You know the scene. You're at a house party and the coolest girl in the room is wearing an unexpectedly cool outfit that's just so different than everyone else's. (Partially what makes her the coolest girl there.) You ask her who made that dress or top or whatever and, of course, it's from an indie brand you've never heard of—and that's the moment you realize you really should have. "It's not about status anymore," says Brand Assembly co-founder (and usually that girl at the party) Hillary France (pictured below). "It's more about how you're expressing yourself in what you're wearing, and it's cool to be wearing a designer that's maybe not as well known as some others."
And France should know. After cutting her teeth in the fashion industry—working in wholesale at Diane von Furstenberg and launching Rachel Zoe's ready-to-wear line, thank you very much—France launched Brand Assembly, a community and hub for independent, emerging fashion designers to grow and manage their businesses. The company also holds eight trade shows a year (four in New York and four in Los Angeles) to introduce the small brands to prospective buyers and media. So clearly, France knows her stuff when it comes to spotting and shopping emerging designers, which actually means way more than just having compliment-baiting pieces in your wardrobe.
"A lot of the indie brands produce locally," she says, pointing to the garment districts in New York and Los Angeles, plus emerging hubs like Nashville and North Carolina for denim. "So by supporting these indie brands, you're also supporting local businesses as well. So that's a perk."
There's also this sort of personal satisfaction element to wearing independent labels, too—like you feel cooler, edgier, more in the know, right? Well, there's a reason for that. "The thing with indie brands, especially in the New York area, they're all friends and they're all working together to better their businesses," France explains. "And then their artist friends wear it and it starts to get this underground cult following." So, basically, by wearing pieces made by the hip style set, you become part of their squad.
So who should we be keeping an eye out for, especially for the warm weather season? Because we're seriously jonesing for cute downtown-girl dresses, a new non-It-bag It bag, maybe a fun hat. France first mentions socially conscious (and just plain fun) line Öhlin/D, founded by Anne Deane and Jacob Park. (Three looks from the Öhlin/D spring 2016 collection at top.) "They've been getting a lot of buzz," France says about the label that debuted at New York Fashion Week with their fall 2016 collection.
She also name-checks womenswear designers (and BFFs) Carleen, a Brooklyn-based, but So-Cal-inspired line, and Wray, a retro-chic minimalist collection featuring in-house designed prints. On the West Coast, there's Maria Stanley's '70s-girl aesthetic. "She lives in Silverlake and is hanging out with all those cool girls that we mentioned," France says.
She also suggests checking out Portland-based milliner, Brookes Boswell for carefully-crafted, non-cliché hipster hats and Nashville-based Ceri Hoover for locally manufactured bags. "It's just a very clean aesthetic. Very simple colors, luxurious leathers and they just look really well made. You can see the attention to detail was there in terms of construction of the bag," France says. "And Ceri has a cool ambience around her. She has a lot to do with fashion coming back to Nashville and creating that community there."
While France makes a living spotting up-and-coming designers, the rest of us can do the same on our off-hours. "Local boutique shopping is really going to be your way to find these great finds and that's how I personally love to shop," she says. Of course, falling down that Instagram rabbit hole is another way to stumble upon the next buzzy thing. And it's something to talk about at the next blowout bash where you're the coolest girl in the room.
"Now you're going to a party and someone compliments you on what you're wearing, you can be like, 'It's oh my god, it's this great new designer that I found, she's from Brooklyn,'" France says. "That's the great thing about these independent designers because a lot of them do have backstories. Whether they use prints painted by an artist friend or their inspiration came from their travels somewhere, so they all kind of have this free-spirited approach to their business."