There’s an inclination to give some slack while reviewing a designer’s inaugural collection for an established brand. He or she needs time to become immersed in the new employer’s archive and world, and most importantly, take creative ownership without sending proverbial baby swirling down ominous drain. No slack needed when considering Jonathan Saunders’ debut for Diane von Furstenberg. It was beyond impressive — a smart, buoyant rendering of a feminine vibe that felt right for the house yet definitively turned a page.
In the growing divide between presentation cacophony and calm, Saunders came down firmly for the latter, opting for individual appointments within the setting of a refined gallery installation. This allowed for getting-to-know-you time with some New York-based editors, and the opportunity to talk through his approach. It also inserted the clothes into situational, white-box modernity, where they looked right at home, an off-handed sophistication pulsing through the prettiness. His goal, he said, was a sense of sensuality and freedom balanced with everyday pragmatism.
Happily, the freedom started with the design process as von Furstenberg left Saunders alone throughout the timeframe — a truncated one at that. He came to work at DVF for the first time in May, as a consultant, and the situation shifted quickly into full employment. Rather than succumb to cloying homage, Saunders developed the convergent points of von Furstenberg’s aesthetic and his own that drew her to hire him in the first place. That meant a core of printed dresses, yet with no archival prints and not a single literal wrap dress. Yes, there were allusions to the DVF classic, but Saunders took them somewhere else in, for example, a moody bohemian collage of dark florals and dots and a little nothing scarf dress. He also made a conscious effort to expand on separates, cutting sturdy cottons with geometric waist flaps edged in striped grosgrain for constructivist bravado. The whole thing felt intelligent – right for the DVF customer yet with moments of discreet surprise and challenge.
While one collection hardly ensures a successful succession, in his first effort Saunders must have DVF feeling like the employer she wants to be – completely confident in her choice of designated creative heir.