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For an industry that's all about the new, fashion always runs the risk of getting bogged down in the same old, same old. People want to spend money on labels they already know and trust—good news for major brands, but bad news for recent graduates of Parsons and FIT.
Racked Young Guns is our attempt to highlight some of these up-and-coming designers. We started back in May by asking for reader submissions. Then we assembled a team of experts—designers like Pamela Love, Steven Alan, and Tibi's Amy Smilovic, plus some of the best retail buyers in New York and LA—to help us comb through over 500 nominees. Along the way, we profiled a few of the designers with the best stories, and let you in on our list of the top 50.
And now—drumroll please—it's finally time to unveil our 15 winners. Ranging in age from 24 to 35, and in location from New York to LA, these emerging designers are setting the standard for what we want to wear in 2014.
Rosie Assoulin: Is she too big for this contest? That was the only doubt our panelists had about this New York-based designer, whose elegant, voluminous pieces earned her a CFDA membership practically upon launch. Assoulin apprenticed with Oscar de la Renta and Lanvin, and that experience comes through in her exuberant shapes and female-centric point-of-view. (No wonder Man Repeller is both a friend and a fan.)
"She's changing the direction of the silhouette for women's fashion," is how panelist Sarah Easley of Kirna Zabete put it. "You don't have to be only tall or only thin to wear it; you just have to be bold and embrace a new volume."
And Amy Smilovic summed her up well, too: "She is so clearly going by her own rules."
WWAKE: Designer Wing Yau's dainty, opal-heavy jewelry line is getting snapped up by retailers so fast that it's hard to keep track, but even a partial list looks like a rundown of the country's coolest stores: Catbird, Steven Alan, Otte.
Rony Vardi, Catbird's founder and Brooklyn's unofficial jewelry trend-spotter, says, "I think she uses small stones extremely thoughtfully and well. She gives very traditional stones a new and fresh twist, but they don't feel super trendy; you don't think you'll be bored of it in a year. And she does a good job adding unexpected elements to her design—like slight mismatched pairs, but so slight you have to pay attention."
Designer Pamela Love agrees: "Jewelry is trending really tiny and delicate right now, and she happens to be part of a group of brands working in that category. But out of all those, I think she has the most unique voice and pays the most attention to detail. The aesthetic is so unique and modern while still feeling timeless."
Novis: New Yorker Jordana Warmflash's collection lives in that unlikely place where midcentury vintage meets modern red carpet. It's smart, quirky, and sexy at the same time, and it's just getting started.
Says Paul Birardi of NYC's Odin, "When we first saw Novis, the thing that we found interesting about it was her color and patterns—also the fact that the style and sensibility runs across multiple age brackets. It wasn't about early twentysomethings, or fortysomethings, or sixtysomethings. It was just really stylish and sophisticated."
Kristen Lee of LA retail powerhouse TenOverSix says of the line, "It's a little cocktail, a little uptown girl, and it's really beautifully made. Her construction is amazing and I think she has some real design chops. It gets better and better, young and cooler—it's turning into something really great."
Nomia: Designer Yara Flinn has been in the game since 2009, but as panelist Pamela Love put it, "Her designs are only getting stronger." Her silky, drop-dead-simple pieces prove over and over that minimalism is sexy.
Panelists loved her distinct point of view: "I can look at a piece of clothing and know it's Nomia," said Kristen Lee, who stocks the line at TenOverSix. And as Amy Smilovic put it, Nomia has "that extra level of refinement, that clear message, that point of view. It's pretty, clean, experimental, but easy to wear at the same time."
The Common Knowledge: Designer Zara Dramov is just 24, but she's already got a vision: bags with a backbone. Putting her degree in industrial design to good use (and bolstering it with a post-grad education at Central Saint Martins), she's created an angular, geometric line of totes and crossbodies that doesn't quite look like anything else.
Racked's market editor—aka resident shopping prognosticator—Nicola Fumo says this is one to watch. "That feeling I got in my stomach when I first saw Mansur Gavriel? I get that here, too."
Death to Tennis: The name of their label might be cheeky, but designers William Watson and Vincent Oshin are quite serious about good-looking menswear. The Brits, who now work and reside in New York, got raves from the guys on our panel.
"They have a point of view," said Need Supply's Gabriel Riccioppo. "It just shows in the product: attention to detail, nice fabric, very simple. Sometimes it's just about doing those core things well—not just being goofy. That's what I look for."
Eddy Chai, founder and owner of Odin, adds, "I appreciate the subtle design details they do that are just really thoughtful: how they treat a pleat, or how a button is placed. It's not over-designed, but it also has a modern sensibility. They're both from the UK but based in New York, so it kind of merges UK quirkiness and New York City seriousness. One of them's a stylist, so he really thinks about how pieces should be put together. And they always have a cohesive story in the collection."
Shaina Mote: Based in LA (and beloved by the Los Angeles wing of Racked), Shaina Mote makes a serious statement with a seriously restricted color palette. Her pieces are sexy without being aggressive, and effortless without looking lazy.
Says Kristen Lee of TenOverSix, "Her line does amazingly well for us. I think it's really cool and forward in a very pared-down way—minimal, beautiful, black and white. I just love it." Erica Cerulo of Of a Kind put it this way: "I like its minimalist vibe, but it still has a point of view. I like the clean black and white nature of most of the pieces."
Welcome Companions: Panelist Andrea Linett of the blog I Want to Be Her hit the nail on the head with her description of this line: "Very Rei Kawakubo." LA designer Laurel Consuelo Broughton has an architecture background, a sixth sense for marketing, and a surrealist's sense of humor, and her witty collection of bags and other leather goods taps into all three.
Says Brooklyn jewelry designer Erica Weiner, "It's really thoughtful, really wearable, but you can sort of dive into her projects like you're reading a book or going to a gallery. They're smart, well-thought-out, a little outside of fashion."
"She's a successful artist who is able to translate her work into something on a fashion level. She is so freaking clever," says Of a Kind's Claire Mazur. "Her line is expensive—justifiably so, as it's beautifully made—but she came out with a line of T-shirts to give customers who admire her but can't afford her some entry place into her line."
Marysia Swim: If these suits look familiar, it might mean you're reading too many tabloids. Designer Maria Dobrzanska Reeves's scalloped two-pieces are a celeb favorite, which means she's getting lots of paparazzi love. But the look is just as high fashion as it is Life & Style.
"Simplicity done well is a lot harder to pull off then over-the-top decadence," says Claire Distenfeld of Upper East Side boutique Fivestory. "Marysia does simplicity to perfection and has created suits that are not only super chic but I think the best in the business." Jeweler Lizzie Fortunato adds, "I think the design is just really there. It seems like a pretty organic operation and it just exploded."
Nikki Chasin: This Miami-born, New York–based designer creates pieces with instant fashion credibility, perhaps thanks to her degree from Parsons and her time spent working at Phillip Lim. But as much as those oversized tops and mega-midi-skirts will mark the wearer as an insider, they're still fun to swan around in.
Explains Of a Kind's Erica Cerulo, "She's one of our very favorites. So new, but she has a strong perspective and has been able to carve a place for herself. Her pieces have a grown-up vibe but are not self-serious." Adds Erica's business partner Claire Mazur, "I'm wearing one of her dresses right now! I think she has a very sophisticated eye, she takes a sophisticated approach, and she's able to edit her line."
Claire Kinder: This Brooklyn-based jewelry designer has put a great deal of time into learning what her customer wants, putting in stints at Erica Weiner and Catbird. "I think her stuff is really creative," says Erica Weiner, citing her unusual use of baguettes.
Rony Vardi of Catbird had more to say: "It's extremely well-made with great attention to detail. It really speaks to the Catbird aesthetic: It feels new and fresh but also timeless and classic, which is what I look for in design. And I think her logo is beautiful, which might be a small thing, but it's thoughtful and feels fresh and not dated. Her craftsmanship is really great, too. We've carried her stuff for a while, and our volume is high enough that if there is a problem, we know it, so the quality has really been tested. She's also very thoughtful to pricing—she has a lot of stuff that's easy for a guy to buy his new girlfriend. That kind of sensitivity and thoughtfulness—you don't see it too often."
Kordal: Mandy Kordal has done time at J.Crew, so she knows a thing or two about easy, cozy knitwear. But she's also interested in adding a small-batch, personal touch, producing her pieces in the USA and teaching machine-knitting classes at New York's Textile Arts Center.
"Her spring line was fantastic, which is hard to do as a knitwear designer," says Of a Kind's Claire Mazur. "It's tough to find knitwear lines that are produced locally, but she produces here in the US."
Adds TenOverSix's Kristen Lee: "There aren't that many people doing really beautiful knitwear. It's not a long list. So I think she's doing a nice job: It's cozy, wearable, beautiful."
Chiyome: Designer Anna Lynett Moss is always looking for an ethical approach to fashion, whether she's teaching fashion theory to female inmates or sourcing materials from minority-owned business. But she works just as hard to keep her collection simple and beautiful. "I think she takes a really considered approach to what she does, not just with her design but also her production," says Of a Kind's Erica Cerulo. "She's so thoughtful."
Racked market editor Nicola Fumo adds, "Chiyome brilliantly collides 'minimalism' with 'statement'—two characteristics rarely mentioned in the same breath. Beyond making bags that are graphically cool to look at, designer Anna Lynette Moss has expertly considered functionality, working in two or more ways to carry each bag. And I love her decisive use of materials; she's very deliberate about whether she uses leather vs. canvas."
AWAVEAWAKE: Jaclyn Hodes's Cali brand doesn't have a huge footprint yet, but our panelists agreed that they wanted to see more of the loose, silky pieces, which feel like what Stevie Nicks would be wearing if she was currently 23.
Says Catbird's Rony Vardi: "Beautiful drape-y silk, really great use of volume, beautiful soft colors—all these clothes that look like pajamas but also you could go to the Oscars in them. Those long-sleeved full-length dresses managed to look so sexy and elegant."
Mansur Gavriel: Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel are in the odd position of being young designers with such a runaway hit on their hands that they almost feel like old hands. "I don't know if they caught a smell in the air or what," says Kirna Zabete's Sarah Easley of the bag collection, "but it's a fantastic first product."
"We can't keep that stuff in stock," says Gabriel Riccioppo of Need Supply. "I've never seen a product like that. I think it was just us and Net-a-Porter that had it the first season, and it just went bonkers. The second season, we sold out literally within a minute." Melissa Coker of Wren lauds the duo's entrepreneurial moxie. "I think they have that combination of doing something special that people are excited about coupled with a great business plan," she says.
And Andrea Linett sums it all up: "They're getting minimalist completely right. Like, perfect. And they've obviously hit a chord with women who are sick of hardware. It's like the cool girl's Hermès."
· All Racked Young Guns 2014 coverage [Racked]