BY BRUCE WEBER
Alexander Wang is known for a number of things: his wonderfully languid knits, the easy street attitude that underscores his collections and, perhaps most famously, his ongoing inspiration, a muse he identifies as the “off-duty model.” “I’ve always admired that natural, rolled-out-of-bed look,” says the designer, who interned at Derek Lam and Marc Jacobs before launching his collection in 2004. “What’s beautiful and interesting to me is a scuffed shoe, a girl with her hair a little messed up.” And the mannequin who sits at the top of his pantheon of nonchalant style? Kate Moss. Wang even has an oversize image of the Brit—with light-pink tresses—hanging in his office. Still, he played it cool when he met his idol for the first time during this shoot. “She was just so down-to-earth,” he says. “I had to keep it calm.”
When Swaim and Christina Hutson, the husband-and-wife duo behind hip tailored men’s wear label Obedient Sons, decided to delve into women’s wear two seasons ago, the new collection practically named itself. “We came up with Daughters. It made sense,” says Swaim, a North Carolina native who started Obedient Sons in 2002 and relaunched it with Christina on a much larger scale for fall 2007. Like its name, Daughters—beautiful, smart classics with a bit of downtown cool—is a natural extension of Obedient Sons. “I was designing the men’s collection, and that’s how I like to dress,” says Christina, who codesigns with Swaim. “I think and hope that there are people like me who want tailored pieces that aren’t necessarily boy fit.” Incidentally, the New York couple has another daughter, 18-month-old Lowe, to thank for a photo-shoot experience unlike that of the other designers. Not only were they the lone family on location, but little Lowe also dictated the couple’s accommodations. “Everyone else was at the Standard, which didn’t allow kids under the age of 14,” says Swaim. “So Granny and Gramps were over at the Shore Clu
Avalon Vega’s Daniel Fumaz and Samuel François are familiar with the theatrics of fashion. The former hails from Thierry Mugler, while the latter serves as fashion editor at Numéro. And so the two Parisians chose no less a dramatic entrance for their collection, which ranges from severe suits to gauzy, ethnic-inspired dresses, than the spring 2008 Paris couture circuit. Though they haven’t received a formal invitation from the Chambre Syndicale, Fumaz and François bill their line—named for a synthesizer-drenched Eighties Roxy Music hit (“Avalon”) and a limited-edition Guerlain perfume (Vega)—as true made-to-order couture that, as the name implies, combines luxury and camp.
It started with Renée Zellweger, who slipped into a sweet, knee-skimming party dress for the 2004 London premiere of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Photos of Zellweger made the gossip pages, but it was her frock, burnt orange and flecked with gold, that had everyone buzzing. At that moment, Marchesa, then just seven months old, became a starlet darling, and its founding duo, designer Georgina Chapman and her business partner, Keren Craig, fashion stars. Chapman has since turned out jewel-toned gowns in all manner of silhouettes, from full skirts to Grecian columns, swiftly establishing her label as a serious player in the red-carpet sweepstakes. Still, the savvy founders know that actresses aren’t the only market to corner: In April they unveiled an off-the-rack wedding collection, ensuring that the betrothed can get a piece of that Hollywood magic too.
As Carlotta Danti sees it, lingerie is the ultimate when it comes to details. “It is the best sartorial school because the smallest pieces must have the best techniques,” says theh Italian designer, who hails from Riva del Garda, at the foot of the Alps. In 2005, after a stint at Vivienne Westwood, Danti launched Rosamosario, a collection of underpinnings and swimwear handmade by Italian artisans picked by Danti for their old-school ways, because, as she says, “there is always something new among the greatest tradition."
Clockwise from top left: Alexander Wang; Avalon Vega’s Samuel Francois; Kate Moss; Avalon Vega’s Daniel Fumaz; Louise Goldin; Balmain’s Christophe Decarnin; Lara Stone; Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman; Gareth Pugh; Rosamosario’s Carlotta Danti; Daria Werbowy; Jeremy Laing; Alexis Mabille; Koi suwannagate’s Nunthirat “Koi” Suwannagate; Jason Wu; Daughters’ Swaim, Lowe and Christina Hutson; Danielle Scutt; Rodarte’s Laura and Kate Mulleavy.
London designer Louise Goldin found her way to knits as a matter of course. “When I got into fashion school, I was just advised to go into it because I had a strong sense of color and texture,” says the Central Saint Martins graduate. “So from there on, I did knitwear.” Yet her designs are anything but by the book. She spins high-tech yarns, such as monofilaments and fiber optics, far beyond cozy basics. Her second runway collection, for fall 2008, with a space-Eskimo theme, features quilted cashmere coats trimmed in white fox fur, along with futuristic, armor-inspired pieces. “I thought it was quite Transformer-ish,” Goldin says.
Danielle Scutt lists power and sexual attraction chief among her influences. And since officially entering the fashion fray with her own collection for spring 2007, the London designer has worked such themes into bondagelike swimwear and dresses, practically sprayed-on minis and seriously short knife-pleat skirts for looks that are strong, feminine and never without a sense of play. As is Scutt, who went out every night while in Miami—her first time there—and had a particularly memorable experience at a karaoke bar where she and former Central Saint Martins classmate Louise Goldin teamed up with Gareth Pugh and Georgina Chapman for a fashion collective performance of George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90.” “Gareth was playing the washboard, Georgina had maracas, and me and Louise had tambourines,” says Scutt. “Some of us then went back to the hotel and jumped in the pool. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t find my trainers or jeans.”
Rodarte’s Laura and Kate Mulleavy.
From the moment he sent forth models with balloons attached to various appendages for his graduation collection at Central Saint Martins in 2003, Gareth Pugh has been known as something of an enfant terrible. His subsequent efforts, first shown during London Fashion Week in 2006, have featured PVC, human hair and even enormous, inflatable graphic-print cuffs. Not exactly cocktail-party fare, but then Pugh’s gift is in his ability to create larger-than-life runway pieces for women who like to turn heads. (Case in point: chanteuse Kylie Minogue, who donned a number of Pugh’s creations for her Showgirl tour in 2005 and 2006.) “It’s true my clothes are a little bit more experimental,” admits Pugh. “But it would be so boring to show something that’s so watered down that it might as well be worn on the street.” —S.H.
Not every 25-year-old designer has a plum side job like Jason Wu’s. The Taiwan native is already creative director of a $5 million company and has been since age 17. Now he’s also a partner. The gig? It’s an intriguing one, to say the least. Wu develops dolls for Integrity Toys Inc., working on everything from the clothes to the hair and makeup. And it’s no child’s play—his Valia doll, for instance, wears a sexy hand-embroidered, boned corset, along with a garter belt, stilettos and a netted eye mask. But Wu’s collection, launched two years ago, isn’t simply grown-up versions of fancy doll wear. He’s expanded well beyond an initial eveningwear focus to include polished, uptown-friendly sportswear. And there’s one other difference too: “Working with dolls, you know, they don’t have a personality; they don’t talk,” Wu says. “Meeting the girls who wear my clothes helps.” —V.L.
Alexander Wang (left) and Nunthirat “Koi” Suwannagate (right).
Kate Moss with her sister and father.
Some designers start with a sketch. Others, by draping on a form. For Canadian Jeremy Laing, however, the process kicks off with a little origami handiwork. “I work out how to achieve a shape by cutting and folding paper,” Laing says. It explains the rather clean and architectural ethos behind his three-year-old line—and belies those formative years spent in Alexander McQueen’s studio constructing high-drama runway showpieces. As Laing describes it, his collection is about the “appearance of simplicity that hides a complexity.” But for all that apparent intellectualism, his fall collection is partly inspired by artist Josef Albers and kaleidoscopic symmetry—his clothes are easy, no-fuss wares. Prime examples: a billowy tank dress and a simple sheath with rivet details.
To hear Nunthirat “Koi” Suwannagate tell it, she has two workspaces: first, her studio and production space in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles and, second, her backyard garden in Silver Lake. The latter suits this Thai designer perfectly, since she culls most of her inspiration from nature. Her fall collection was based on a fantasy Suwannagate created involving sunsets, hummingbirds and a lady in the woods. But she’s also built her reputation on elaborately constructed appliqués—those gorgeously intricate rosettes, for example—that toe the line between art and fashion. “It’s all handcrafted,” she says. “You can’t replace that.” Hers is a definite sculptor’s hand, and it’s a skill she has playfully imparted to her nine-year-old son. “We make sculptures together in clay,” Suwannagate notes. “He makes the head, I make a dress; he makes one foot, and I make the other.”
Alexis Mabille earned his industry buzz with the quirkiest of fashion items: the simple bow tie. It’s become quite a symbol for Mabille, despite his having launched a unisex pants line back in 2005. “I am Mr. Bow Tie,” he acknowledges with a laugh. Part of the appeal, he says, is in taking a very masculine—and rather old-fashioned—accoutrement and making it “so it’s cool and interesting.” Now, Mabille balances his Treizeor accessories line, which has attracted such fans as Karl Lagerfeld and Mick Jagger, with a playful and frothy ready-to-wear and couture lineup that, for fall, is heavy on the bow motif. An over-the-top case in point is an organza coat. “There were 600 bow ties hand-sewn together,” Mabille says. “It was three weeks of work.”
If Pierre Balmain was the grandfather of elegant evening dressing, then perhaps Christophe Decarnin, who took the reins of Balmain in late 2005, could be considered the randy stepson. Decarnin’s approach has been less is more since his first show, with hemlines zipped up to midthigh and embellishments, from silver sequins and fringe to, yes, even macramé, getting heavy play. For fall, Decarnin, formerly of Paco Rabanne, abandoned the prairie-boho princess of his previous collection for a rock chick, emblazoning black minis with red sequins and patches of lace. Decarnin tossed some skinny leather pants and trim little jackets into the mix too—ensuring no one can accuse him of being only a nighttime dresser.
From left: Jason Wu, Kate Moss, Alexander Wang, Alexis Mabille, Lara Stone, Carlotta Danti, Samuel Francois.
“It reminded me of the old film noir movies I love,” says Laura Mulleavy of her first visit to Miami, for this shoot. “The whole feeling is surreal, and we thought it would be great to see everyone in khaki shorts and pressed white shirts, like Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo.” Heretofore known as the doe-eyed, Berkeley-educated sisters who have a knack for whipping up couture-esque dresses with pinked edges and layer upon layer of tulle, Kate and Laura Mulleavy have seen Rodarte, their nearly four-year-old line, get snapped up by more than 30 stores worldwide—and become one of New York Fashion Week’s top billings along the way. The soft-spoken twosome hit their stride with a fall 2008 collection of slashed knits and ballerina dresses in bloodred and pale blue, its witchy tones a continuation of their Japanese anime–inspired spring lineup. In fact, these are themes they’re not quite ready to let go. As for next season, says Laura, “Maybe it will be a trilogy. We don’t quite know yet, but all we need is one idea, and it will take over our lives.”
Mods, if this gets rejected or someone beat me to it, I will cry because I spent forever on this post.