The question of 'what is femininity' has matured into a nuanced topic in recent years — Refine's founder Anina Heé offers a fresh perspective. "To me, it’s that intersection of opposites: elegant yet effortless, strong yet sensual, subtle yet sexy, and everything at the same time." The former Porter and Net-a-Porter editor who launched her minimalist style brand in 2019 did so with the aim of creating a season-less collection — tightly edited — with pieces crafted from high-quality fabrics. And yes, you've heard this grievance before: There aren't enough mid-price point options that actually offer quality fabrics. For Heé, fixing that issue has been a top priority since day one.
Her flagship collection was Silks, which consists of staples like a slip dress, camisoles, slip skirts, as well as a couple of hair accessories (a headband and scrunchie). It's garnered attention from industry names you've likely heard of — Pernille Teisbaek, Tylynn Nguyen, and Vanessa Traina, to name a few. This past August, Refine introduced its second installment of forever pieces: Jersey, which is the byproduct of two years of research and development and is inspired by iconic women of the '90s. Jersey may seem like a simple fabric choice to focus on, but it has many applications and is a material many women wear every single day, making it a worthy adversary to tackle. Ahead, Heé shares what goes into ideating a wardrobe classic, why wearing high-end fabrics can result in confident style, the value in slowing down and perfecting production, and how all of that combined carves out a unique definition of modern femininity.
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When Luxury Textiles Are The Family Business
Heé's upbringing, like that of many entrepreneurs, molded the trajectory of her career. "My parents run a third-generation luxury textile business in Switzerland," she shares. "I was exposed to high-end fabrics from an early age and developed an understanding of what quality fabric should look and feel like." For Heé, that “should” translates to natural fibers. "It feels different wearing a fabric made of natural fibers, it’s more breathable," she says. "Think about silk or cashmere — that already speaks for itself." She also explains that the production of natural fibers is often more sustainable. "Unfortunately, a lot of products are called 'silk dress' or 'cotton top' and, in fact, are made of a mix of fibers, meaning a certain percentage of cotton mixed with polyamide, for example," she says. This is problematic for two reasons. First, fibers like polyamide require a production process that is more polluting, and secondly, they also release microplastics with every single wash. "So, even recycled polyamides are not a sustainable solution as the pollution continues with every wash," Heé adds.
Slowing Down To Focus & Perfect
The slow fashion movement has (ironically) picked up speed in recent years and Refine fits comfortably within that framework. "To do something well takes time; for research, development, finding the perfect suppliers and partners," Heé says. As mentioned, her team only uses natural fibers. They've also limited her small batch production to Europe. "This means we can’t take shortcuts. If something is good but not good enough, we continue until we find the perfect material," she says. "If we would do whole collections every season, we would not be able to focus so much on every detail that goes into the production of each item, we would be forced to compromise." Instead, she releases a hyper-curated edit of classics that mirror this design ethos.
Embracing The Uniform
Unsurprisingly, everything about Refine speaks to those who love a style uniform — and Heé reciprocates that affection. “I love women who have a uniform and dress effortlessly. I think they look like that because the way they are getting dressed really is effortless," she shares. “If you have a well-edited closet you don’t need to think about what to wear, you just grab a few pieces, and everything goes well together.” When asked which kind of icons conjure up this aesthetic for her, Heé offers a few much-beloved examples. “Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, Kate Moss, and Gwyneth Paltrow during the ‘90s ... and in terms of designers, I’d have to say Calvin Klein when he himself was at the helm of the brand," she says. “He made simplicity sexy!”
First Comes Silk, Then Comes Jersey
Refine's foray into jersey was a calculated continuation of '90s minimalist sensibilities. "In terms of the design, we started with thorough research of image references and vintage pieces from the '90s. For our Gwyn camisole, for example, we loved a simple spaghetti tank top Gwyneth Paltrow wore to an event during those years," she says. "Then we found a vintage Gap tank top from the same era that just happened to have the perfect neckline, so we used these two references as a starting point. We then made it ultra-luxurious by choosing a crêpe jersey fabric that almost feels like silk and used it twice so the camisole is double-faced." The entire jersey collection is made of 100% cotton and half of the styles are made of GOTS-certified fabrics.
"What I love about this era is that simplicity never excluded sensuality," Heé says. "What’s still relevant today is that iconic women of the '90s and the overall style of this period were very simple but never boring — I really think that is the challenge when designing wardrobe essentials, and I think the key to that is quality and fit."
A Hero Product Is the Ultimate Confidence Booster
Speaking of quality and fit, the moments Heé finds herself most satisfied are not necessarily when a high-profile figure is photographed wearing her brand (though that doesn't hurt, either). "Honestly, I am most proud when I receive images and messages from our customers saying that they feel great in our pieces," she shares. A recent message that came in was from a customer who was in the late stages of pregnancy. "The note said: 'Your dresses during pregnancy have made me feel so beautiful. Thank you!' Our aim is to make the women wearing our pieces feel great and confident and to know that we succeeded with that makes me really happy."