Assoulin went back in time to find her spring color palette—specifically to the pre-green days of her childhood, when pretty much every kind of detergent came in a bright plastic bottle. Sunny orange, yellow, and baby pink light up the New York designer’s tailored and feminine shapes, which range from trenchcoats and wide pants for day to sweeping dresses with dramatic sashes, hand- painted stripes, and hand-cut eyelet for evening. Assoulin, 28, has interned for Oscar de la Renta and Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, but it was when she worked for her mother-in-law, the jeweler Roxanne Assoulin, that she envisioned her own business. “Seeing the design environment of someone I knew, not some far-off, exotic figure, was truly inspiring,” she says.
For Arbesser, 31, growing up in Vienna, Austria, was a lesson in aesthetics. Posing for the painter Heinz Stangl, a family friend, gave him a sense of color; attending the opera, a feeling for costume; and serving at his parents’ dinner parties, a glimpse of adult style. The Milan-based designer’s clean-lined spring collection—think transparent pinafores and patch-pocket sweaters—alludes to his arty youth, with graphics taken from Stangl’s paintings. “I love uniforms,” says Arbesser, whose CV includes a stint in the military, a degree from Central Saint Martins, and seven years with Giorgio Armani. “But I also have a playful side.”
The London designers Kim Trager and Lowell Delaney are constantly on the hunt for interesting material to work with. Their square-cut shirt jackets, for instance, combine hand-woven, heat-bonded, rubberized yarn with laser-cut suede. The duo’s inspiration for spring 2014, their third collection, was just as complex: an orphan girl from the Black Forest in Germany who goes to L.A., discovers Scientology and B movies, and escapes to Majorca, explains Trager, 27. High-neck shirts are slit up the back to represent the maiden’s demure and wild sides, and geometric prints mimic the embroidery on priestly vestments. As conceptual as this all might sound, however, Delaney, 28, insists the designs are easy to wear. “It’s got to be a little quirky,” she says, “but also functional and interesting.”
“Hand-weaving is a very traditional craft,” Steinmetz says. “I learned how to do it from little old ladies on YouTube!” The 28-year-old French designer’s handwoven jeans, denim jackets, and T-shirts—which she’s been producing out of her East London atelier for almost a year—are made from unspun cotton yarn and hand-twisted curly mohair. A single pair of pants takes more than a week to complete. Her next project is no less labor intensive: She is experimenting with intricate pleating.
Sarafina Sama’s line, Isa Arfen, began as a personal project. “I just made a few one-size-fits-all summer dresses for family and friends,” says the London-based, Italian-born 32-year-old, who also worked for Chloé in Paris. Buoyed by the feedback, she made the line official in 2012, finding inspiration for her cheerful aesthetic in the society photos of Slim Aarons and Arfen’s two eccentric, vintage-loving aunts who “always look totally comfortable in what they wear,” she says. For spring, Sama immersed herself in Paolo Roversi photos of Romeo Gigli collections and Antonio Lopez fashion illustrations. The results? Voluminous asymmetrical silhouettes in bright hues, as well as her first print, a giant eye peering out from a flowing skirt.