“Never say never,” designer Marina Cortbawi said cooly during a walk-through of her seventh collection for Merlette in the brand’s new Williamsburg space. The designer was referring to the painterly fuchsia floral print on a flouncy puff-sleeved frock, which once upon a time would never have been present in the more minimalistic line. But the remark could be applied to many aspects of her latest collection. Cortbawi has been featuring timeless, airy clothes since her first collection while expanding her palettes, fabrics and overall business in steady, strategic ways.
“As a designer, you want to make new thing,” she remarked, “and we do. Really 80 percent of the collection is new, but we do have our repeat styles in new colors.” There were subtle evolutions of her most popular styles — a lemon shirtdress tunic or a dégradé smocked blouse that emulated woven works inspired by textile artist Anni Albers — but Cortbawi’s evolution into more evening offerings really stole the show. For instance, a standout cotton silk (70 percent cotton, 30 percent silk) dégradé smocked blouse and knee-length skirt or pima cotton eyelet lace ribbon-tie tank dresses. Eyelet lace also made its mark in a tapered wrap blazer with pleat detail and button snaps; the shape equally stunning in white or black cotton twill atop the Wolfgang Tillmans “Freischwimmer”-inspired palette of citron, fuchsia and lapis airy dresses and new, pleated blouses.
Cortbawi’s growth isn’t just through her impressive lineup, Merlette will be launching with Nordstrom’s New York Space in October, started working with a warehouse and had just signed a new distribution with Japan’s Sazaby League distributor this spring.