Martins, and worked upcycled silk scarves into dresses or deadstock fleece blankets into jackets and coats.
“Each designer has their own unique story to tell and is passionate about their brand values. We are fundamentally a values-driven organization so it was important for us to look to talent that reflected this ethos. These names, like so many of our next-gen talent, are the leading forces in creating change in the industry,” said Ida Petersson, women’s and men’s wear buying director at the store.
The collections will be promoted online, as well as in store, with installations featuring a key look from each collection on big rectangular structures housed at the entrances of the Browns brick-and-mortar locations.
“By supporting on both our platforms, we’re able to speak to a wider audience and really champion these brands in the way they deserve,” said Petersson, adding that there will be “a brand new look and feel” every time a new series launches.
The retailer has been increasing its efforts to back young brands ever since the start of the pandemic, by supporting the COVID-19 crisis fund set up by the British Fashion Council Foundation and being involved in mentorship schemes like Graduate Fashion Week or Scandinavia’s Designers’ Nest program.
Petersson also made a point about the importance of offering young brands more favorable payment terms.
“Every facet of our industry has been affected by COVID-19, from brands to manufacturers and retailers who all went into survival mode trying to protect their own interests to stay afloat. As a business, we took the decision not to cancel any orders for fall 2020 and spring 2021 unless the brands themselves were looking to cancel,” she said.
“Supporting young designers is more important than ever before. We have continued to offer payment upfront to next-generation designers, which is an initiative we implemented a couple of years back to help them manage production and delivery flows,” she added.