After Beyoncé’s Nov. 15 appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” while many fans swapped videos of a leotard-clad Justin Timberlake mugging as one of the singer’s backup dancers, a contingent of fashion-savvy viewers took to the blogosphere with one question: Who designed the curve-clinging dress Beyoncé wore as she belted out “If I Were A Boy?”
None of the usual suspects (Mugler, Versace, Léger), it turns out. A gray knit number with yellow piping and plunging neckline, the piece was designed by Brooke Martisse and plucked by Beyoncé’s stylist (on the evening before the performance, no less) from Martisse’s debut pre-fall collection, Martisse New York. “The dress was a sample that we had fitted on a tiny model,” the designer explains. “The fact that Beyoncé could pull it off, and the fact that it was returned to us in its original shape, was a testament that the fabric I use can perform.”
That fabric, which Martisse dubs the “angel knit,” had been six months in development. It’s a high-twist cotton yarn and a high-density Lycra combo that lends the material a matte texture. Martisse is something of a knitwear authority: following graduation from F.I.T. in 1995, she launched knitwear collections for Carolina Herrera, Douglas Hannant and Lela Rose, discovering that combining yarns captivated her more than the standard cut-and-sew process of contemporary design. In 2005, she left the city for the town of Warwick in upstate New York, where she opened a clothing boutique, B. Page & Co. Martisse stocked designs from small knitwear companies, but when the shop closed last year, she began whipping up her own samples.
The result is a tightly edited pre-fall collection of 24 snug pieces. The Crawford pencil skirt, for instance, is woven with Lycra for a tightening effect; the Angelina camisole is sewn in panels, evoking a bustier (all the pieces are named for “style icons past and present,” says Martisse — the one Beyoncé wore is dubbed the “Johansson tulip dress”). Martisse has also included the requisite filmy cardigans — 16 gauge, a blend of silk and cashmere — though the collection’s standouts are more intricate: a ribbon-tie, pleated shrug (“the Hudson”) and dresses embellished with weaves and ruffles. For fall, Martisse will expand to about 50 pieces.
As of press time, New York’s Eva boutique had picked up the pre-fall line, but with the current retail climate in mind, Martisse is trying to keep prices affordable: the collection wholesales for between $85 and $365. “A lot of different body types can wear knits, and I wanted to fill a niche at a price point that didn’t shut a lot of customers out,” Martisse says. Of course, having a famous fan has never hurt a new business — according to Martisse, Beyoncé’s styling team has already called about pulling pieces from the fall lineup.