In the Vanguard of fashion: meet the four emerging designers Net-a-Porter is throwing its weight behind this season
The luxury e-tailer has announced which four lucky labels will be part of its coveted mentorship programme
As the world’s first luxury e-tailor, Net-a-Porter raised the bar for high-end online shopping with its launch in 2000. It gave customers access to names such as Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and Dolce & Gabbana at the mere click of a button, while its 2016 partnership with Tiffany & Co. made NAP the first platform in the world to offer fine jewellery online.
Its own reputation sealed, NAP next threw its considerable weight behind emerging designers in 2018, when it launched a mentorship programme. The Vanguard exists to support four hand-picked labels per season, who will benefit from unique access to industry experts. Normally chosen via Net-a-Porter’s enviable list of contacts worldwide – who keep the company up to speed on the names to watch – the e-tailor has, for the first time, turned to Instagram to find the next tranche of talent.
Revealed today, these are ready-to-wear labels Le 17 Septembre and Bite Studios, as well as bag designers The Sant and Naturae Sacra. “Instagram and fashion are now so closely linked,” says Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net-a-Porter. “It has essentially been the democratisation of our industry, and has impacted fashion in so many ways. It is a huge source of discovery for us … a platform to seek inspiration, discover talent and enable us to see what our customers are loving. It’s quite astonishing when you think about the number of new brands we’ve scouted through Instagram.”
Although conceived to champion emerging names, there is more to The Vanguard programme than just a feel-good factor. With its huge network of brands (800 and counting), buyers and customers (a monthly audience of six million), the online brand is uniquely placed to predict and react to shifts in consumer tastes, and anticipate the direction the industry will turn next.
The want and need for sustainability within the luxury sphere is becoming more and more apparent
Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net-a-Porter
This is crucial in a field as competitive and profitable as fashion, and passing some of that knowledge to emerging names is a safeguard for their future. Every megabrand, from Gucci to Chanel and Dior, started as the fragile vision of a single designer. Without support, these dreams are easily lost, and the growth of a budding label may be stunted. Advice and guidance can be the difference between succeeding or vanishing into obscurity.
In addition to championing new designers, this season also sees Net-a-Porter give serious thought to one of the most pressing issues in fashion: sustainability. “The want and need for sustainability within the luxury sphere is becoming more and more apparent, from the way our EIPs [extremely important people] are shopping, and the brands they are now championing,” says von der Goltz. “Net-a-Porter has stocked a number of brands that champion sustainability for a while, but now we have launched Net Sustain, so we are able to formalise our approach by creating a dedicated location on-site for these identified products.” With the industry beginning to face up to its responsibilities, this season’s Vanguard includes two small brands that have these concerns at their core.
Read on to know more about the four lucky labels that, stocked as of today on the website, are already ahead of the curve.
Le 17 Septembre
The South Korean ready-to-wear label, by blogger-turned-designer Eunhye Shin, is from the buzzing fashion city of Seoul. Taking its name from Shin’s birthday, the label’s inspiration comes from what the designer herself wants to wear daily. Entirely self-taught, Shin would be forgiven for playing it safe when it comes to cut, but instead creates deceptively simple clothes that rely on complex construction, and where the hang of the fabric is paramount.
Le 17 Septembre is daring and sophisticated – and pared back to the point of brevity – as Shin engages her customers in a conversation about loose, flowing minimalism. Created in small runs and muted tones, the label offers a very modern echo of the asymmetry and side ties found in Korea’s traditional dress, the hanbok.
“There is a saying that goes: ‘Best ingredients make the best food,’” Shin explains of her work. “I believe good fabrics make good clothes, [and] before starting to draw each design, I lay all the fabrics that I carefully selected from the market. Then, I start picturing how I could transform them into one final piece. My time with each fabric is extremely important, because Le 17 Septembre’s pieces are so minimalistic that the fabric itself has to stand out on its own.”
Another brand snapped up for The Vanguard is handbag label The Sant. Ambitious and determined, its objective is “to create innovative designs, finding inspiration in the artistic avant-garde, revisiting it from a contemporary point of view”. Based in Barcelona, it is already well known for its chic, offbeat shapes (think half-moons, misaligned squares and what could easily be a chocolate box), topped with interesting handles such as the scrunchie (like the hair tie), a soft fold of leather and a starched prim loop.
Handmade in Ubrique, the Spanish town famous for the high quality of its leatherwork, each piece is a minimal play on proportion and function, showing that The Sant isn’t afraid to rethink what constitutes a bag.
“The whole creative and development process of making a bag may take several months of hard work,” designer Laura Riera explains. “Once we have shaped and finalised the collection’s concept, we begin to define the piece. Each piece has a different meaning, which helps in conceiving the forms, materials, garments and colours.
“Instagram has played a key role since some of our clients have found us through there. Nowadays, it all comes down to communication. When customers see your company posting mainly original content and replying to their queries, it helps to build a positive brand image, and it is the best way to communicate our values.”
Set up in 2016 in studios in Stockholm and London, Bite Studios carries sustainability at the heart of its collections, with a commitment to using 95 per cent recycled or organic material. Offering only 20 tightly curated pieces per season, the brand offers a level of luxury so sophisticated and well-thought-out, that it’s already drawing comparisons with ex-Celine designer Phoebe Philo. For all its tailored elegance, the label is more than just pretty clothes; the company name is an acronym for By Independent Thinkers for Environmental progress.
“We came together as a collective, to offer an alternative model to people who, like us, believe in the urgency to fight climate change, and don’t want to compromise when it comes to the clothes we wear,” explains William Lundgren, co-founder and chief executive. “All of our styles are made with natural, organic or recycled certified fibres. To make a brand as sustainable as possible while being aesthetically beautiful is the challenge. Sourcing is a laborious process as we reject most of what is available to work, but we also believe it’s more exciting. You can develop your own materials and eco processes as you go along, and the touch and feel of natural materials is amazing to wear.”
Some of these materials include organic wool, recycled polyester and innovative fabrics such as bio-vegetal leather. Bite Studios even uses so-called peace silk (the worm is not killed) and recycled nylon from discarded fishing nets.
“We also offer a buy-back on pieces, re-collecting used styles and adding it to our digital archive, which we redesign and curate as a secondary offering alongside the main collections,” adds Lundgren.
Naturae Sacra, which translates as “mystery” from Latin, is an Italian brand that specialises in using non-harmful vegetable dyes for its leather bags, which are handmade in Turkey. What makes this label interesting is the mix of urban and nature in each piece, with classic shapes softened by unexpectedly fluid, almost organic, lines. In addition, each bag is finished with a hand-poured, hand-polished resin handle.
“No resin handle is the same, not only due to the resin’s natural characteristics, but also because each artisan works on [it] individually,” says Gizem Pirincciler, co-founder and creative director.
“Our female artisans make the moulds by hand, then add colour onto the resin, creating different patterns. The women polish each one by hand, and clean it using natural polishes, such as olive oil and moisturiser, that’s why every single piece is as unique as the woman who made it. The resin moulding process is the most challenging, but it’s a huge part of our DNA.”
Published: September 6, 2019 07:00 AM