The shows in New York, London, and Milan this season all seemed to be building up to Paris: Some of fashion’s biggest houses would be getting makeovers, with Anthony Vaccarello, Bouchra Jarrar, and Maria Grazia Chiuri making their debuts at Saint Laurent, Lanvin, and Dior, respectively. But while they may not have the means for an illuminated, crane-dangled logo to announce their arrivals, a new wave of talent has also been showing throughout the city, and they are proving themselves equally worthy of attention. The promise of more buyers and a hint of Parisian legitimacy has lured new talents like 21-year-old Shan Huq and 19-year-old Vejas Kruszewski away from showing in New York, while others, like Antonin Tron at Atlein, are stepping out on their own after over a decade at houses like Balenciaga and Givenchy. From a Spanish couture expert trying things anew to a prize-winning teen wunderkind, meet five designers as worthy of buzz as Vaccarello and Chiuri.
“Showing in our apartment, it’s just natural for me,” said Antonin Tron from the Marais, where his mother and his plants had just served as accoutrements to the sophomore showing of his label, Atlein. But don’t get the wrong idea: With ten years as a womenswear designer at Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton under his belt, the 32-year-old French designer has a serious background in luxury. It was at those houses that, after studying at Antwerp’s storied Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Tron first got started working with jersey, the material he’s selected exclusively for Atlein, and which quickly landed him the ANDAM First Collection Prize this summer. The cash flow meant he could expand to seven different types of the fabric this season, from jacquards and light crepes to shiny viscose, which he used for gathered skirts and slinky dresses that made for a sporty if sophisticated vision for spring. All that's accented by Tron’s new line of jewelry, which is forged as if from molten lava (in a nod to his lava-glazed ceramics collection) and also handcrafted in the Marais. It’s no surprise, then, that “authenticity, quality, and independence” are the values Tron said are closest to Atlein – ones that, prize money aside, he keeps afloat with his side job: freelancing for Demna Gvasalia at one of his old haunts, the house of Balenciaga.
Other than the fact that he met his business partner, Saam Emme, on Tumblr, and found inspiration for his spring collection on Pinterest, you’d be hard-pressed to find any indication that Vejas Kruszewski is just 19. The Canadian design wunderkind has been running his namesake label out of Toronto for years, and officially earned approval of the big guns when he won the coveted LVMH Prize this summer. Now 300,000 euros richer, Kruszewski is staying level-headed: “We’re just building upon the values of the brand,” he said matter-of-factly. Those would be futurism, abstraction, and utility – the latter because “I mean, they’re clothes, and actually have to work in real life." Still, Kruszewski is hardly afraid to play. His favorite piece from his spring collection, for example, is a yellow jacket that’s essentially a mash-up of a suede construction worker's glove with a Timberland boot. And while the label’s now headed in a more feminine direction, the unisex designs Kruszewski first became known for back in New York are sticking around, too. For the brand’s first official showing in Paris, Kruszewski showcased them against a backdrop he described as a deteriorated spaceship meets a Planet of the Apes-style monolith – a creation of a London-based set designer that came at the recommendation of his fellow prizewinner, Grace Wales Bonner. So while the pair might be leaving the underground behind, Kruszewski, at least, is doing so on his own terms: “When you see how things work on a mass scale, with millions and billions of dollars involved...in order to get to that point, you have to make a lot of compromises,” Kruszewski reflected. “So what we’re trying to do is build a business that’s scaling, but also not get too big too quickly. That can also be damaging. It’s really about a balance, I think.”
“The calendar has been so crazy lately, so we just decided to take advantage of that,” said Carmen March, calm as ever just after the presentation that marked the relaunch of her namesake label. She actually did sales for the collection a month and a half earlier – a savvy move that shows how if there's anyone who knows how to work the system, it’s March. She’s spent 20 of her 40 years in the industry, starting out with her own couture label in 2004 before moving on to ready-to-wear and a “big corporate project” (acting as creative director of the Spanish house Pedro del Hierro Madrid). Her approach, though, remains entirely fresh-faced. “I’m trying to figure out what contemporary femininity really is,” March said of her new direction, which is all about bringing couture’s elegance to today’s women, who, she’s quick to point out, don’t exactly have time for things that aren’t wearable. For her debut, that balance came across in silk linings even for her more modern, one-shouldered shapes, and artisanal accents like hand-painted polka dots with visible fingerprints. The latter – along with the collection’s ruffles and high-waisted pants – is the Mallorca-born designer’s take on classic Spanish style, something that’s fresh on March and her team’s mind, given their design home base. “I’m not ever, ever leaving Madrid again,” she said with a laugh – except for Paris Fashion Week, that is.
If you thought you saw cartoon characters mixed in with the clothes at Aalto’s spring showing, you weren’t imagining things: For the brand’s fourth collection in Paris, designer Tuomas Merikoski collaborated with Moomins, the fairy-tale series that’s a hit in his native Finland (and whose message of diversity he found he appreciated through bed-time reads with his kids.) It’s not entirely the departure from last year’s 24-hour rave inspirations that you might think: The nebulous creatures found a home amidst frayed flannels and denim jackets, a nod to Merikoski’s other influence – grunge and the ‘90s. Like Raf Simons and other cult names before him, Merikoski is fascinated by youth culture – a good sign for his goal, which is to make Aalto the first big high-end fashion brand to come from Finland. It’s one his spot on this year’s list of LVMH Prize finalists no doubt helped, which may seem like the reason he’s gotten a bit more luxe recently, peppering the spring collection with thousands of Swarovski crystals and even adding pearl chains to his leather bucket hats. Merikoski, 37, who has spent over a decade working at houses like Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, was simply doing what he felt was relevant: “Elegance is something that actually feels fresh right now,” he said, pointing to his more tailored pieces like white layered suits. “I mean, I’m Finnish, I’m from the northern countries, so there’s always kind of a cleanness and minimalism somewhere in me.”
“It could just have to do with me turning 21,” said Shan Huq of the more mature direction his year-old namesake label has suddenly taken. And it could also have to do with Huq’s move back to Los Angeles, the city where he was raised and briefly went to business school before deciding to launch his own label. After getting to know the industry through video after video on YouTube, he moved to New York just a month before showing his first-ever collection, which the entirely self-taught designer managed to clock in at 70 pieces. It quickly made a name for him in the city’s ever-growing underground design scene – one he appreciated, but wasn’t exactly keen on being associated with. So, this season, encouraged by his stockist, Dover Street Market, he decided to start showing in Paris: a more sophisticated setting to fit for his maturing, now Angeleno-inspired vision, and a world away from the Olive Garden ad soundtracks and church-turned-club settings he started out with in America. “This collection is a bit of a departure, almost the opposite of what I’ve done in the past two seasons,” Huq said. Indeed, instead of unisex designs – “gender is now almost just like a click-bait phrase,” he said – his spring collection is split up into men’s and women’s. “I like the dialogue between the two.”