“Some people think that only clothes with dragons or peonies can be Chinese," says Xander Zhou, the Beijing-based, Netherlands-schooled designer who's shaking up the London men's collections with his just-radical-enough take on traditional attire.
That Zhou's style is difficult to place in any canon, Western or otherwise, is an understatement — and that's exactly how he wants it. For spring, although he did indulge in a little dragon embroidery, Zhou took to Western staples with high-minded zeal, applying trenches, windbreakers, and other boxy pieces with offbeat Chinese flourish. Meanwhile, a bomber-jumpsuit hybrid with a pale flower pattern seemed to stoke multiple cultural sensibilities, yet managing to offend no one.
If all this smacks of androgyny — ding, ding, ding. Says Zhou: “My mom, with her hundred pairs of high heels, has had a longer-lasting influence on my fashion sense than any other style icon.”
If there's one mandate at the Japanese juggernaut of Comme des Garçons, it's to pursue the new — relentlessly, methodically, unflinchingly. It's a notion Kei Ninomiya is well acquainted with. The latest Rei Kawakubo protege to see the light of the runway is doing just that for his Noir Kei Ninomiya line. He does not seek to be influenced or even inspired; he simply seeks to create something never-before-created.
The all-black collection of biker jackets and complicated dresses he showed for fall 2015 may not seem particularly new, but when molded, sculpted, macraméd, heat-stamped, and laser-cut in a certain way, an auteur-like way, with zippers and studs just so, it becomes a radical revelation. A (faux) leather coat made out of padded shapes connected with a thousand or so beads, with nary a thread or vulgar seam in sight, is practically a manifesto for considered dressing.
Like his philosophy, Ninomiya's entry into fashion has been rather unique. He graduated from college in Tokyo with a degree in French Lit before joining the fashion course of Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, but he dropped out after one year to join Comme des Garçons back in Tokyo as a pattern-cutter. When one is offered a job after personally interviewing with Rei Kawakubo, one does not look back. Four years later, in 2012, he was handed the holy grail, an offer to develop and show his own collection under the Comme umbrella. With the mindful madness of a sculptor, a yen for Japanese-style experimentalism, a penchant for French literature, and of course his insatiable quest for the new, could he have ended up anywhere else?
Boris Bidjan Saberi — a Persian-German designer based in Barcelona and who shows in Paris — launched his eponymous men's label in 2007. With his multicultural background, he describes his design philosophy in terms of hybrids, such as "secular spirituality," "metropolitan religion," and "elegant sloppiness."
Thus, 'urban nomad' became a calling card that stuck, used to describe his blending and layering of natural fabrics like cotton and felt with manmade materials like vinyl and tar. This was how a recent claim to fame, transparent leather, which is in fact a chemical compound, came to be.
Now Saberi has launched a second line, called 11, that aims to attract a younger, punkier clientele. The fall 2015 collection, Snow Bleach, is intended to connote mountain soldiers in white camouflage. Snowboarders can't be far behind.
There's no shortage of nuttiness in fashion (we're looking at you, Monsieur Owens), but Bas Kosters may have busted the nut-o-meter. During Amsterdam Fashion Week that just ended, the Dutch designer showed what easily could be mistaken for life-size piñatas, or particularly hallucinatory soundsuits by Nick Cave, or something out a Takashi Murakami fever-dream.
Any piece that bobs down any Bas Kosters runway is entirely hand-crafted through any combination of photo collage, decoupage, embroidery, and what's officially known in fashion as gluing on found shiny things. As extreme as it may seem, the collection merely is the latest in the very fanciful world according to Bas, where normal quotidian questions — e.g. "Is it women's or men's?" — are rendered irrelevant. Quite naturally, on the side he's involved in doll-making, jewelry design, and throwing performance-based parties in museums.
Two threads worked by emerging designers — sport and fairy-tales — come together in Petra Ptáčková's fanciful, charming clothes. The Czech weaves modern costumery from an elaborate mix of materials, volumes, adventures, and sheer arcana, resulting in fantasy-wear that has nothing to do with sex appeal and everything to do with a "magical realism," a term she borrows from literature.
Currently based in Prague and Paris, Ptáčková studied at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, where she discovered a passion for haute couture and its recherché techniques. With a hybrid style all her own, she's constantly traveling, forever on a quest to uncover forgotten ways and ideas. Every bit as spritely as her designs, she says the people who wear her collections are "open-minded dreamers with no boundaries. We create our own tomorrow."
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Atelier Brut is a newish street label out of Bucharest, Romania, that seems to revel in scrappy impropriety. Designer Andrei Dinu cobbles together deliberately chintzy sweaters and shirts (130-140 euros) — and a strange necklace hybrid of rosary beads and ID cards — from recovered bits of upholstery and needlepoint embroidery that's common in Romania. He also repurposes furniture in a way that melds old and new — a collision of jarring styles in one piece.
Recently Dinu has begun experimenting with financial ticker symbols. "Since techno-capital is a foreign, unknowable entity anyway," he says, "high finance aesthetics might as well be used as abstract decoration." The result is not just another reproduction of Tumblr aesthetics, he notes, but genderless, placeless, timeless pieces that are nonetheless one-of-a-kind.
This video, with its discomfiting portrayal of languid Romanian slackers, goes a long way in explaining the Atelier Brut ethos...
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BORN is a new crowdfunding site with a focus on style. Dewi Bekker is a new men's designer with a collection to fund.
While studying fashion design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, Netherlands, Bekker interned with Bernhard Willhelm and Hannes Kettritz. Those familiar with Willhelm's work will recognize his cheeky experimentation in Bekker's playful take on menswear. She says she's searching for the perfect balance between the mundane and humorous through her use of unconventional materials — cork, tape, felt, plastic beads — and bright color palette.
So far she's reached just over 10% of her €8000 goal on BORN, based in Luxembourg, with two and a half months to go. If she reaches her goal, she'll use it to create and produce a new and second collection. In the process she may have also discovered the next business model for rising designers.
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That thing you've always wanted to do, tote around a fishbowl as an accessory, is now possible, thanks to the London designer Cassandra Verity Green, who's made quite the splash with her first collection since graduating from Central Saint Martins. Aptly called Neptune's Daughter, the range is based on the 1949 aqua-musical of the same name, starring the quasi-mermaid actress Esther Williams, as well as the designer's own grandmother, a 50s beauty queen. Hence the swimming caps, bright tights, and a bubbly insouciance.
While she brings a playful sense of avant-absurdism to the notion of luxury It bags, Verity Green is primarily a knit designer. So framing those eye-popping mobile fishbowls are her unique frizzy style of knit, incorporating coral-colored or transparent threads and crystal beading to create biomorphic shapes and prickly textures resembling undulating underwater sea anemones — not unlike the Internet phenomenon Seapunk. The result is a vibrant, slightly retro look that serves as both the bait and the catch.
Like Scarlett Johansson's emotionless alien character in Under the Skin, Melitta Baumeister's silicone pieces resembling leather, cotton, and knit — "casted garments," she calls them — imply an authenticity that their molecular sophistication can't give them. While they are made in recognizable shapes — a tank top, a dress, a biker jacket — their rubbery tactility and harsh, clinical shades of black and white give them away. The notion of going to extremes to perfect what has already been perfected is at once mesmerizing and mind-boggling.
“I consider what is fake and what is real," says the German-born, Parsons-taught, New York-based designer — who, at the upcoming spring 2015 shows, will present only her third collection since earning her MFA from Parsons. "And I consider the loss of tangibility and the importance of experience," by which she means she's playing to an online audience as much as an in-the-flesh audience. “I find advanced technology that is able to replace or simulate reality extremely interesting. What else could be in store in tomorrow’s world?"
Melitta Baumeister is available at Dover Street Market New York