The Luxury Label Bringing Power Dressing Back From the '80s
Every season, whenever people ask which fashion shows I’m looking forward to, I usually draw a blank. Twenty years in the trenches will do that to you, but I am excited about the major débuts during the spring 2019 collections, like Riccardo Tisci at Burberry and Hedi Slimane at Céline.
And Niall Sloan at Escada.
Don’t fret if you haven’t yet heard of Sloan. He worked behind the scenes for 10 years at Burberry under Christopher Bailey and then another four years at Hunter Boots with Alasdhair Willis before joining Escada last August as global design director. While Escada, the 40-year-old German sportswear label, has evolved its aesthetic periodically since its heyday in the 1990s, when Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell starred in its campaigns, the company is aiming for a glam revival with Sloan at the helm.
“So many of the ingredients to Escada’s success that happened then are happening again now,” Sloan says while preparing for his show at New York Fashion Week in September. “We are having this wonderful widening of the conversation about equality between the sexes, and that is also reflected in the history of the brand.”
Escada was created by Margaretha Ley, a Swedish model-turned-designer, and her husband, Wolfgang, with well-made, colorful clothes coordinated to smartly mix and match. The designs were appealing to women entering the corporate workforce in the 1980s, giving Escada great cachet among female executives. The label was also famous for its super-model-studded catalogs, which imparted a sense of luxury and power dressing.
Sloan, who is 37, recalls collecting some of those advertisements, and for many years he kept an image from 1992 that showed models Gisele Zelauy and Gail Elliott in preppy pink-and-green outfits that would make a watermelon wince.
“Escada just looked like a magical world of wonder where anything was possible,” he says.
He saved that ad while finishing his bachelor’s degree at London’s Central Saint Martins and his master’s at the Royal College of Art. He brought it to Burberry, where he began as an intern and then worked in visual merchandising and design. “Whenever we were stressed out,” he says, “the line I said was, ‘Don’t worry, someday I will be the creative director of Escada!’” Now he sees his years of toiling in the background as having prepared him well.
“I’ve had this incredible experience learning to work in a way that is sensitive to an existing story,” he says. “And I don’t think Margaretha Ley’s has ever really been told. I want to create a bit of the legend, because it’s the spirit of strong women like her who are changing the world with their voices, their hearts, and their intellects.
“Plus, I’m Irish,” he says. “I enjoy spinning a good yarn.”
For more stories like this, pick up the October issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download September 14.