FASHION

League of Nations


From an American expat living in Malawi to a Beijing-born Australian based in London, the latest crop of stylemakers is bringing a multi-culti flair to the fashion landscape.

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The idea of luxury fashion as a conduit for social and economic change might be a rather tough sell. But in the hands of Paul van Zyl, a South African human rights lawyer who worked under Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Kristy Caylor (inset), previously the president of Band of Outsiders and a Gap alum, the concept has wings. Maiyet, their new label, debuted for spring 2012 and enlists artisans and companies in countries as disparate as Colombia and India to produce ready-to-wear, jewelry, and accessories. The work helps bring stability and financial welfare to needy communities, and a portion of the profits goes toward training artisans. Van Zyl and Caylor traveled the world for six months, sourcing wax-cast jewelers in Medellín, Colombia; block printers in Jaipur, India; and silk jacquard weavers in West Java, Indonesia. The results are more minimal than one might expect: airy bilevel silk dresses, bright midriff-baring ensembles, and relaxed sheer jackets in muted shades (maiyet.com).—Vanessa Lawrence

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Belgium-based art star Lucy McKenzie (inset, left), whose work has been exhibited at MoMA and Tate Britain, plays with antiquated styles in ways that feel new and deeply personal. Art critic Jerry Saltz once wrote, “[She] has almost a lover’s touch with history”—and that is evident in her latest project, Atelier, a clothing line created in collaboration with the Scottish designer Beca Lipscombe (inset, right). Produced by many of Scotland’s most traditional mills—Mackintosh, Hawick Cashmere, and McRostie of Glasgow among them—the collection is filled with simple, earnest pieces geared toward the working woman: cashmere knits, funnel-neck raincoats, gray flannel trousers, and a cotton drill painter’s coat styled after the one McKenzie wears in her studio. Each garment is affixed with an Atelier badge as well as a label bearing the name of the factory in which it was made. “It’s not your typical artist’s engagement with fashion—it’s not subversive,” acknowledges McKenzie. “It’s about comfort and feeling good when you’re working and living your life” (ateliereb.com).—Karin Nelson

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Yang LiBorn in Beijing, Yang Li (inset) moved with his family to Perth, Australia, when he was 10. Throughout high school he played basketball and dreamed of going pro. But somewhere between the court and fashion studies at London’s Central Saint Martins, he turned his eye from the ball to clothing. “Michael Jordan is my hero, so I decided to start my company when I turned 23, his number,” says Li, now 24 and based in London. First, though, he interned for Raf Simons—an experience that informed his simple, razor-sharp cuts and pared-down palette, which, for his debut collection, was expanded to include hits of sky blue and firecracker red. But what truly sets Li apart from other young names is his use of double-face fabric, a couture technique in which two textiles are delicately stitched together. He’s put the old-school approach to use in crafting youthful shapes like T-shirts and hoodies. “I wanted to push it,” he explains. “I like taking things we know and corrupting them” (yangli.eu).—Rebecca Voight

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Raised in the Horn of Africa by a mother who adored Yves Saint Laurent, Ylias Nacer (inset) always knew he wanted to be a designer. “I was just waiting for the right idea,” he says. In the meantime, he studied fashion at Paris’s Studio Berçot, interned at Balenciaga, took a job at French Vogue, and worked for the stylists Marie-Amélie Sauvé and Sarajane Hoare, whom he still assists. Inspired by a trip to Morocco, where Nacer was introduced to local craftsmen, his concept finally took form last February: “I decided to do a line that incorporates the best of different cultures.” His first collection, made up of 10 looks and shown last fall at Boucheron’s hôtel particulier on Place Vendôme, fuses Parisian couture with centuries-old craft from the city of Fez: a tailored broadcloth jacket is trimmed with traditional embroidery; a silk satin smoking dress is tied with a gold Berber-­style belt. And while working with local artisans was no easy feat (“They want to know exactly what you’re doing, and if they don’t like it, it’s a nightmare,” Nacer explains), producing the clothes has proved to be the real challenge. “I used a lot of precious fabrics that I had collected a long time ago,” he says with a sigh. “I wasn’t expecting to actually sell anything” (yliasnacer.com).—Karin Nelson

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After selling Hollywould, her exuberant, ultrapreppy shoes-and-party-dress line, Holly Dunlap (inset) announced three years ago that she was taking an indefinite vacation: “You may find us skiing in the mountains of Switzerland, sailing near the shores of Italy, sunning on the sands of Palm Beach…” read the breezy post on her website. Building a school in Malawi wasn’t on the itinerary. However, in August 2009, Dunlap found herself wielding a hammer in one of Africa’s poorest countries, and while there she learned about the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MaCoHa), an organization that provides training and employment for those with disabilities. She decided to stay and work with the group, launching 4MaCoHa, a collection of colorfully embroidered tunics and caftans, hand-dyed pillows, and hand-loomed rugs made from Malawian cotton by the MaCoHa artisans. Her new venture is a far cry from her previous company. “With Hollywould, we would often have 18 suppliers for one handbag, sometimes spanning three countries,” she writes from her guarded compound, where she has electricity “a few days a week, if I’m lucky.” Yet some things haven’t changed a bit: “Most of my customers are buying for holiday trips to the Caribbean or Seychelles,” she notes. “And the decor items are being sold to people with beach houses everywhere from Mozambique to Montauk” (4macoha.com).—Karin Nelson