Paris Fashion Week may be the most anticipated 10 days in the industry. Twice a year, the world’s most established design houses — Chanel, Dior, Maison Margiela — show within a short span. But lately, it’s also become a place to discover edgy, niche brands that straddle the line between emerging and well-known in cool girl circles. There’s Y/Project, Marine Serre, Kwadian Editions, and Rokh, just to name a few. All of these emerging brands at Paris Fashion Week have been worn by celebs and influencers alike — but you may not recognize them by name just yet.
The fact that many of these brands are flocking to Paris has much to do with both timing and exposure. As the longest stop during fashion month, Paris' schedule has ample time in-between some of the bigger shows for indie labels to court editors and buyers that they might not otherwise have access to. In fact, many buying teams may travel to every city, but will often only do their buying appointments at the end in Paris. Mix this financial reality with the undeniable heritage craft and ateliers that can be found in this city, it's easy to understand why the next generation of cool brands are choosing to make Paris a home base (at least for fashion week).
One of the top brands redefining the French fashion scene is Marine Serre, who often brings post-apocalyptic inspiration to her designs, drawing this season's collection from the novel Dune. Serre first came on the scene in 2017, when her fifth-year graduate collection, “Radical Call for Love,” was shortlisted for the Hyères Festival, the ANDAM Prize, and the LVMH Prize — the last of which she won (the youngest ever designer to do so). Having interned under Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, Matthieu Blazy at Maison Margiela, and Raf Simons at Dior, and later going on to work as a junior designer at Balenciaga under Demna Gvasalia, Serre has the chops that have elevated her label to a new level.
For curious shoppers, Serre has become best known for her crescent moon prints. In fact, it’s hard to look through a street style gallery and not see an attendee wearing one of her pieces. “The moon itself is of course referring to an Arabic country, but it's also referring to goddesses in Greek culture," she explains of its origins. "There's something a bit magical and also feminine that I really like about it."
But, Serre's buzz goes beyond a recognizable mark, she's challenging convention when it comes to material. According to the designer, nearly 50 percent of her work is made of upcycled materials. “This is something coming from my childhood, living in the countryside and reusing things, you know, starting to cut things myself and put them together,” she tells TZR. “I always took a thing that cost nothing, that I could find for free or in the streets.” While she's not entirely alone — for Maison Margiela's Fall/Winter 2020 collection, creative director John Galliano also upcycled vintage clothing into new creations — she's on the forefront of the sustainability conversation in a city where shows are often sumptuous over all else.
For those looking for brands who challenge the status quo, Y/Project is another label that has become a favorite among those in the know. The designer, Glenn Martens, was appointed Creative Director of Y/Project in 2013, but a collaboration with UGG in 2018 (which Rihanna subsequently wore to Coachella) opened the label up to a wider audience.
For Fall/Winter 2020, the brand recontextualized a different set of classic wardrobe pieces: button-down shirts and blazers. Martens attached collared shirts over the shoulders of dresses, and covered oversized blazers in tulle. Put up against the heavy-hitters of Paris, Y/Project’s ability to reimagine everyday clothing into something entirely distinctive represents a new voice and perspective. There's nothing fussy or old school about the brand's designs. And like Serre, the craftsmanship that Martens is showing in the brand is distinctively Parisian, although the aesthetic feels atypical of what classic French fashion is all about.
For smaller brands based elsewhere that choose to show in Paris, there remains the same homage to craft, interpreted through new lenses. “Showing in Paris has been very good for us,” explains Ottolinger's co-designer Christa Bösch. “It's the place we always enjoy coming to and meeting our fashion friends from all over the world, which we don't see during the season elsewhere.” Co-designer Cosima Gadient adds that this season the duo was inspired by their Swiss heritage, “we like to mix contemporary textures and shapes to create our own Swiss Alpine Couture."
But, Berlin-based Ottolinger is hardly the furthest fashion house to make Paris a fashion month home base. This season Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize presented his first-ever collection at Paris Fashion Week to great acclaim. If star power is a measure of future success, note that Imaan Hammam opened the show, and Naomi Campbell closed it. Ize launched his collection in 2016 after studying at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria. For his Paris debut, the 2019 LVMH prize finalist presented a collection full of his signature colorful pieces made using Aso Oke, a traditional Nigerian fabric of handwoven squares.
For Ize, coming to Paris was an opportunity to bring his culture to a larger platform. He explains that for many Nigerian designers, traveling to Paris is impossible. "It's not easy for you to be able to actually show what you can do outside of my country," he says. "For me it was also about having this conversation by showing here in Paris. I really wanted to make people jump into conversations that they might be thinking about and they might not want to talk about.”
If you're looking to which designers will next enter the conversation, it's worth noting the importance of Paris' LVMH Prize for giving a platform to a diverse cast of talents. Both Serre and Ize are LVMH alumni, along with labels like Rokh and Kwaidan Editions both emerging labels that have captured the attention of some of the top buyers, editors, writers and stylists. In fact, Rokh won the LVMH Prize Special in 2018 and Kwaidan Editions was a finalist the same year. Both ooze effortless cool girl vibes — Rokh with its off-kilter suiting, and reconstructed trench coats and Kwaidan Editions with its saturated yet slick button-downs, and perfect tailoring. Neither brand may have the name association of a Chanel or Dior, but they do have the same powerful editors and influencers taking notes from the front row. Surely, the recognition will follow.