For more than ten years now, California-based designer Melissa Joy Manning has been crafting ethically sourced, delicately sculptural eco-jewelry. Tonight, she opens her first New York flagship store with a private party, which her pal, model and actress Amber Valletta, will cohost. The two share a passion for sustainable design—they work together on the CFDA’s Sustainability Committee, and Valletta recently launched her own eco-conscious e-commerce site, Master & Muse, which offers sustainable wares from labels like Vivienne Westwood and M.Patmos. Now they’re pushing for sustainable consciousness throughout the industry, and Manning’s almost entirely green new store is a testament to her dedication to the cause. Located at 12 Wooster Street, the 4,500-square-foot boutique boasts details crafted almost entirely from relics found in the 1880s manufacturing space-turned-loft. Manning’s centerpieces, for instance, were made from repurposed display cases, and a wall of jewelry boxes was born out of the building’s old wooden doors. “I really wanted to almost become the caretaker of the space—elevate it, stabilize it, and reuse everything that we found,” said Manning, who will carry eco-conscious pieces from designers like Pamela Love and Mark Davis. “Aside from half a dozen pieces, everything was reused.”
Ahead of the store’s opening, we caught up with Manning and Valletta to discuss their friendship, how to further the sustainable fashion dialogue, and why big brands need to “come out of the [eco] closet.”
You’ve been working to promote sustainability in fashion for quite some time. What is the main priority right now? What should the fashion industry be focusing on as a whole?
Melissa Joy Manning: We’re in an education phase. There are certain people who are doing really great sustainability work already, but in the luxury sector, we have consumers who are able to pay a little bit more or who can become educated and drive trends. Our efforts in the CFDA are about asking designers to make thoughtful choices, then providing them with the information that allows them to do so. In a consumer market where it’s supply versus demand, if we’re demanding the right products, we’re eventually going to switch the supply and all fashion will have to be sustainable, right? The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest gross consumer—and gross polluter—and if we don’t make changes now, there are going to be some really dire consequences.
Amber Valletta: It’s really about education and awareness. We’re seeing more and more articles about all these things that are happening in the world and in our country. Sustainability is about workers’ rights, too. A few people were killed in Jakarta a week ago over protesting for their wages. We’re seeing an upswing in the consciousness of making things sustainably—not just on the environmental level but on the human level. Because of that, consumers are asking, “What’s really happening? I thought we fixed this problem with child labor.” But it’s not a done deal. There are serious problems that we’re facing throughout the fashion industry, from the beginnings of making textiles to the finished products. Consumers aren’t completely aware of how begging for new products every two weeks is hurting the planet and workers. And I don’t mean that in a hippie or granola way. I love luxury items and beautiful things and great design, but I do believe that sustainability can go hand in hand with great design.
What designers or brands are getting it right at the moment?
AV: There are a lot. Natalie Chanin won the CFDA Eco-Fashion Challenge for her company called Alabama Chanin. She’s pretty incredible. On a community level, she’s getting people back to work and getting them employed, and she’s helping to bring back the textile business in the South, which was on its way out. Daniel Silverstein is great; Isabell de Hillerin is great. We could give you lists and lists! And I think it’s just a matter of time before these names pop and become bigger brands. I don’t think any of these guys are trying to be household names. But I think these brands have weight and staying power.
MJM: To Amber’s point, I think small businesses or small companies can take more risks and make choices that are based on responsibility as opposed to profit. There are also a lot of brands that are making sustainable efforts but are afraid to say what they’re doing until they’re one hundred percent. Adidas, for instance, won’t publish all of its sustainable accomplishments. In order to create momentum within the industry, we need to build brands up, rather than knocking them down by saying, “Oh, you’re eighty percent sustainable, but it’s not enough.” My hope [is that] through our committee and through working with people like Amber and her website, we will be able to bolster them and create more proactive, positive change.
AV: I totally agree with Melissa. These bigger companies that are actually household names are doing so much—more than what we know. They [need to] come out of the closet basically and start joining in on the conversation. It’s not a black-and-white subject. We need more transparency from everybody. Continue Reading “Melissa Joy Manning and Amber Valletta Bring Sustainability to Soho” »
London-based label Peter Pilotto, made up of Pilotto and best friend Christopher De Vos, is known for its kaleidoscopic, futuristic, printed looks. The pair’s work is intensely intricate and, quite often, computer engineered. On February 9, they’ll follow in the footsteps of designers like Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung when they bring their neon-hued, digi-printed womenswear to the masses via a hotly anticipated collaboration with Target. The beachy seventy-piece capsule comprises trapezoidal-cut swimwear; some very boardwalk-to-street Vans-style trainers; lots of feminine, floral-layered hoop skirts; and some rash-guard-inspired separates. The range, which is priced between $14.99 and $79.99, will be the first of Target’s designer collaborations to be sold on Net-a-Porter—a testament to the quality of the work. Also a testament to the collection? Its campaign cast—not just anybody can get Jessica Stam and Jourdan Dunn to strike a pose. The latter’s ad (above), as well as a behind-the-scenes video (below), debut exclusively here.
We sat down with Pilotto and De Vos to discuss the origins of the Target project; how they translated their detailed, techy designs within the constraints of a mass price-point; and why, at the end of the day, it’s all about the color.
How did Target approach you?
Peter Pilotto: Somebody set up the meeting, and we were like, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ We always knew about Target, obviously. We didn’t have to think much. When they asked us if we really wanted to do it, we were like, “Yeah, sure!” And the whole process was extremely pleasant. They gave us the freedom to do what we liked.
Christopher De Vos: We’re excited that, with this collaboration, we can reach a whole new audience.
PP: And we hope to reach a big audience age-wise, too—from the 15-year-old girl to the 75-year-old woman.
What was the concept behind the collection? And did you find it difficult to translate your vision to fit within the Target price point?
PP: The swimwear was the starting point. We wanted something very signature to our brand but translated in a different way—something very energetic, joyful, summery, and vibrant. We liked the idea so much that you could have a swimwear look and a skirt, and you could build up your look from beach to street.
CDV: We made almost like a rash guard, and you can wear it with a swimsuit and take off your skirt and wear it to the beach. That was the whole idea. We also analyzed our color combinations and how we could translate those. Obviously, there were limitations because of price point, but I think those limitations pushed us to do new things. And while we had to rethink our usual fabrications, we feel it’s very us.
PP: And it was exciting to work in a different way within the systems that were right for Target. We couldn’t do the engineered print that we’re used to doing, so instead, we used seams and worked on layered versions of all of our prints. I guess the collaboration was the highest amount of prints they ever did. I think often, it’s especially stimulating when you have constraints.
The palette is very in tune with what you usually send down the runway.
CDV: I think if we weren’t based in London, we’d do everything in black. But because the weather’s so gray, we’re longing for something colorful.
There is so much color coming out of London, despite all the fog.
PP: It’s very inspiring. And East London, where all the designers are based, all the artists, everybody—it’s a really good spot because of the interesting, the mix of people.
CDV: We feel like we live in a village.
Can you tell us what you have planned for Fall ’14?
PP: I think with our Spring ’14 collection, we wanted to translate our signature ideas in new ways, so we did a lot of lace and embroidery. While we’re known for the print, there is actually so much more now that we’re busy with besides the print that we love to do. It’s all about the desire for color that we try to express in different ways. Last season, we worked with lace that was engineered like the print was in the past—there were color layouts that were made in the lace, layered with print underneath. We want to explore that further, and push those techniques for Fall.
When you’re conceptualizing a collection, where do you normally begin? With this Target collaboration, you were talking about the swimwear. But is it color? Is it silhouette?
CDV: It always starts with colors. Then it’s a constant dialogue. We work together. We make every decision together. And it’s a journey through the seasons.
You two are good friends with Kate Moss, and have been working with her for years. How was the Playboy shoot different from your previous collaborations with her? Did you have any hesitations?
Mert Alas: Oh, my God, it was a no-brainer. When Kate asked us to shoot her for Playboy‘s sixtieth anniversary issue, you know, we had to do it.
Marcus Piggott: We didn’t have any hesitations. We were all in from the start. We’ve done a lot of things with Kate—a lot of role-playing, a lot of fashion pictures, a lot of personal pictures—and when we started this project, we asked ourselves what not to do. We wanted it to be really Kate. It wasn’t about the hair or the makeup, it wasn’t about styling or fashion. It wasn’t about all the frivolous tools of our industry. It was about her—her lips, her charisma, her body, her skin, her eyes…
What makes this shoot stand out from a typical Playboy spread?
MP: She’s dressed more than the girls in most Playboy editorials. It was a bit of a striptease. We wanted to leave a little bit to the imagination, and we wanted the reader to get excited imagining what’s underneath. But there are a lot of crazy pictures that you haven’t seen…
Oh, really? What kind of pictures?
MA: They were just fun pictures—a bit ruder and crazier than what’s in the magazine. Someday they’ll come out! Marcus and Kate and I were laughing, and we told her that we’ll get them out there when she’s 60.
You mentioned that you didn’t want this to be like a fashion shoot, but you can find naked women in pretty much any high-end fashion magazine. Do you think there’s too much nudity in fashion? We are selling clothes, after all.
MA: First of all, we must appreciate what a fashion magazine is. I don’t like calling them fashion magazines. I just call them magazines. In the old days, you’d see a great article, a great fashion picture, and a great nude all under one hat. So, no, I don’t mind seeing a naked girl in a fashion magazine as long as the photograph represents something beyond meat, flesh, and sex. If it’s about an object, or creating a beautiful print, or there’s a message in it, or it inspires you, or makes you happy or angry, then it has substance. And as long as there’s substance, I think, why not? Continue Reading “Mert and Marcus Talk Playboy, Lady Gaga, And Why They’re Better Together” »
Google’s not the only company that can play the tech-meets-fashion game. Last night at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich announced the corporation’s new plan to produce functional tech accessories that are both wearable and aesthetically pleasing. Impossible? Not when you have Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim on your team. The duo will design a smart bracelet, which, currently under development, will be unveiled at a yet-to-be-revealed date.
But one bracelet does not a revolution make, so in addition to OC, Intel has tapped Barneys (who will sell the forthcoming wristband and future products) and the CFDA (who will help emerging designers get on Intel’s wearable gadget bandwagon) to assist with the project.
Earlier today, Ayse Ildeniz, Intel’s VP of Business Development and Strategy of New Devices, hosted a panel to discuss the push. She was joined by OC’s Bettina Chin (Director of Special Projects) and Su Barber (Art Director), the CFDA’s Adam Roth (Director of Strategic Partnerships), and Barneys’ Matthew Woolsey (SVP of Digital). The takeaway from their chat? While functionality is key, the products have got to look great (if you recall, one of the biggest complaints about Google Glass, pairs of which were worn on Diane von Furstenberg’s Spring ’13 runway, was that it wasn’t exactly the sleekest thing on the block). “If wearables are to take off, it has to be an industry effort, and fashion and aesthetics have to be involved,” Ildeniz told Style.com after the panel. Woolsey concurred. “The design element is paramount to the way in which our customer engages with [the product],” he said. It’s worth noting that, through this project, Barneys will become the first luxury retailer to carry wearables.
So can Leon and Lim do for wearable tech what they did for Kenzo—that is to say, make it the cool set’s new must-have? Unfortunately, some blizzard-induced flight delays prevented Lim from attending the conference and addressing that in person. However, with a little help from a smartphone, Style.com was able to catch up with Lim about why OC and Intel are a natural fit, how she plans to make wearable tech covetable, and how her collaborative device will not only allow people to plug in, but offer them the option to turn off.
Why did you and Humberto say yes to the Intel project?
Technology in all forms has been really important to us, not only in our store and our collections, but also in terms of online retail. We had been watching the wearable technology space for quite some time before Intel approached us. We’d been thinking about how to incorporate [wearables] into our collection, so when this project came along, we thought it was a great opportunity. Intel represents such a strong force in technology, so we were happy to lend our design sensibility, and it makes sense to partner with someone whom we consider to be the expert.
Do you feel confident that the end result will resonate with the Opening Ceremony customer?
Absolutely. If you look at how people operate today, they use so many devices and applications. I think [wearable technology] is the next step in terms of how people interact. Your phone’s generally by your side, but you don’t always get a chance to look at it, so I think this product is a natural progression.
As far as stereotypes go, “fashion” people and “tech” people are about as opposite as you can get. How do you hope to bridge this perceived gap? And considering you design for Kenzo as well as Opening Ceremony, do you see wearable tech translating into luxury fashion?
When Intel approached us, they basically said, “We’re experts in technology, and we would rely on you to be experts in the field of creating an item that can stand on its own—an item that is beautiful, and that people will want.” I think that marriage of two partners with different talents is going to be very interesting. And you’re right, the fashion industry has been slow to adopt wearable technology. But I think that’s because it’s usually coming only from a technology point of view, rather than a combination of tech and design aesthetic. Our focus will be to create a covetable item that someone would want to wear regardless of the tech aspect. So I think this collaboration with Intel will stand out from other devices. Continue Reading “Fashion and Function: Opening Ceremony’s Carol Lim Talks Teaming Up With Intel” »
On the surface, Madeleine Vionnet—the 1920s and thirties revolutionary known for inventing the bias cut and creating elegant, sculptural, corset-free looks—and Hussein Chalayan—the conceptual daredevil responsible for the bubble dress, wearable furniture, and, most recently, his Spring ’14 hat-umbrella hybrids—don’t appear to have much in common. However, upon further inspection, the grandmother of modern dress and the cerebral Cyprian designer are remarkably similar—namely in their obsessive attention to detail, forward-thinking attitudes toward femininity, and refusal to be slaves to the past. Perhaps that’s why Goga Ashkenazi, who acquired Vionnet in 2012, tapped Chalayan to design the storied house’s demi-couture range. “I can kind of see why they asked me, because of my, let’s say, architectural approach and my interest in geometry,” said Chalayan, whose first Vionnet collection will hit the runway on January 21 during the Couture shows in Paris. “I like to do work that looks new rather than referential. So I think it’s a good collaboration, to be honest.”
Since the announcement of Chalayan’s appointment last week, his forthcoming take on Vionnet’s philosophy has been hotly anticipated. And it will be interesting to see how his presence at the house affects its stature. After laying dormant for more than sixty years, Vionnet was awakened in 2006, and saw a veritable revolving door of designers—some of whom, to put it nicely, didn’t do its namesake justice. Since buying the struggling brand, Ashkenazi (who, in addition to serving as its chairman, is the creative director of the label’s ready-to-wear line) has made a noble effort to restore Vionnet to its former glory. Could Chalayan’s twenty-plus years of boundary-breaking experience be the ticket back to the top? Here, Chalayan talks to Style.com about his debut Vionnet outing; making couture more accessible (if only a little); and why, despite his artistic approach, he’s not just a conceptual designer.
How did Goga Ashkenazi approach you about this project?
Davide Dallomo, who works with Goga, reached out to make the introduction. Then I met Goga in Milan just after the summer. We had a few conversations, and we signed a month before Christmas. Goga liked my initial sketches. We got along right from day one, and I was happy that I was able to realize a lot of my ideas with a few of Goga’s suggestions and changes. We had our first fitting before Christmas, and I’m pretty pleased.
Why did you say yes to Vionnet? Did you have any reservations?
I had to think about it, of course. But when I met Goga, she’s honestly such a life force. She’s got this amazing creative energy. She’s a great entrepreneur, and I thought, “My God, you’re only 33.” Also, she talks about how we’re all honoring Vionnet here. It’s not [Goga's] personal line. Vionnet is such an establishment. It’s got an undisputable heritage, so I thought it might be an exciting thing to do.
Vionnet was a revolutionary in the twenties and thirties, and her work has been inspiring designers for almost a century now. Is it intimidating to design clothes that bear her name?
No, because it’s not old Vionnet. This is a modern interpretation of Vionnet, and the whole idea is to keep her name going. I don’t think there’s pressure because we’re not trying to replicate what she did. We’re trying to work through her spirit. We live in different times. I’d like to think that she’d be pleased with it. It shouldn’t be seen as intimidating. I like to be positive about it rather than to think, “Oh, my God, how am I going to manage?”
In the last decade, several heritage houses have been revived to varying degrees of success. As a designer with a distinct point of view, what do you think it takes to respectfully work for and thrive at a heritage brand?
The whole idea is to look at what Vionnet would have done if she were living in this place and time. We are genuinely looking at the principles and the worldview that Vionnet had, and thinking about how that could be interpreted for now. There are already parallels in my work because of my interest in graphicism and sculptural forms and their relationship to the body. But it’s about honoring the brand. It’s not about my brand. It’s a different kind of responsibility from doing your own thing. The whole project is surrounded by a big sense of responsibility to do the right thing, and to respect Vionnet. Of course, my name will be associated with it, but honestly, it’s an honorary project.
While haute couture can soar into the six-figure price range, demi-couture sticks at a still daunting—but more accessible—five figures. Why is that? And can you speak to the difference between the two practices?
It has nothing to do with the nature or the preciousness of the garments. It’s to do with the number of fittings that the client gets. The fittings are what really raise the cost, so we will do one fitting only, as opposed to ten fittings.
What is the relevance of couture today, whether it be demi-couture or haute couture? How do you think it fits into the fashion landscape in this economic climate?
Goga is the director of Vionnet, and its owner, but she’s also a couture customer. So one thing she was saying is that you spend endless amounts of money on the fittings, and that’s why she wants to do demi-couture. In this economic landscape, it’s a very good way of looking at couture—you are still offering highly refined garments, but customers are saving on the costs because of the reduced number of fittings. That’s quite a good move on her part. Continue Reading “Hussein Chalayan on His “Unobvious,” “Intelligent-Sexy” Vision for Vionnet” »