Milan Fashion Week, kicking off today, is getting more and more inclusive with a range of special initiatives, presentations and runway shows by designers and brands from different nations and cultural backgrounds. WWD touched base with some of them, highlighting a selection of promising fashion talents from around the globe.
Designer: Sindiso Khumalo
Background: I studied architecture at the University of Cape Town and then I went on to work for British-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye for a number of years. I later attended a M.A. [master of arts program] in Textile Futures at Central Saint Martins and after that I worked as a stylist for six years while on weekends I would handprint men’s T-shirts and sell them in Camden Market in London. That’s where it all began for me.
Years in business: Six
Price points: 300 pounds to 1,000 pounds.
Stockists: Merchants on Long Street, Cape Town, and AKJP Studio, Cape Town.
Describe your aesthetic: Our aesthetic is nostalgic, playful, creative and whimsical.
How will you present the collection?: I will be doing a virtual presentation of my work, through a short fashion film. We shot the film in an area called Philadelphia, a few hours outside Cape Town. It is an ode to Harriet Tubman, the muse of this collection.
Influences for spring: The collection is inspired by Harriet Tubman. Tubman was born into slavery and as a child worked on the farm picking cotton. She went on to free herself, and then returned 13 times to the Underground Railroad to free over 70 slaves from the Deep South, risking her life every time. Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] was the place where slaves would cross the land and gain freedom and our video is shot in an area in South Africa that is also called Philadelphia.
The collection speaks to the childhood of Tubman and is named after her childhood nickname of “Minty.” It features beautiful hand illustrations from Cape Town-based artist Shakil Solanki. Silhouettes are inspired by [clothes seen on] portraits of Tubman and were made in hand-printed silk taffeta, handwoven cotton from our workshops in Burkina Faso. Hand crocheted pocket details and hand embroidery details were made as part of an initiative we have recently started with a Cape Town NGO [non-governmental organization] that gets women out of exploitative sex work into safe, stable work.
Charlotte Maxeke, another revolutionary activist of that time, is referenced in some items of the spring 2021 collection, although she will be the main muse of the following season. The illustrations of the cotton plants that Charlotte would have picked as a young girl and the Philadelphia fleabane, which would have been the first wildflower she could see when gaining freedom, are all echoed in collars and in prints in the collection.
Speaking to the Black Lives Matter movement, this collection tells the story of a Black life lived through the most oppressive, inhuman regime and still triumphed. It’s a message of hope in the struggle. A message we all need now.
Key pieces for spring/fabrics: A handwoven “Dafani” fabric from our workshops in Burkina Faso and hand crochet realized as part of an initiative we have established with a Cape Town NGO that gets women out of exploitative sex work into safe, stable work are among the standout fabrics. We train women to learn embroidery and crochet in our studio and try ensuring them a new direction. With our brand, we are trying to create a message of hope, highlighting that you can always change the status quo. Life is not based on the cards which were dealt to you. We also feature lovely hand-printed silks, created in a female-owned London studio called Orto.
What was the main thing you learned designing in the pandemic?: We are all connected in some way or form, and we are all very similar when it comes to what we value in life. Family, friends and health.
What is your goal?: To alleviate poverty in Africa. To change the status quo.
Designer: Shuting Qiu
Background: An Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Art bachelor of arts and master of arts graduate, Qiu established her namesake label in 2018, soon after the brand made its debut on New York Fashion Week’s official calendar within the VFiles Runway 10 contest.
Years in business: Two
Price points: 300 euros to 3,000 euros.
Stockists: Browns, London; Joyce, Hong Kong; SKP-S, Beijing; Farfetch, and Net-a-porter.
Describe your aesthetic: The Shuting Qiu woman comes in seeming contrasts — daring yet soft, powerful yet romantic, strong yet cheerful. As a designer I blend these juxtaposing qualities seamlessly into my clothes. The brand identity lies in asymmetry and experimentation in silhouettes, contrasting colors of silk jacquards, intricate embroideries and juxtapositions of linear and floral prints.
How will you present the collection?: Digitally, with a fashion film created in collaboration with creative agency Nowness. The film is inspired by Martin Parr’s documentary-style beach photography, showing girls clad in the collection, walking in heels on the sandy beach, conveying the relaxed yet cheerful atmosphere of a summer holiday.
Influences for spring: The spring 2021 collection sort of came to life on sandy beaches on a summer day and features my signature palette of vibrant florals in metallic silk jacquards. Lengths are shorter this season, with shorts, miniskirts and dresses worn over the usual printed tights. What’s notable is the added color and white stripes that reference beach balls and parasols.
The inspirations were Russian artist Natalia Goncharova and her paintings of folk costumes, which informed the silhouettes as well as the mood for prints. Also, as a nod to the [brand’s] past, recycled denim was combined and handcrafted, mixing it with signature Shuting Qiu fabrics. I addressed sustainability this season by using deadstock fabrics and recycled denim.
Key pieces for spring/fabrics: Coordinates that feature shorts rather than trousers or skirts, plus tailored vests and everything crafted from jacquard silk or recycled denim.
What was the main thing you learned designing in the pandemic?: I feel like I became more aware about the importance of sustainability.
What is your goal?: I feel very honored as in a very short timeframe since the launch of my brand I had the chance to collaborate with established luxury retailers and host a show in Milan. I certainly want to grow more internationally and develop my brand constantly, collaborating with selected retail partners and giving continuity to my presence on an international level.
JI WON CHOI
Designer: Ji Won Choi
Background: Born in Seoul and raised in New York City, where I’m still based, I graduated in design from the Parsons School of Design in 2017.
Years in business: Three
Price points: High contemporary.
Describe your aesthetic: Bold, graphic, cultural mash-ups.
How will you present the collection?: Short fashion film and look book.
Influences for spring: I was influenced by the idea of bringing the cultures of New York and Korea to Milan. Traditional fabric techniques and signature architectural influences of Korea are modernized in a New York attitude. The collection takes the defining elements of cultural heritages and are remade into something that could easily be worn today.
Key pieces for spring/fabrics: Sustainable fabrics is our focus. Some key pieces are: quilting techniques made up of pieces of deadstock fabrics; certified organic cottons; fibers containing crayon, which is derived from shells of crabs from food waste and is completely biodegradable and antibacterial.
What was the main thing you learned designing in the pandemic?: During the pandemic, we had limited resources and everyone on our team was in different countries. It really reemphasized how everything we create has to be purposeful and as sustainable as we can make it. I also wasn’t able to attend any of the factory visits, fittings in person, or the photo shoots, so I really learned how important it is to have a team that I was able to completely put my trust in and that truly understands the vision.
What is your goal?: Use fashion and design to connect and celebrate world cultures, while using sustainable materials. I’d like to promote interconnectivity by bringing cultures together with its varieties of craft, materials, techniques, silhouettes and traditions.
Designer: Kulsum Shadab Wahab
Background: A group of resilient and talented women — acid-attack survivors — handcraft head gear and hats. Ara Lumiere is about empowering these women and supporting them with a livelihood. They have been through unimaginable trauma in life but it is hope that they never lost and it is hope that gives them a purpose. One-hundred percent of proceeds go toward the rehabilitation and development of these brave women.
Years in business: Three
Price points: 175 euros
Stockists: 10 Corso Como, Milan; Goooders, Milan; Clan Upstairs, Milan, and Arteum, Paris.
Describe the aesthetic: The collection features versatile bucket hats.
How will you present the collection?: Digital presentation.
Influence for spring: The collection is influenced by warm skies and gentle breezes on a beautiful spring day, symbolizing the calm that always follows a storm.
Key pieces for spring/fabrics: Organza and taffeta.
What was the main thing you learned designing in the pandemic?: For us, designing has always been about empowering women. While working on the collection, we learned some of our survivors were facing domestic violence, which changed our perspective to another angle. We supported them through this time, simultaneously working around time barriers.
What is your goal?: Our goal is to stage the voices of our women survivors and highlight their talents through Ara Lumiere, empowering them with livelihood and support.
Designer: Dhruv Kapoor
Years in business: Six
Price points: Average prices from 150 euros to 750 euros.
Stockists: I.T. Hong Kong, Baycrews in Japan, Anthropologie in the U.S. and Third Edit in the U.K.
Describe your aesthetic: Progressive, softly aggressive, eclectic.
How will you present the collection?: The collection will be presented digitally via a video and images on Sept. 25, during Milan Fashion Week.
Influences for spring: Western Sixties pop; countryside; relaxed, soft masculinity.
Key pieces for spring/fabrics: Hand-printed fabrics and handwoven jacquards made by Indian artisans, handcrafted embroideries and hats in collaboration with Ara Lumiere.
What was the main thing you learned designing in the pandemic?: How to put varied moods together and tapping a more genderless approach.
What is your goal?: Other than great sales, [our goal] is to uplift Indian crafts and rework traditional techniques to make them more contemporary. We as a brand want to ensure that the world can look at India for unmatched craftsmanship, whether embroideries or stitching or even material.
Designer: Roni Helou
Background: Helou is a fashion design and business marketing graduate. He joined Creative Space Beirut, a social enterprise with free design education and job creation at the heart of its mission, in 2013. Upon graduating in 2016, he was provided support through investment and initial brand development services from the social enterprise for two years. Simultaneously, the brand was supported by design incubator Starch Foundation for two seasons, which provided Helou with exposure and participation in Fashion Forward Dubai, as well as the opportunity to take part in the 2019 International Fashion Showcase in London, in which he was a finalist. He also scooped the first prize of Fashion Trust Arabia’s first annual ready-to-wear competition.
Years in business: Three
Price points: $350 to $1,200
Stockists: Matchesfashion, On-Motcomb in London, Al Othman in Kuwait, Harvey Nichols in Doha and That Concept Store in Dubai.
Describe your aesthetic: We create characteristic, forward and androgynous rtw pieces while shedding light on social and environmental issues, and maintaining a system that preserves values of eco-friendliness and ethical practices. At Roni Helou, we source our materials from vintage and/or deadstocks, instead of purchasing new fabrics, and by doing so, we discover beautiful, quality materials while supporting our local community.
How will you present the collection?: The collection will be demonstrated via a fashion film where the models are seen walking around polluted rivers and areas around Lebanon.
Influences for collection: Mixing of prints, modular/convertible clothing.
Key pieces for spring/fabrics: Low-waisted baggy pants, eccentric denim, crisp deconstructed shirtdresses and statement blazers.
What was the main thing you learned designing in the pandemic?: Slowing down the pace, working remotely and designing key seasonless pieces.
What is your goal?: I hope that globally, people feel a sense of engagement in the bigger picture when thinking of Roni Helou. I hope my pieces push them to appreciate the planet and its resources and make them realize that we can have craftsmanship and design while still respecting the boundaries of our environment.