Gone are the days when fashion was starved for fresh talent. Now you can't set foot into a store without a field guide of who’s in and who’s out.
Competitions like the LVMH Prize (now in its fifth year), easier access to customers through social media, and a prevailing culture of celebrity-endorsed street style have all contributed to an anything-goes environment for startups where everyone gets a shot at 15 minutes of fame. For designers to outlast that moment, however, takes more than just buzz.
“For the most part it seems like hype is what sells clothes,” says Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond. “Talent, not so much. The challenge is that people hold your proximity to a Kardashian in too high of a regard.”
And yet the cream eventually rises to the top. After four years of hard work, critically acclaimed collections, and a successful collaboration with Reebok, Jean-Raymond is now turning stores away in favor of a mostly direct-to-consumer approach. Other up-and-coming designers have found support from retailers like Dover Street Market and Net-a-Porter that seek to distinguish themselves by spotting the next big things before they’re everywhere. And the savviest newcomers are the ones who combine their talent with a little hype.
“I figured out how to create my own way,” Jean-Raymond says.
Consider this your field guide to the new guard of young designers.
“I fell in love with Les Rêveries immediately,” says Lisa Aiken, retail fashion director at Net-a-Porter, which is launching the label exclusively this month. “They have created the ultimate dress.” The “they” behind the label are sisters Wayne Lee and Ai Ly, who wanted to make versatile, sophisticated clothes that could be worn for day or evening. “It’s an easy dress code,” says Lee. Like the name, she adds, “it reflects the idea of a daydream.”
Designer Chelsea Goldman grew up in N.Y.C. with an affinity for its young stars (she trained at Proenza Schouler and Narciso Rodriguez) and took away a love of corsetry. “It’s such a serious piece,” she says. “I wanted to find a way to make it more modern, and my signature.”
The winner of the 2017 LVMH Prize, Serre had a major hit in her fall 2018 show with her twist on scarf dressing that could be read as a spoof of a French cliché. Her designs are pointedly ambiguous: A crescent moon logo might be a reference to Islam, or maybe it’s just a croissant.
Kerby Jean-Raymond has woven powerful narratives about race and politics into his menswear since 2014. His first women’s designs pay homage to pioneering black cowboys, rodeo stars, and the quilt-makers of Gee’s Bend, Ala., whose improvised stitching techniques became masterworks of American art. Jean-Raymond describes the very appealing results succinctly: “It’s spiritual sportswear.”
Not everything is what it seems in the fascinatingly dark design world of Léa Dickely and Hung La, who met as students in Antwerp, got married, and worked in Paris for four years before setting out on their own. Their fall collection explores the tension between real and fake. For example, faux python is printed on calfskin to seem slightly off-kilter (and more interesting). Not for nothing, their label translates as “strange stories” in Japanese.