Ten NYC Designers You Need To Know

02/18/2009 12:00 AM |

From Fashion Week to Madison Avenue to the Garment District to the hundreds of indie boutiques scattered across the city, New York really is the nation’s pulsing heart when it comes to style. That said, 2009 will most likely prove a pitiless mistress for these fledgling stars — the retail climate has never seemed more dire, with massive department store closings and shoppers and store buyers alike cutting back. In the spirit of good old-fashioned raw New York enthusiasm for any new hotness you can find, here is some of the best and brightest coming down the fashion pipeline. Some come armed with stellar resumes and big-name affiliations; others are just regular joes and janes hoping to — to steal the catchphrase of a well-known TV show — “make it work.” In a fascinating and unusual turn, this year’s compilation is a 50/50 mix of clothing and jewelry designers — no doubt a testament to the recent impulse to really make pieces that feel “special,” or at least worth investing in. Only time will tell if the recession will prove fatal to the little designer, or if, as Eviana Hartman of Bodkin so eloquently put it, “People will be more mindful about what they buy, which will benefit those who are more mindful about what they make.”

*Shameless plug: My sister, Charlotte, has spent the past year building a truly spectacular collection of hand-painted dresses, dyed scarves, and artwork. Talking to her about the everyday chores and charms of young designer life was no small inspiration in putting this feature together.

Founded by a fashion powerhouse team of designer Samantha Pleet and writer Eviana Hartman (formerly of Teen Vogue and Nylon), Bodkin has taken the green movement to task in terms of creating truly chic wear that’s also sustainable. Loomstate might be creating organic jeans, and Mociun may have earth-friendly dresses, but Bodkin’s collection has sharp lines and sex appeal. While Pleet’s various projects may take her in different directions in 2009, Hartman remains devoted to the line’s mission. “I don’t have a romantic approach to designing,” she says. “It’s more about what I think would be a good thing to throw on and live in, working within the array of sustainable fabrics I’m able to find.” Now the very first recipient of the Ecco Domani sustainability award, Bodkin has big things on the horizon for spring: The collection (featuring Lykke Li!) includes mesh dresses and collar-waisted skirts using recycled plastic bottles, as well as hand-loomed silk made without killing worms at a mill blessed by the Dalai Lama. So, yeah. Take that. Available at Jumelle in Brookyn, I Heart in Nolita, and No. 6 in Chinatown

I bought several pieces from these ladies’ collection of playful, clean-lined jewelry for Christmas presents not too long ago, so needless to say, I’m a big fan. Brooklyn-based duo Sophia Keleta and Samira Chung unleashed their first collection last spring and the reaction was as immediate as it was enthusiastic: There’s just something about their slightly whimsical, girlish pieces — friendship string bracelets rendered in oxidized gold, gleaming cuckoo clock plate necklaces. According to Sophia, the two are influenced not only by “family heirlooms and the nostalgia of adolescence,” but also by “the beauty in overlooked objects” (ahem, pieces of string). Look for more dazzling cutouts and geometric patterns in their collection for the fall, inspired by a recent trip to Eritrea. Available at Thistle & Clover in Fort Greene, and Steven Alan in the West Village

For those of us stricken by the impending departure of cult feminine label Mayle, Jeffrey Monteiro is a boon. Not only did he work for the illustrious label as design director until 2005, he then honed his talents with crisp and polished editor’s darling Derek Lam and the Upper East Sider mega-brand Tod’s. With that kind of repertoire, it’s no surprise that the designer claims to be “inspired by the contrasts between masculinity and femininity, structure and drape, taking nostalgic references and modernizing them.” For spring, Monteiro seems to draw on a mix of elements from his previous posts: Here a Mayle-esque collar with retro-ish buttons, there a wispily romantic Lam-esque dress. That said, in most places it is Mayle’s quirky-romantic aesthetic that lingers in silk-and-sheer dresses with those iconic rows of buttons, as well as the playful draping on a tunic dress. Needless to say, we’re all a little relieved someone’s picking up the torch. Available at Jumelle in Williamsburg, Castor & Pollux in the West Village, and Barneys

Designer Cristina Bloom may have unleashed the forces of a thousand witty “make time for…” headlines when she unveiled her delicate, timepiece-based line of jewelry, but its seemingly overnight success is entirely based on the tangible. The idea is so genius, quirky, and wearable, that every time you see one of her pieces, you secretly kick yourself for not having come up with it. Bloom makes use of the inner workings of watches to embellish paper-thin gold chains — from little brass gears to gleaming watch plates. The effect is as elegant as it is thoughtful, really seeming like the thinking woman’s jewelry. Bloom even describes fans of her pieces as “investigators in search of quiet mysteries from the past.” As a recent gift, my family bought me a lightweight necklace embellished with tiny gold watch hands — and it’s true, the charms feel like little secrets between me and the person who gets close enough to realize what the danglers actually are. The whole concept really gets at the heart of the desire nowadays to create and own something truly precious — even something that was once a critical element of another functioning accessory. Available at Barneys Co-op in Soho, and Mick Margo in the West Village

We won’t hold it against Sarah Seilbach that she was featured in Daily Candy because hey, any press is good press. That said, the girl’s got talent that surpasses a punny headline and semi-cleverly worded newsletter blurb. The influence of interning and working with labels like Vena Cava and Elise Overland is immediately evident in her cinematic, 1930s and 40s-inspired aesthetic, relying on saturated colors like purples and mustard-yellows, and creating silky, retro-seeming dresses and jumpsuits. “Something I always come back to is old movies,” Sarah said of her inspirations. She’s also playing it smart when it comes to adapting to designing during a recession. “I’m trying to focus more on making each piece special,” she said. “And to cater to a smaller number of clients.” Available at Thistle & Clover in Fort Greene

Playing off the layered pendants and vintage-inspired jewelry that’s become so popular in the past few years, Mara Carrizo Scalise’s specialty lies in carefully wrought, delicate objects — from slender gold pieces on a chain to thin stacked rings. Worn alone, the jewelry has a barely-there kind of elegance, but layered together, you get the full, all-out glamorous effect of hammered metals and little swinging stones — and not in an irritating, Tween Vogue sort of way either. Born and raised in Argentina, Scalise was most influenced by her mother’s taste in vintage, as well as the leather craftsmanship, stone amulets and overall bohemian allure of the region, launching a clothing line in Argentina and working as a stylist for some time before casting her lot in the unpredictable cultural landscape of New York. Available at Erica Tanov in Nolita, and Plum on the LES

Granted, Love possesses the prototypical attributes of your classic stylist-meets-filmmaker-meets-painter (it’s the kind of thing that makes you embarrassed of your paltry weekend activities — she periodically assists artist Francisco Clemente), but her designs are anything but typical. Love’s jewelry is dark and whimsical, running the gamut from intimidating talon bangles to tiny bird skulls and teeth hanging from long gold chains. She’s also firmly entrenched with the “cool kid” crowd (when was the last time you had drinks with Julia Restoin-Roitfeld?), and she’s also planning a soon-to-be-detailed collaboration with celebrity favorite and CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist Marchesa in 2009. Available at Oak in Noho, and Opening Ceremony in Chinatown

Sweet and feminine are probably the best words to describe Parsons grad Yunhi Lee’s first-ever collection for Spring/Summer 09, which should come as no real surprise given her resume. Upon graduating, Yunhi was recruited by none other than Derek Lam, who was at the time design director for epic American sportswear label Michael Kors. If that doesn’t impress, she then worked at Gap, Inc. and eventually became design director at the city-chic Club Monaco chain. The first stab at an eponymous collection can be hard for any designer, especially one who’s spent some time under the tutelage (and just as often, constraints) of a well-known design talent or brand. Yunhi’s pieces have the trimming of her tutors — classic sportswear-inspired tailoring, a self-described “demurely feminine” sensibility — but there’s also something uniquely her own in her Great Gatsby-ish bows at the shoulders and slouchy draping. Of her spring collection, the designer said, “I imagined what a modern-day Holly Golightly might wear if she were living on the Lower East Side.” Available at Thistle & Clover in Fort Greene

And now for a designer so new she barely has her own website. Lana Chun graduated Parsons less than a year ago, but her graduation show was a favorite among local bloggers and Teen Vogue interns alike. Even as a wee 23-year-old, she was giving the thinking designer’s answers to The Fashion Informer, claiming to hold the early 1900s king o’ drapery Paul Poiret in high esteem. In contrast to green labels like Bodkin, Chun describes her creations as “intricate yet wearable pieces using nothing but synthetic materials — power nets, lycra, and nylon blends — which are normally used for swimwear and undergarments.” Now, if you’re envisioning a presentation filled with American Apparel-esque slick one-pieces and skin-hugging looks, you’re mistaken: Chun’s pieces are exquisitely ruched, pleated, and trimmed, conjuring a completely ethereal look that’s part mysterious undersea organism, part explosively romantic textured gown. Who knows how (or if) this eclectic vision will translate into a more mass-produced collection, but we can’t wait to see how it develops. Available at Debut in Nolita

The concept may seem hokey, but the execution is anything but: Max Steiner specializes in origami jewelry. “My origami collection was inspired by my love of paper folding,” Steiner explains, “and a strong attraction to the geometry and patterns created by the creases in the paper.” The results are charming pendants, like lilies or the traditional crane, that mimic the properties of origami — the slightly darkened spots at the folds, the slightly off-kilter corners (as though the person folding was perhaps imperfect at the art). The effect is playful and light — a token you could probably bestow upon your niece as easily as your grandmother. As a side project, Steiner’s also created several subway charm replicas encased in gorgeous wood boxes. Like most artists working in a less-money-more-quality environment, Steiner’s invigorated by the moment at hand: “Materials, processes, sustainability, environment, quality, precision. These all affect a design and I think they’ll be considered more carefully by designers in our future, he says. “I personally am somewhat inspired by that.” Available at Bird in Park Slope, and Auto in the West Village.