From luxury to more affordable day-to-night wear, American fashion in its endless incarnations is being reinvented and renewed by a wave of influential young designers. From inventive interpretations on great American sportswear and traditionalist attire in line with houses Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Brooks Brothers to innovative European-inspired craftsmanship and detailing, award-winning labels are breaking away from conservative and commercial conventions by conceiving designs with a global perspective. Band of Outsiders and Boy, the LA-based mens and womenswear labels by Scott Sternberg have won a celebrity following for their unique spin on impeccably crafted preppy chic, Korean-born and New Jersey-raised Doo-Ri Chung has invested draped jersey with sophistication through her label Doo.Ri, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim have fashion following new rules with their multifaceted company Opening Ceremony and New York labels Ohne Titel by Alexa Adams and Flora Gill, and Philip Lim 3.1 by Philip Lim, have become known for their unique take on modern luxury. Meet the Young Americans shaking up world fashion, writes Indigo Clarke.
Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, Co-founders of Opening Ceremony, a multifaceted company that includes a fashion label, showroom and two boutiques in New York and Los Angeles, have taken on fashion with a unique perspective (launching their store as a retail take on the Olympics) and come out on top. Known for their eclectic stable of emerging and established designers, and for successful high-profile collaborations, including two collections with perennial style maven Chloe Sevigny, Opening Ceremony is investing American fashion with a necessary global focus.
“From the outset we saw a great opportunity to have a 360 degree view of fashion – to have a showroom, store and fashion label. For us it’s about looking from numerous perspectives to learn about every aspect of the industry – giving us a unique insight into the business of fashion. Neither of us grew up looking at fashion as something we wanted to be involved in, we fell into it in a really exciting, serendipitous way – we didn’t put too much thought into owning a store or starting a label, we just did it and learnt as we went along. We started our own line about a year after launching our store in 2002, beginning by making basic items that can be hard to find, which we called “basics plus”. Our aesthetic is day-to-night all-occasion wear, very much based on an American sensibility. Our designs are simple, yet special with hidden details – we don’t shy away from colour or print, we don’t really shy away from anything!”
Synonymous with a subdued and understated aesthetic, The Korean born and New Jersey raised designer, Doo.Ri Chung, describes herself as a ‘deconstructionist’ eliminating non-essential details from her sculptural designs. With experience as head designer at legendary American house, Geoffrey Beene, before branching out on her own with her label Doo.Ri, Chung has become known for chic draped jersey confections – which now form the basis of her more affordable line launched this year, Under.ligne.
“I launched Doo.Ri in 2002 after leaving Geoffrey Beene – I had a vision and felt I needed to start my own line in order to pursue it. When I worked for Mr. Beene, there was a frustration because I could never experiment with anything that did not fit within the house style. With my label being so new, I am free to explore anything, and I love having this freedom of expression. I see myself as designing for confident women who can carry fashion – I see so many women that are burdened by fashion that it is amazing when you meet the ones that can really balance it. It’s always exciting for me to see all the different expressions of style that women derive from my designs. In the US, the most overt style would be sportswear or utilitarian clothing – this aesthetic is so American and has definitely influenced designers everywhere. I have a great respect for the tradition of American Fashion, and feel you can see the influence of sportswear, and the subversion of it, in almost all designers collections. For me though, inspiration comes from the actual process of making clothes – the tactile experience of draping and cutting.”
Following up their SS09 complex candy-pastel knits with a contrastingly stark, sombre collection for winter, Ohne Titel are fast becoming one of New York’s most talked about labels. With backgrounds working for Karl Lagerfeld before branching out on their own, Parson’s School of Design graduates Alexa Adams and Flora Gill are creating modern, ‘intelligent’ luxury with an edge for girls much like themselves.
“We met at Parsons where we were drawn to each other's work… We spent a lot of time together and bonded over shared influences, so later it felt quite natural for us to start our own line. Ohne Titel is about re-imagining the body's shape in a modern way. We always think of ourselves, and what we actually want to wear when we design. We think of Ohne Titel as intelligent luxury, and our woman is expressive, playful and adventurous, but always with dignity. It’s an exciting time in New York for fashion right now – people are really interested in new talent, there is an overall excitement for new ideas. Our strength as a label is in designing with a certain freedom in terms of surfaces. We like to incorporate materials that surprise or bring a new perspective. For AW09, we were inspired by armour and body protection. We used chain-mail like yarns for the knits, and materials like washed leather and silk, banded stretch wool, and zippers with metallic accents. Colour-wise we went in a darker direction while keeping certain signatures such as draping and structure, high-tech fabric development and articulated knits.”
Band of Outsiders
Launching Band of Outsiders in 2003, LA-based designer Scott Sternberg left behind a Hollywood career to cut-up and re-contextualise vintage fabrics to create modish, hand-detailed menswear that is, Sternberg says, “Classic but with a fresh eye.” From modest beginnings, the ever-evolving label now includes a womenswear collection titled Boy, an ongoing collaboration with shoe label Sperry Top-Sider, and an eccentric line devoted to Scotland. With celebrity fans including Jason Schwartzman, David Beckham and Kirsten Dunst modelling for his campaigns, and the 2008 CDFA Swarovski Award for Menswear up his sleeve, Scott Sternberg’s twist on preppy style is causing a stir stateside and beyond.
“I have no fashion background really… I was an agent at CAA, a monster talent agency in LA. It was supposed to be super glamorous but I found it super boring. So I started making shirts and ties for guys from vintage fabrics, sold to a few great stores, and slowly built the brand from there. I have always been interested in classic menswear – I love the Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers sportswear aesthetic, that sensibility of traditional American tailoring. I’m not trying to reinvent a shirt or tie – what I’m doing is fine-tuning details and putting a modern spin on classics. While I never really intended to create womenswear, after three years designing menswear, and realising we had a cult following among women, it seemed a natural progression. I love to see old friends wearing my designs, and it’s been great to have actors like Kirsten Dunst and David Schwartzman, who have such great personal style, support my labels.”
3.1 philip lim
Ditching studies in finance for a degree in fashion design was a risk worth taking for Thai-born, California-raised Philip Lim, who entered the fashion world to near instant success. Launching his multiple award-winning label, 3.1 phillip lim, in New York in 2005, Lim set out to “refine instead of define,” contemporary clothing. Known for an effortless and classic aesthetic with a characteristically offbeat edge, Lim’s brand has grown exponentially to include both a menswear and children’s label, as well as flagship stores in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo.
“In 2004 after leaving Development, the first label I co-founded in California, my then friend and now business partner Wen Zhou invited me to New York with an unexpected propositon… to start my own label. It was literally a "Sliding Doors" moment – and three days later, I was in New York and 3.1 phillip lim was starting. I was motivated by a gap in the market between high-end designers with hefty price tags and contemporary labels that followed trends and became generic, watered-down versions of their luxury counterparts. There was nothing in-between. I wanted to create clothing with a distinct personality at accessible price points, for confident, intelligent, quirky and independent people who I consider kindred spirits. While I respect traditional American fashion, I don’t consider my clothing as purely American, I like to think of it as global. I am inspired by the global citizen, whose curiosity, appetite for culture and outlook on the world is borderless.”