Wed, Feb 22, 2012 - Page 13 News List

Freedom in fashion start-ups for up-and-comers

It’s not always the big names that make the biggest splash at New York Fashion Week

By Samantha Critchell  /  AP, NEW YORK

The big names at New York Fashion Week who are watched for trends include Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler. But now, Jacobs and Proenza designers Jack McCollugh and Lazaro Hernandez have more on their minds than mere creativity and innovation.

They have big businesses to run, and that has to enter the decision-making process at some point. When you’re more of a startup, there’s freedom.

And there might not be much money, so fashion shows are done on a much smaller scale. Models might work for clothes and other freebies. Fashionable friends might help with the styling. The shoestring approach worked for Zac Posen and Alexander Wang — and look at them now.

For Jason Wu (吳季剛) it was more about a single dress: the US first lady Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown. Prabal Gurung became the toast of the town with support from his old boss Cynthia Rowley and his appointed mentor Carolina Herrera.

Who could be next?

A handful of shows at New York Fashion Week, which ended on Thursday, showed which designers are worth looking out for. They are not household names, unless you live among the hipsters of SoHo or Brooklyn, but based on the buzz they had among front-row players, they seem to have potential as the next big things: Joseph Altuzarra is at the top of the list, winning in the past year both the Council of Fashion Designers of America award for up-and-coming talent and the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund prize, which gave him mentors and some seed money for his business.

In the first collection since then, Altuzarra drew on a gypsy’s life, a wandering woman wearing jangling coin sequins and high leather boots.

There were other references, too, and they were oh-so-global: There was a bold, black-and-white African-inspired print in dresses and on a chunky, fur-trimmed jacket that would serve at a ski lodge or for every day.

He used wide panels of Moroccan blues and reds on some fronts, small red pompoms in a V design on others, along with shaggy fringe on heavy white knit tunics.

“I’m really thinking about my roots, what it means to be French and to be multicultural,” he said backstage. “The fantasy really came from travel and this idea of an imaginary world traveler who kind of picks up things everywhere they go. From Morocco, North Africa, India, China.”

The Swarthmore-educated Altuzarra, whose father is French-Basque and mother Chinese American, also had a favorite 1970s comic book rapscallion in mind, Corto Maltese. Some of his strong shoulders and military tailoring were references to a “Viennese military cadet,” he said.

“He’s a half-gypsy, half-Venetian sailor who goes around the world and who has these adventures in the Middle East and North Africa and America. He’s like a womanizer and he’s very full of life. His mother was a gypsy witch.’”

While Altuzarra’s past collections have been about deconstructing classic notions, this time he wanted to start with fabrics, shapes and tailoring that were “quite classic and quite French and very austere and strict” and make them new through the bits and pieces his imaginary traveler picked up along the way.

He played with fabrics a lot. “We were really interested in fabrics that could have a crispness and a strictness but that wouldn’t necessary wear that way,” Altuzarra said.

He went for 1950s and 1960s silhouettes, some of which had very small waists, while emphasizing hips and shoulders.

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