Assembled for this story: 11 aspiring fashion designers representing seven upstart companies, all determined to parlay their considerable talents into viable businesses. Recent history indicates that under any circumstances, this group would face overwhelming odds; the past quarter century has launched relatively few designers working under their own labels to rock-solid security, let alone household-name status. Now, given the recession-wrought havoc, the likelihood of success is even slimmer. Whereas once the fashion world’s obsession with what’s new and what’s next included endless musing about the future generation’s potential superstars, today conversation is more likely to focus on whether there are still enough moneyed, interested customers out there to support the legions of already established houses.
Yet the economy has no stranglehold on creativity. To the contrary, tough times have often led to great artistic bursts, in fashion as in other arenas. And if tough times have discouraged some onetime designer wannabes from forging into the fray, those who remain are likely the Darwinian stalwarts, the most ambitious, their devotion to fashion genuine and fierce. For this story, W editors reviewed scores of collections, ultimately choosing the designers not because they’re all great-looking themselves (although clearly they are) but for their work. The group represents considerable aesthetic diversity, if less diversity where price is concerned, a matter we discussed at length. We ultimately went with the collections we found most distinctive, fashionwise. (In the crowded contemporary area, there are plenty of appealing clothes, but too many lines lack design distinction.)
The collections selected range from Matthew Ames’s regal draping to Bibhu Mohapatra’s lavish ladylike clothes to Bensoni’s standout feisty contemporary, and from innerwear (The Lake & Stars) to outerwear (Nonoo Lyons). The designers are just as diverse. Though they’re primarily based in New York, they hail from Maryland (Michelle Ochs) and Nepal (Prabal Gurung) and cite references from Japanese warriors (Mohapatra) to the Battle of Waterloo (The Lake & Stars) to an erotic novel (Bensoni). But we found similarities as well, starting with designers they admire—Alexander McQueen (Mohapatra, the ladies of The Lake & Stars and those of Nonoo Lyons), Marc Jacobs (Gurung, the Bensoni duo), Proenza Schouler (Mohapatra, Gurung) and Geoffrey Beene (Ames, Gurung). But the biggest similarities are that they all claim dedication to their craft and are ready to face the myriad challenges ahead.
THE LAKE & STARS It’s not surprising that Maayan Zilberman and Nikki Dekker of The Lake & Stars chose lingerie for their entrée into fashion. The partners exude cool-girl glamour, an aura apparently not lost on the mutual friend who introduced them when each was working elsewhere designing undies. Is the friend in the industry? “No, he just likes the ladies,” Dekker says, giggling. “He thought we’d hit it off—our affinity for underwear and all that.”
Hit it off they did, and if they haven’t exactly hit the big time yet, they are on an upward trajectory, selling at Barneys New York, Lane Crawford and Holt Renfrew. They have also created a collection for the Smile, on Bond Street in Manhattan, and they’re launching swimwear this summer. Yet they didn’t rush into a professional partnership to please their randy friend. Rather, the alliance took a couple of years to form once they realized that they shared a vision of lingerie that “wasn’t so boudoir and that was more geared toward sportswear,” Zilberman explains. The two approach design as if working in ready-to-wear, creating a different look each season. Their fall collection incorporates military and armor motifs, the items named after battles fought at night—Barnet, Franklin, Sedgemoor, Waterloo. “There’s definitely a darker, more mysterious feel than in previous collections,” says Dekker. “It’s called A Shot in the Dark.”