Off the runway: Four emerging brands you won’t see during Fashion Week

New York Fashion Week’s truncated schedule now makes it harder than ever for emerging brands to generate buzz within a saturated market. Young talents are seeking new means of recognition, going directly to consumers and focusing on their craft. Here, WWD spotlights four promising young brands you won’t see during the fashion week rounds.

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NYFW S/S 2020 designer inspiration
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NYFW S/S 2020 designer inspiration

Christian Siriano

“This season's Spring 2020 collection was inspired by modern pop artists Ashley Longshore and Jeff Koons. Their use of playful, bright and bold line inspire unexpected textiles with a hint of surrealism for evening wear that is modern and elegant.” 

Christian Cowan

"This collection is my most personal to date. It is focused on childhood memories of my family in Spain. The women of Moaña who all have a relaxed strength in everything they do."

L’AGENCE

"SS20 reflects a soft feminine tone, with an emphasis on prints and textured fabrics. Suiting plays a must-have in the Spring Collection."

Romeo Hunte

“Business Street; the new uniform” 

Elie Tahari

"The inspiration for the Elie Tahari Spring Summer 2020 collection comes from the streets of Soho in the 70's."

Moon Choi

"This season we played with string and straps, inspired by a spy’s mapping of crime on a board and we also explored parachute construction. As spies use parachutes to disappear from the scene, I pictured a very romantic and delicate parachute dress that the spy might wear, where as they walk the dress increases in volume like a parachute. The wrapping and draping techniques throughout the collection represent how delicate and sensitive spies are, and how lonely they feel once they feel safe from the outside world."

Dennis Basso

"Refined modern and elegant"

LEYII

"The theme of LEYII’s Spring Summer 20 collection is Blossoming Love, demonstrating the beauty of blooming flowers that is reminiscent of a woman falling in love."

I AM CHEN

“SS20 is inspired by California in the 60’s.”

Cong Tri

"Just like little jewels that welcome the new day, dew drops cast the most vivid colors in my garden: the green hue of young leaves; the vibrant tones of flowers; the dark shade of the earth." 

SONGTA

“SS20 is inspired by “uniform fashion” created by middle school students in Shenzhen.”

Tanya Taylor

"Birds of Paradise"

RIZHUO

"Xia, is a unique cultural characteristic of China, with this collection, we wish to seek the transformation of the Xia spirit in a quiet and spiritual state."

Pamella Roland

“Our SS20 collection is a continuation of the luxurious aesthetic and level of quality that Pamella Roland is known for.”

Shoshanna

"The Spring 2020 collection was inspired by the Balearic Islands. Shoshanna focused on texture; introducing new ways to print on cottons, eyelets, and laces. The collection offers vibrant florals, Spanish inspired tile patterns, and reworked vintage prints."

LIE

“LIE Spring Summer 2020 Collection is inspired by UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage of Humanity known as ‘Haenyeo.’"

THREEGUN

“With this SS20 collection, we hope to showcase the strength of Chinese manufacturing.”

All Things Mochi

"The Spring/Summer 2020 collection was inspired by traditional Filipino culture, with emphasis on the art of colorful embroidery, as well as the Pahiyas Festival, which celebrates the farmers’ bountiful harvest."

Audra

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, Be afraid of only standing still.”

SemSem

"The collection is inspired by founder Abeer Al Otaiba’s Egyptian heritage and dramatic style. It is organic and geometric, lucid yet magical. I like the idea that it might capture a beautiful stillness in the midst of movement and chaos.” –Charles Youssef, Design Director

Rebecca Taylor

"This season, I was inspired by an exhibition I visited at the Serpentine gallery in London. The exhibition titled 'Visionary Drawings,' was by Emma Kunz, a Swiss/German artist in the 40’s. I was so inspired by her use and juxtaposition of color in the linear and graphic drawings. She worked solely in graphite and color pencils, mapping out delicate yet geometric lines that she then color blocked in beautiful and unusual color combinations. This inspired the alchemy of color/textures in our spring collection."

Noon by Noor

Describing the Spring 2020 collection, Shaikha Noor Al Khalifa said, "Lightweight fabrics and fluid silhouettes are balanced with bold lively colors that emit confidence.” Shaikha Haya Al Khalifa added, "The details speak volumes as they - literally and figuratively - tie back to the source of our inspiration: Bahraini pearls and seashells."

Claudia Li

"Phase II"

BAJA EAST

“LIVE IN THE HIGHER VIBRATION”

LaQuan Smith

"I will not, not be rich."- Renata Klein 

KAIMIN

"Introspective Prism: Refract different types of self, Mutate desire and identity, Evolve in spirit and form."

Gee x Spectra Design Studio

"A zero-waste and cruelty-free process with the ability to make 3D Printed fashion take part in daily wearable pieces."

MARKGONG 

“Inspired by the film 'Into the Wild', the SS20 collection aims to evoke the feeling of a pleasant and carefree lifestyle.”

Fengyi Tan

Upholding the principle of minimalism, FENGYI TAN takes her Spring/Summer 2020 inspiration of colors incorporating techniques from calligraphy, paintings and porcelain glazes found in the art from the Song Dynasty. Porcelain veins and the then popular pleated skirt from the Song Dynasty were renewed in her designs with the help of modern knitwear techniques.

Bronx and Banco

"SAHARA follows the journey of a beautiful Bedouin with each piece drawing inspiration from self-discovery and our ability to seek out beauty in even the harshest of environments. The Bronx and Banco SS2020 collection borrows tones, textures and splashes of subtle colour from desert landscapes, it’s inhabitants, the silhouettes of a sweeping sand dune, the warmth of an idyllic sunset and our own personal journey towards the oasis.”

BLDWN

“BLDWN's Spring 2020 Collection draws inspiration from the dual nature of Marfa, Texas: One part quiet, West Texas ranching town and the other, an eccentric art community established by the late American artist Donald Judd. We've twisted the American suburban feeling that influenced the collection by pairing classic shapes with clean, modern lines, neutral pops of color and tactile fabrications."

Tadashi Shoji

"Japan, where what if comes true."

Trina Turk

“Breezy beach days inspired by the fantasy of Suzy in Fellini’s ‘Juliet of the Spirits.’"

Laurence & Chico

Laurence & Chico's Spring/Summer 2020 collection is titled "Love Letters To New York" and inspired by New York City through the eyes of Laurence & Chico.

IISE

“For Spring/Summer 2020’, IISE re-imagines itself as a dominating corporate entity in South Korea.”

PH5

“Rebel from Ivy”

3ZM x Luyang By Yanglu

“Mid-Autumn Festival"

CHOCHENG 

“The mystery and the glamour of headscarves and oversized sunglasses.”

GRAVITAS

"Our mission is to catalyze confidence. This collection is about wardrobe MVPs that bring innovation, versatility, and empowerment to our lives. We want you to be the hero – the  MVP – of your story."

ALTERRE

“Join us this Summer for a retro beach party, inspired by the swinging space age on Cocoa Beach”

Mikage Shin 

"Skin and Warmth Collection” came from the Italian great architect, Gio Ponti’s philosophical aesthetics. Even though buildings and architectures were inorganic things, he examined unique surface and structure to make them more playful as if they were vigorously living things."

HIUMAN

HIUMAN drew her Spring/Summer 2020 inspiration from the Qin Dynasty, specifically referencing the color of the period’s famous terracotta warriors. The collection seeks to integrate antiquity with the contemporary period and explore the philosophy behind the Qin Dynasty’s costume culture, with the collection’s color palette divided into three segments referencing the legendary terracotta warriors.

Tribe Alive

"Our fall line is inspired by the desert sunset and clean architecture of the southwest."

Leaf Xia

Leaf Xia's Spring/Summer 2020 collection is focused on the traditional Tang Dynasty aesthetic with a modern feminine edge. Drawing inspiration from the motifs of the period including the peony, koi fish, and traditional paintings of maids, the color palette includes gladiola red, which serves as a strong accent throughout the collection.

S'RA

“Our SS20 collection is inspired by the beauty of one of the temple on Bangkok called 'WAT ARUN', which can be translated to ’Temple of the DAWN.'” - Sarawalee Lusamlit
 

AMNESIA

“For AMNESIA, our capital and home, Budapest, and our country, Hungary are an endless source of inspiration. For the SS20 collection, we used well-known attributes of the Budapest armour, and we designed the pieces of the collection in the trendy colours of our national flag. We built internationally well-know hungaricums into the design as well, but the characteristic black and white striped and dotted looks will also be part of the collection.”

Zero + Maria Cornejo

“The whole idea is to do something creative with things that have had a life before,” says Maria Cornejo. “It’s about making something new and re-imagining things. Re-create, re-imagine, re-cycle. How do we get creative with less?”

AKNVAS

For the AKNVAS spring summer 2020 collection, designer Christian Juul Nielsen is inspired by the 80’s power dressing. Creating beautifully draped tops and dresses out of menswear shirting fabric, Nielsen has continued to establish a world where traditional menswear fabrics are crafted into feminine silhouettes for a strong independent woman. 

Eva Xu

Designer Eva Xu aims to restore the prosperity and inclusiveness of the Late – Qing Dynasty in her Spring/Summer 2020 collection. Redefining classic female costumes in Qing Dynasty with western style, Eva Xu explores new forms of womenswear at the current stage.

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1. Manonik

Yoshiyuki Minami is a textile artist whose work through genderless label Manonik can be seen as a critique of the current fashion system.

He’s part of the new wave of young, sustainably minded designers taking a slow approach to production — collaborating with local vendors to source fibers, and utilizing labor-intensive textile-making techniques (with a specialty in hand-weaving) to craft one-of-a-kind artisanal garments. His work truly falls at the intersection of art, design and craftsmanship.

His unique one-off creations are naturally at odds with fashion week’s commercial and fast-paced nature; rather, it’s the type of stuff that begs to be discovered by socially conscious consumers.

Minami began making clothes professionally in 2016 after finishing residency programs at Textile Arts Center and the Museum of Arts and Design. He learned how to finish various textile development processes well so that he could champion an aesthetic of beautiful imperfection through both intentional and spontaneous mistakes.

His process relies heavily on the loom where, at any given moment, he’ll pull a fringe or leave the ends of the spool out to create cool yet random textures. A prime example is a blazer with textural surface of randomly pulled out threads and splashes of colorful textile paint.

“When you weave a cloth, you want everything to be consistent,” Minami said during a preview of his studio. “That’s the goal. But I’m a little rebellious. I like showing the process.”

The name Manonik reinforces the use of handcraft, where “mano” means hand in Italian, one of three languages the designer speaks.

Minami’s process is both unconventional and fascinating. Sourcing the right hemp, felt or organic wool from local suppliers to weave with can take up to a year and a half, leaving him at the mercy of material availability. Once fibers arrive, he’ll spend up to three weeks developing fabric swatches on either the loom, which takes a full day to dress, or a manual knitting machine, to gauge how fibers behave. He favors technical drawings over fashion sketches, which act as blueprints factoring in width, length, and when to create a curve on the loom to follow the body. He’ll sit at either machine for about seven hours every day to eventually create mini collections of no more than 10 items a year. For reference, it takes about four months of nonstop weaving to create 12 pieces. It’s a design process that can be immensely insular.

Naturally, Minami’s original intent was to create one-off garments. Interest from boutiques has him debating whether or not multiple runs of each look is feasible, or aligns with the brand’s fundamental codes.

The interest from buyers is warranted. His work explores tailoring through a genderless lens. Highlights from his last collection include a free-formed felted cardigan, another hand-felted coat with discarded threads used as surface design, and a black toned-down version of the aforementioned blazer with pulled-out process threads on the sleeves.

HIs next mini collection slated for November will evolve the tailoring concept with baggier silhouettes that can be worn all the time, across occasions. Current swatches he’s toying with include hemp, which softens when aging; discarded threads, and aluminum-lined silk, which shrinks when wet and becomes a malleable fabric to the wearer’s body to become an even more personalized item. “I’ve been thinking about diversity in terms of material choices,” Minami concluded. “I think the more we diversify, the better it is for sustainability.”

2. Common Odds

As the industry shifts its attention to quiet fashion, it’s become increasingly important to offer consumers more than basic wardrobe items. Designer Sue Jung is a trained men’s wear designer who plays on gender codes in her minimalist-meets-maximalist label Common Odds, which she launched last year.

Seeing a gap in the market for slightly sculptural men’s wear-inspired women’s wear with artistic undertones, Jung is banking on creative types who can appreciate the brand’s subtle quirks and attention to detail.

The name Common Odds is a play on contrasts — steeped in everyday pieces with little twists, feminized men’s wear items, and overall clean take on experimentation. Nothing is specifically feminine, which opens the door to eventually launching men’s wear, which Jung sees as the only reason she would hold a fashion week presentation in today’s saturated market — to draw in as many interested eyes as possible.

Before Common Odds, Jung studied fashion in South Korea and graphic design at Parsons, leading to a 10-year career as a men’s wear designer for Ralph Lauren, DKNY and G-III. And, with a passion for photography, she’s garnered a personal Instagram following of 138,000.

Her strength lies in outerwear, and some of the strongest points in her spring collection, her third, include a rounded denim jacket, oversize trenchcoat and mannish suiting in a muted pastel palette. Her signature silhouette to date has been the sculptural sleeves adorning sleek shirting and lightweight jackets comparable to Lemaire.

She likens her aesthetic as a maximalist approach to minimalism. What it’s translated to is amped up playfulness and shapes on easy silhouettes. She draws inspiration from artists such as Constantin Brâncuși and Helen Frankenthaler through subtle nods to the shapes of Brâncuși’s sculptures or color scheme of Frankenthaler’s paintings.

As a socially conscious consumer and vegetarian, Jung is also a proud purveyor of vegan leather. Hers may be some of the chicest options in the market, including a trucker jacket and white slightly curved trousers cut in Italian vegan leather, and a fitted leather blazer in a Japanese one.

There are some literal twists to her garments, too, either decorative or with the ability to transform a look. Pleats coming back-to-front maintain the curved thread Jung has established throughout her three seasons, while the French seams outside a blue pleated shirt create a sophisticated look in front with interesting fabric separation in the back.

For a designer who likes to experiment with shape, there’s a realness to the clothes that feels both special and everyday. Shirting is a sweet spot in the range that works for all seasons, while sheer items like a trucker-style button down is less intimidating than it sounds. For work or play, men or women, Common Odds is a promising contender in the realm of quiet, considerate design.

3. Ashlyn New York

With more than 10 years of experience working at other brands, creative director Ashlyn Park decided to launch her namesake luxury women’s wear label in 2018 on the tenets of quiet yet empowering design.

Park has been a behind-the-scenes designer throughout her career, holding full-time positions at Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander Wang and Calvin Klein under Raf Simons, with further freelance stints at Proenza Schouler, Thakoon and, most recently, Khaite.

Much like these brands, Ashlyn New York takes a modern approach to what Park describes as a feminine and playful line. Upon first glance at her spring 2020 range, clear standouts with a cool bent are the reworked shirting that play to the sophisticated side of experimentation. Now in her third season, she has established the line as a calling card for modern-luxe tailoring.

While studying at Bunka Fashion College in Japan, Park won the Soen Prize, which allowed her to work at Yohji Yamamoto, where she remained for three years. There, she developed a conceptual way of thinking and the framework for her current aesthetic.

Her design strategy errs on comfort and space between the garment and body, allowing for easy movement and bodily expression. Foremost examples here include a sleeveless white gown with fluid cascading back, and a blouse with a similar waterfall drape.

Park has a clear affinity for polish, even when melding clean silhouettes with cheeky 3-D elements. Inspired by the strength of her own hands — with which she’s able to learn new skills, make mistakes and create new designs — she incorporated subtle tributes to her hands through the chic shape of cap sleeves mirroring the hand motion for “OK” on a pleated poplin dress. Other whimsical touch points include shirting with folded back, puff shoulders or butterfly draped puff collar. A balance of playfulness and formality could also be seen in pant-skirt hybrids and a black tailored jacket with dropped wide shoulders and nipped waist.

“I’m most excited about the freedom of design,” Park said during a preview, adding: “Working for other brands it was really hard to express my designs. Here I can do whatever I want.”

Moving forward, Park plans on expanding her novelty shirting range and focusing on sales as a new exhibitor at the upcoming Woman trade show in New York. “Since I’m a fresh, emerging brand, at this time I have been focusing on my consumers’ custom orders through my web site and distributions. I want to focus on establishing and expanding my brand.”

4. Allina Liu

For Allina Liu, a reset to her namesake line — launched in 2015 — away from a traditional wholesale model is proving beneficial.

After taking a brief hiatus last year to work at more commercial brands such as J. Crew and Rebecca Taylor, Liu has decided to relaunch her modern contemporary label this summer in a direct-to-consumer model that has already sold out of certain styles.

She’s taking a balanced approach to design — coupling her eccentric inclinations with a factor of wearable ease. How does someone who is inspired by the sexualized works of Nobuyoshi Araki and Ren Hang create pieces meant for everyday? The answer, it seems, is simplifying. It’s a paradox she’s grappling with: to be unique and simultaneously wearable and approachable at once.

Upon graduation from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Liu cut her teeth at The Row and Thakoon. She initially launched her brand on the codes of innocence, romance and sexuality. Early items featured bondage straps, hidden zippers that played on the idea of restriction versus release, and hook-and-eye closures nodding to suspension. She garnered moderate press when Cardi B donned a sheer tulle duster for The Fader back in 2017.

But the eccentric clothes weren’t selling, and relying on traditional press and wholesale accounts wasn’t working. Her strategy now is to take the core elements of her early collections into pieces that could live in the real world, directly to the customers.

Her new Rhea babydoll dress, for instance, is the perfect balance of ease, flirt and sensuality, cut with a lace-up back, waist peplum and deep V-neck so that it doesn’t feel too precious. It’s the type of piece that can easily be dressed up for a cocktail or back down with jeans.

Liu hasn’t abandoned those early artistic references, either. There are softer nods to Araki and Hang’s works through commercial ways with thin straps, deep necklines and lingerie elements such as ruffles and sheer materials. There’s even some humor to the relaunch via cheeky cartoon BDSM paddle print on a pajama-like set. Across all works, there’s a thread of romance and gentle sexuality.

In an era heavily influenced by social media, Liu is finding valuable press and marketing through the newly minted editor-influencer roles as opposed to traditional editorial placements. As a co-sponsor to her p.r. agency’s summer press trip, she offered guests the Rhea dress in two colors which, in turn, helped sell out of the black style. It helps, too, that the dress is cut oversize yet feminine.

“I think there’s a big difference now in terms of marketing,” Liu said. “It’s not just seeing it on a gorgeous tall model. It’s more relatable now.”

The goal for Liu moving forward is sticking to a direct-to-consumer model, dropping small capsules every other month of what she wants to build as core styles, and making sure to create a lasting identity. “At this point I’m only doing pieces I really believe in,” she concluded. “Keeping it clean, having interesting silhouettes and small design details and made in New York is really important to me in terms of sustainability and being able to monitor factory conditions.”

Launch Gallery: Off the Runway: 4 Emerging Brands to Watch for Spring 2020

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