Trends

Luxury's New Guard

Today's Aesthetes No Longer Look At The Birkin As A Stamp of Luxury. Fresh Talents - and Savvy Veterans - are Charting a Different Course in Fashion. Find out who's changing the Luxury Business as we know it.

1. THE ANTI-BIRKIN

Minimalist, refined and imbued with artisanal spirit, Mansur Gavriel wins fashion-forward hearts and minds with down-to-earth prices

by pei-ru keh

With its architectural austerity and near-invisible gold branding, Mansur Gavriel is the under-the-radar name that has transfixed fashion hounds. Since launching in June 2013, the brand has come out of left-field to hijack the designer handbag crowd with lengthy wait lists for its line of utilitarian carriers at real-world prices. So what gives?

"We liked the idea of creating something attainable that carried real value," explain co-founders Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel. "The craftsmanship of the bags holds much care, consideration and decades of experience. We liked the idea of making that accessible again."

Each Mansur Gavriel tote, bucket bag and backpack is handmade in Italy from vegetable tanned Tuscan leather that patinas over time. And say goodbye to Birkin padlocks, studded Roccos and the gaudy exotic skins on any Gucci number. The duo's only calling card: Two-toned colour combinations, like a matte black exterior with a metallic gold lining, or camel paired with blush pink. Unsurprisingly, these anti-"It" bags have struck a chord with the modern woman on the go who prioritises functionality over flash, and craftsmanship over branding. As the duo says: "The simplicity of the shapes and details allows the bags to serve as templates for experimentation in other areas, such as material, colour and perhaps pattern." Best to start reading those blog tips on how to snag one for yourself.

Bags range from US$425-US$950
At www.mansurgavriel.com from December

2. BREAKING BARRIERS

Opening Ceremony has built up its cult following through sheer fearlessness

by pei-ru keh

Ever since it opened its first retail boutique in downtown Manhattan 12 years ago, Opening Ceremony has constantly broken new ground in the fashion scene. From its emporium-style flagship stores to collaborative collections with pop-culture icons and theatrical fashion shows, OC - as it's often called – can be expected to ignite a frenzy with each successive venture.

"Our initial vision for Opening Ceremony was to support the designers we love in New York and those we discovered during our explorations abroad," says CEO Carol Lim, who helms the company with co-owner/creative director Humberto Leon. The two Asian-Americans met as undergraduates at University of California Berkeley. "I think we've stayed true to this mission, while also expanding into new territories. We've been able to explore emerging subcultures within the industry."

Lauded for reviving the Japanese brand Kenzo, the duo's key strength has always been in breaking down conventional barriers. Such as its tie-up with Intel to create MICA (My Intelligent Communication Accessory), a wearable computing device that receives messages and sends alerts whilst disguised as a snakeskin cuff bedecked with semi-precious stones. Available this holiday season, the gadget has already redefined the idea of wearable technology, months before its release.

Says Leon: "We always want to work with partners who are experts in their field, but also approach their work in a holistic way as we do. We have always celebrated the global community and encouraged collaborations that come from our personal experience and point of view."

One highlight this year was the label's Spring/Summer 2015 fashion presentation, which was the talk of the town in September. It took the form of a one-act comedy written and directed by Spike Jones and Jonah Hill about the backstage goings-on at a runway show. Ingeniously set against the glittering Metropolitan Opera, the script had Lim, Leon and their crew carrying out fittings and rehearsals, thus cleverly showcasing the new collection.

"Our collaborations happen very organically," Leon explains. "In this case, Spike approached us and said, 'I want to do a show for you guys'. It felt like a challenge, so we dove in. It's all about trusting all parties to play equal parts in creating something new, creative and exciting."

Such unbridled collaborative spirit is what gives Opening Ceremony its edge. Rather than emulate larger fashion conglomerates, the brand has built up its cult following through sheer fearlessness.

"We'e willing to push the envelope, be it with a show, collaboration, collection or even a new designer we carry at our stores. We're not afraid to push boundaries, so nothing feels stale," Leon muses, before adding: "There's a lot of risk involved, but the rewards far outweigh the risk!"

In Asia, Opening Ceremony has both a strong physical and online presence. It boasts three locations in Tokyo, including a flagship boutique in luxury retail enclave Omotesando. In Singapore, its collection can be found at Inhabit in the Mandarin Gallery. A sophisticated e-commerce platform also makes its repertoire widely available to Asian fans, but Lim stresses that it will not replace the physical store.

"Although online and social media channels are becoming increasingly prevalent, they won't overshadow brick and mortar stores which are the root, the physical place of discovery across the board."

Right now, there are no plans to open other Asian stores as the company wants to grow at a natural pace. But there's no doubt that whatever this wonder duo does next, the stylish are bound to follow.

www.openingceremony.us

3. GO INTO DETAILS

AnhHa takes the mix and match approach, creating embellished sporty pieces for its young brand

by may yip

Chanel may have deep enough pockets to acquire historical ateliers specialising in the fine crafts of couture, but young fashion entrepreneurs Anh Trieu and Ha Dang are proving that small entities can also offer dramatic details. Instead of outsourcing the production of collections to suppliers, they started a workshop from scratch to create attainable pieces for their startup label, AnhHa: Its leisurewear classics like sweatshirts and bomber jackets feature intricate, statement-making embroidery and beadwork created by local artisans in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

"Our initial vision for Opening Ceremony was to support the designers we love in New York and those we discovered during our explorations abroad," says CEO Carol Lim, who helms the company with co-owner/creative director Humberto Leon. The two Asian-Americans met as undergraduates at University of California Berkeley. "I think we've stayed true to this mission, while also expanding into new territories. We've been able to explore emerging subcultures within the industry."

"I think luxury fashion consumers are more open to mixing and matching brands," says Ms Trieu, who grew up in East London and met Ms Dang while working for a clothing manufacturer that supplied garments to major players like the Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop.

"Also, the likes of Olivia Palermo are great champions of this style of dressing which has, in turn, given the green light to others to mix price points but still look like a million dollars."

By combining dressy embellishments with sportif silhouettes, the fashion design-trained women have also injected a touch of luxe into everyday outfits. As Ms Trieu explains, luxury doesn't have to be defined by ubiquitous brand names, big occasions or astronomical price tags, but "beautiful creations that have been well made".

3. GO INTO DETAILS

AnhHa takes the mix and match approach, creating embellished sporty pieces for its young brand

by may yip

Chanel may have deep enough pockets to acquire historical ateliers specialising in the fine crafts of couture, but young fashion entrepreneurs Anh Trieu and Ha Dang are proving that small entities can also offer dramatic details. Instead of outsourcing the production of collections to suppliers, they started a workshop from scratch to create attainable pieces for their startup label, AnhHa: Its leisurewear classics like sweatshirts and bomber jackets feature intricate, statement-making embroidery and beadwork created by local artisans in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

"Our initial vision for Opening Ceremony was to support the designers we love in New York and those we discovered during our explorations abroad," says CEO Carol Lim, who helms the company with co-owner/creative director Humberto Leon. The two Asian-Americans met as undergraduates at University of California Berkeley. "I think we've stayed true to this mission, while also expanding into new territories. We've been able to explore emerging subcultures within the industry."

"I think luxury fashion consumers are more open to mixing and matching brands," says Ms Trieu, who grew up in East London and met Ms Dang while working for a clothing manufacturer that supplied garments to major players like the Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop.

"Also, the likes of Olivia Palermo are great champions of this style of dressing which has, in turn, given the green light to others to mix price points but still look like a million dollars."

By combining dressy embellishments with sportif silhouettes, the fashion design-trained women have also injected a touch of luxe into everyday outfits. As Ms Trieu explains, luxury doesn't have to be defined by ubiquitous brand names, big occasions or astronomical price tags, but "beautiful creations that have been well made".

4. UNCOMMON LUXURY

Stefano Pilati brings effortless ease to rarefied fabrics at Agnona

by may yip

When Stefano Pilati left Yves Saint Laurent in 2012, he left behind a legacy of looks that weren't so much on-trend as they were ground-breaking: He sparked off the tulip skirt fad, reinvented classics like the Le Smoking jacket worn as a tailored dress, and launched a plethora of hit accessories (hands up, those of you still toting a Muse).

Now, as the creative force behind Agnona, the sister brand of Zegna, Pilati has shifted the focus from being on the cusp of the next big sensation to the timeless appeal of recherché materials.

"A heritage based mostly on fabrics, rather than fashion, was the perfect platform to project and express my sensibility and taste," says the Italian style maverick.

Pilati's penchant for intricately-crafted, yet visually austere aesthetics has surfaced at just the right time. The use of double-faced cashmere or the most rarefied alpaca fibre might not make headlines, but such renditions of nuanced luxury are what consumers of upscale products truly crave. Instead of runway spectacles like caged shoes and star-spangled gowns, the Armani and Miu Miu alumnus has breathed sensuality into cocoon-shaped coats and floor-grazing dresses that one could easily find an excuse to slip into - even without an invite to a red carpet do. The best part is, Agnona's effortless ensembles require minimal styling, freeing up the most coveted of luxuries - time.

5. THE Z FACTOR

From his couture origins, Zac Posen now reaches far and wide with collaborations and projects across the fashion universe

by pei-ru keh

The 'designer collaboration' is the new fashion catchphrase. No longer dismissed as designers 'selling out', creative partnerships between couture names and mainstream labels have helped to define a new type of luxury, one that's available to all.

American designer Zac Posen is one who has consciously branched out. Contrary to his high-fashion start, Posen has since lent his name to a bevy of wide-reaching projects, from multiple brand collaborations to TV appearances on Project Runway.

This year, Posen launched Truly Zac Posen, a sumptuous, yet affordable collection for the bridal retailer, David's Bridal. He also signed up to be creative director for womenswear and accessories for Brooks Brothers. Posen is set to build upon the brand's 196-year heritage and will undoubtedly look to the capes and accessories that it first started selling in 1874. His first creations will debut in Spring 2016.

"The Zac Posen brand has become a staple in many women's wardrobes across the continents and that makes me proud," Posen says, reflecting on how things have evolved from when he started his eponymous label from his parents' living room at age 21. "Collaborating with brands grants me the possibility of widening my audience. I seek my partners based on their expertise and vision. Nothing is more alluring to me than a business that deems reinvention and reinterpretation to be pivotal for success."

Posen's meteoric rise is well documented. His first runway show in 2002 received industry-wide applause and he swiftly captured the hearts of the fashion and celebrity worlds with superbly constructed pieces that exuded classic femininity and old world glamour. Today, the Zac Posen universe includes his edgier contemporary line, Zac Zac Posen, and Z Spoke, an accessible collection carried at national department stores like Lord & Taylor, providing that Posen flavour at a snip.

Despite bringing his aesthetic to a wider audience, Posen has managed to preserve the couture-like appeal of his namesake label. Princesses still come a-calling for bespoke work.

"I approach every partnership with my own vision and aesthetic," he says, citing craftsmanship, meticulous tailoring and Hollywood glamour as the qualities that unite all his endeavours. "Each partner brings expertise and know-how to the table and I feel extremely lucky to be able to learn from them."

www.zacposen.com

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