January 6, 2012 10:49 pm

Parallel lines

Designer brands are releasing a new wave of accessible ‘alternative’ lines

When Dolce & Gabbana announced in September that its spring/summer 2012 collection for D&G would be its last, it seemed like the death knell for diffusion lines, those designer collections aimed at a younger audience, with lower price points and zanier designs than the main line. Yet, this season also sees a new generation of what might be called “alternative” lines, created to stand alongside high-end catwalk collections, not exactly as peers but not as second-rate cousins either. Helen David, head of women’s wear at Harrods, says: “Designers create these lines to stand alone and they earn the respect and purchases of style-savvy consumers.” Karl Lagerfeld, a designer who has reinvented not one but three brands (Chanel, Fendi and Chloé), has also joined the movement with Karl, an “accessible line” of everyday clothes from tailored jackets to T-shirts, predominantly in black and white and to be launched on Net-a-Porter on January 25. Here’s a round-up of the latest additions to the scene.

Derek Lam 10 Crosby

A campaign image from Derek Lam 10 Crosby

When the new line (named after the SoHo street address of the Derek Lam flagship store in Manhattan) was announced last year, the brand’s chief executive, Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann, said: “Now is the right time to reach a broader audience.” They have come up with the goods – nothing in the debut collection is more than £450 and all is conceived in a relaxed, easy style, from jersey dresses to cropped jackets. The emphasis is on natural fabrics such as poplin, linen and waxed cotton. Stripes and abstracted floral prints on loose shapes predominate.

Price points: £145-£450

Made in: the US, Poland and China

Expert verdict: “This casual yet chic look is well aligned with where we see success in our business but with a unique and fresh spin,” says Darcy Penick, deputy merchandising manager for retail website Shopbop.com.

www.dereklam.com/10crosby

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Pierre Balmain

Campain image of Pierre Balmain's diffusion line

This new line from Balmain takes the famous codes of the house and gives them a low-key spin in classic biker jackets, zebra-print skinny jeans, chic blazers and louche pyjama pieces. With denim, crisp cotton and leather as staples – mixed with grey marl and bodycon stretch jersey – a rock chick girl is the target customer.

Price points: £105-£1,290

Made in: Italy

Expert verdict: “We love how the collection balances the Balmain signature aesthetic with a fresh, young and casual approach,” says Holli Rogers, buying director at web retailer Net-a-Porter.

www.balmain.com

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Marni Denim

A campaign image from Marni Denim

Launched for autumn/winter, Marni fans will be pleased to hear the brand’s denim line isn’t any old jeans spin-off. Instead, the label’s signature quirky looks are recreated in coloured turn-ups, oversized overalls for weekend wear, two-tone black and indigo jeans for men and denim reworked into a tunic shape. With corduroy and plaid trousers, a wild paisley print and striped shoppers, it’s an on-brand interpretation of weekend wear. The customer base is likely to be creatives looking for a bit of cheer.

Price points: £205-£545

Made in: Italy

Expert verdict: “Marni Denim has a stronger day wear focus,” says Laura Larbalestier, designer wear buying manager at UK department store Selfridges. “We see some cross over from the main line with fabrications, which keeps the brand identity.”

www.marni.com

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MW by Matthew Williamson

Campaign image for MW by Matthew Williamson

Model Edie Campbell, former girlfriend of Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell, has been christened the muse for the first MW collection, and there’s no doubt about the line’s rock and roll theme. Using leather, sequins and jersey as a base, skirt lengths are short, jackets are biker-shaped and party dresses can be worn any time, anywhere. Williamson has even used his trademark prints in a different way – think a leopard-print skater skirt or a bug print blouse. These pieces are aimed at a festival free spirit rather than a glamorous global traveller.

Price points: £90-£860

Made in: Italy

Expert verdict: “The spring/summer season was really strong,” says Adam Jagger, buying director at UK-based web retailer Coggles. “I felt the bohemian look was still there but it was far more accessible.”

www.matthewwilliamson.com

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Hussein Chalayan Grey

Campaign image for Hussein Chalayan Grey

All about clean lines and elegant shapes, Hussein Chalayan’s Grey line stays consistent with the values of his eponymous brand but provides a different point of view. Launching for spring/summer 2012, it is clearly a more commercial venture – with a presentation at New York fashion week rather than the more arty environs of his usual Paris – and places an emphasis on wearable pieces. These include a sweet shirt dress, with gathered detail around the collar, a T-shirt shape with a longer tail at the back, and a ruched evening dress in a flattering shade of teal. Using sporty shapes, crisp cotton and jersey and a muted colour palette boosted with a burnt orange, it’s an edgy style for everyday wear.

Price points: £86-£448

Made in: China

Expert verdict: “Grey represents the complexity of Hussein Chalayan’s techniques, executed in a way that has broad appeal,” says Rachel Morgans, buying manager for Asos, the UK’s largest online-only fashion and beauty store.

www.husseinchalayan.com

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Thakoon Addition

Campaign image for Thakoon Addition

Created in response to customer demand for simple, easy dressing, Addition was launched by New York designer Thakoon Panichgul as a capsule in his autumn/winter 2008 collection. The line has gone on to have a life of its own – Addition has now had two stand-alone presentations at New York fashion week – focused on pretty shirtdresses, T-shirt shapes and sweet, easy knitwear pieces. With striking green and yellow tribal prints and relaxed shapes, these are clothes designed for a holiday or, at least, a bright young thing with a holiday spirit.

Price points: £160-£400

Made in: Italy, the US and Asia

Expert verdict: “Addition continues to do well for us,” says Net-a-Porter’s Rogers. “As soon as we saw the collection we fell in love with the sleek basics and chic jersey dresses.”

www.thakoon.com

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Victoria, Victoria Beckham

Campaign image for Victoria by Victoria Beckham

After beating Tom Ford and Burberry for designer brand of the year at the 2011 British Fashion Awards, Beckham is now officially a fashion insider and the launch of Victoria for spring/summer will solidify her position. An all-dress collection featuring cute cat and cloud prints, 1960s block-coloured shifts and couture-style detailing, all in crêpe de Chine and jacquard, it’s a softer companion to her main line.

Price points: £350-£600

Made in: Portugal

Expert verdict: Helen David, head of women’s wear at Harrods, says: “Dresses continue to be our strongest selling category and the new Victoria line will offer younger customers girly summer styles at an appealing price point.”

www.victoriabeckham.com

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