The new names to watch in London and Milan.
London Fashion Week has a reputation as the best capital to find talented young designers who are fresh out of fashion college and uninhibited by the need to satisfy a luxury conglomerate’s bottom line. As the event gets into full swing this weekend, buyers and critics alike will be on the edge of their front row seats looking for fashion’s future stars. Here are two names to watch, with a craft and textile focus.
Working out of east London – the capital’s favoured quarter for hip young designers – Faustine Steinmetz has a thoroughly modern approach to luxury. She makes wearable everyday pieces – mainly jeans and jean jackets – out of artisanal, hand woven and dyed fabrics. Paris-born, she trained in pattern cutting at Paris’s prestigious Atelier Chardon Savard, assisted designers Henrik Vibskov, Jeremy Scott and Andrea Crews and completed a masters in fashion at Central Saint Martin’s College before launching her label in 2012.
This season, her designs are on display in the Designer Showrooms at London Fashion Week and continue her theme of reworked wardrobe classics. Armed with her reclaimed and refurbished hand looms (some picked up second hand for as little as £150), Steinmetz has woven a special fabric that appears on jeans, jackets, trenchcoats and backpacks. She says: “It looks like silk but has a little bit of copper in it, so that when you crunch it down it holds its position and can be tailored to your body.”
Steinmetz says of her approach that, “Everything starts with the fabric. This is how I feel I can make something interesting and also wearable that isn’t just for the fashion crowd.” It can take her four to five days to make a piece, and a pair of jeans made entirely in tapestry took 10 people a month to make. Such a process is possibly not a long-term business model but Steinmetz says the jeans were more to make a statement than to sell, and in the long term, as orders increase, they can put more fabric on the looms. This is her third collection and stockists already include Opening Ceremony, LN-CC in London, and Adam et Rope and Isetan in Japan.
Helen Lawrence says that she likes to “take traditional techniques and push them a new direction so it become something completely new, and unrecognisable as its original form”. From Whitley Bay, outside of Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England, Lawrence has been obsessed with fashion since the age of 13. She graduated from the MA course at Central Saint Martin’s (in 2012, the same year as Steinmetz) following a textile degree at Chelsea College of Art and Design and has assisted at Mark Fast and Alexander McQueen.
Her spring/summer collection gave typically feminine colours a harder edge, with jumpers in candy shades decorated with black scribble-effect embroidery, and mismatched patchwork jumpers held together with scribbles in place of stitches. Hand-dyed powder-pink denim shorts came with thigh high splits, while clear PVC skirts are worn over knitted knickers. This season she has been picked to show her collection on the catwalk on Tuesday (February 18) as part of the Fashion East programme. Of the forthcoming show, she says: “I found a great book with beautiful images from the 1980s that has inspired some of the fabric finishings and garment shapes. I don’t want to give too much away but we’re adding some accessories this season.”
In terms of knitting techniques, Lawrence is “using quite traditional stitches. We’re focusing on texture so there is a really hands-on approach to fabric finishings and manipulation.” Inspirations behind her work include the French artists Pierre et Gilles, whose pastel colourways are visible in her work, and, of course, every fashion graduate’s heroine: Rei Kawakubo.
Italian fashion has long been dominated by established brands such as Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana, making it hard for new designers to break through. But that is starting to change as Italy’s fashion industry realises that fresh talent is essential to keeping its scene vibrant. Here are two names already making an impact and both set to leave their mark on Milan Fashion Week, which starts on Wednesday.
Born to a Haitian mother and Italian father, Stella Jean, showing in Milan on February 24, has stormed her way into the fashion consciousness since launching her eponymous label in 2011 and has just been shortlisted for the inaugural LVMH prize for young fashion designers.
The vibrant colours, clashing prints and sculpted silhouettes fuse her Creole heritage with the craftsmanship of Italian tailoring. Take her signature nipped in waists and dirndl skirts, or this season’s brightly coloured, overblown fruity patterns against Breton stripes. Then there are the hand-painted, hand-embroidered fabrics locally sourced from women living in villages in Burkina Faso in west Africa.
In 2011, Jean won Vogue Italia’s prestigious Who’s On Next contest, and she was immediately invited by Giorgio Armani to present her first menswear collection, out now, at his Armani Theatre. Her striped trench will be on display at the V&A’s The Glamour of Italian Fashion, 1945-2014, from April 5 to July 27. International interest in Jean is growing, with stockists ranging from Paris’s Le Bon Marché department store to Antwerp’s Seven Rooms concept boutique. Colleen Sherin, Saks Fifth Avenue’s senior fashion director, is excited about stocking Jean’s clothes for the first time this season. “Her exotic designs will bring a fresh look to New York style,” she says. Natalie Kingham, head of fashion at luxury etailer Matchesfashion.com, which has been one of Jean’s earliest supporters, predicts a big future for the brand. “We have bought Stella Jean for three seasons now and it has been a huge success, with many pieces selling out within days of going online. Her collections are unique with an effortlessly cool sensibility,” she says.
Andrea Incontri launched his eponymous label after stints as an accessories designer for Tod’s, Max Mara and others. Crowned the winner of Vogue Italia’s Who’s On Next in 2010 for his sleek leather accessories, Incontri launched his menswear line in 2011 and debuted his womenswear collection in 2012. A nomination for last year’s European section of the International Woolmark Prize quickly followed – as have influential plaudits, including from Vogue Italia’s editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani. She wore one of his pretty print dresses at September’s Milan Fashion Week where Incontri showed 1950s Riviera-inspired slinky dresses, high-waisted shorts and bustiers. According to Francesca Crippa of Italian Grazia: “He is in perpetual rise.”
Incontri’s simple and structured silhouette, clean lines and minimalist approach are inspired by his architectural background (he has degree in architecture) as well as Japanese design, including the work of Yohji Yamamoto. Incontri’s pared-down style, round shapes and novel, raffia touches prompted Guya Nigi, manager of Florence boutique Guya Firenze, to buy Incontri’s first collection. “He is very original – particularly with his [own] prints, which he reworks in surprising ways and makes the fabric look richer,” says Nigi.
Little wonder that Incontri, who is showing in Milan on Thursday (February 20), has caught the eye of other stores in Italy, such as Milan’s 10 Corso Como, and worldwide, including Zurich’s avant garde boutique Looq and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong.
Ezia de Giovannini, owner of the N30 Milano concept store, thinks Incontri is one of the few real young designers in Italian fashion today: “He is really creative. I believe in him because he has his own personality, clear taste and does not copy another line. His designs look simple but are very sophisticated. He can dress a young girl as well as a more mature woman and they can both look modern.”