Fall and especially winter clothing maintains a staid and simple darkness from year to year, especially in outwear where those in cities often commute through a sea of black and navy nylon or poly puffers stuffed with down. New York’s winter scenes saw pops of color unrelated to fashion this week as the yellow and blue colors of solidarity waved throughout the streets from Ukrainian flags to duct tape arm bands and ribbons woven into braids of hair. The image of protest in front of the United Nations on Manhattan’s East River was an overwhelm of contrasting colors, shapes, and symbols from the flags of many countries that would normally clash but somehow, as they blew in the wind together, worked as one.
This theme continued just across town to the West behind the glass walls of the Javits Center, where despite the autumn/winter 2022 trend note of appeasing pastel hues from the host, Informa Markets Fashion, it was hard to ignore the vibrant, standout statement items seemingly at every turn around the Coterie show’s floor plan.
A heavy European presence at the New York Show
Perhaps events abroad influenced extra attention to the European brands around the room. “This is from Germany, this from France, this is from the Netherlands, this is from Italy,” said Birgit Jacobson of FashionLink, a luxury fashion importer and distributor, as she toured the racks around their booth. “We’re always looking for new and exciting brands from Europe to bring to the US. We’re looking for something special that’s got a reason to be,” stated her partner Peter Jacobson, the president of FashionLink. “Whether it's a brand where they put between two and seven fabrics in one garment and then offer it in thirty colors or are doing very unique special treatments and details—we’re looking for something that it’s not just the same old thing.”
One of those brands, Unbreak.IT also known as Unbreakable Evolution, almost didn’t make it from the showroom in Los Angeles. “Our truck was stuck in the middle of Ohio because of the snow and breakdowns. We missed the first day,” Peter noted. The brand was founded in Milan, Italy in 2007 by artist Silvano Negri with the intention to create a link between history and art through the creation of print mosaics made by patchwork of everything from Hollywood icons to Freud. Made in Italy in fabrics like cupro and velvet, the brand prices in the mid contemporary range with a long maxi dress retailing for 567 Euros. “People who have higher end stores still love European clothing because it’s just a different way of dressing, it’s a different way to manufacture and it has a different style,” Birgit said.
After months on end indoors and isolated, a statement fashion choice seems all the more necessary to invite conversations with others. The brand literature expresses desire for its customers to create memories with each of their creations. On a comic book strip printed puffer of couples in amorous embrace were the words that may be on the minds of many these days: “How long does the love take to kick in?”
Made in Italy
As the Italian luxury sector makes news for being quite likely to endure the negative impacts of Russian sanctions, it still made a strong showing at Coterie for the US market. The Fo.Ri showroom in New York was presenting collections from eight Made in Italy brands. “We represent and distribute multiple Italian brands from the lower to very high price point contemporary sportswear and we are specialized in the Made in Italy product,” the owner Zuzana Riedlova told FashionUnited. “I must say we had a better show in September, strangely enough there was more traffic, it was more productive for us. But it’s okay, it worked,” she noted. “People are starting to travel, starting to come to us physically instead of the virtual appointments.”
Statement items are not only about colors and patterns but also architectural shapes that buyers are starting to adventure into now that they can see the pieces in person. “During the pandemic, a lot of the people stuck to the product that they already knew, the brands that they already knew. So if we were introducing something new, it would either be—oh we trust you, describe it to us or we are going to stick to the old same that we already bought before,” Zuzana explained. “We have a new brand called MeiMeiJ and it’s been doing extremely well. It’s an Asian designer based in Italy, so a Made in Italy product as well—on the lower price point but very nice in creativity. It has that Asian influence, it’s a little different in volumes, in shapes, it’s a little more experimental. It’s a cool looking product and a little bit younger. MeiMeiJ has the momentum now because of being such a different looking product and buyers are open to colors, open to experiment. We’ve been sitting in our pajamas and sweatpants for two years at home, so people are ready to go out and shine and have fun with it.”
A Conversation about Reshoring
There is a slow shift to reshoring manufacturing and production in the industry due to pandemic-related and political factors that affect the supply chain. For smaller brands, producing locally makes more sense. “A lot of our brands are family-owned and run businesses in Italy and a lot of them are vertical, meaning that they own the factory and they build it from scratch and make the product on their own. Those companies don’t outsource as much,” Zuzana of Fo.Ri noted.
An example further down the aisle at Coterie of a family-run brand since 1976 that produces in Italy, Hubert Gasser, from South Tyrol in the north of Italy near the Austrian border has observed some of the larger brands famous to Italy, like Versace, making moves back home, at least for now. “The big ones have come back,” David Krösslhuber, representing the brand designed by his father-in-law, told FashionUnited. “Formerly they were producing in Asia and they now have come back because of all of the issues over there—reshoring so to say. Now they, of course, take up all the capacity so, it’s a little bit difficult for smaller brands but we’re working through it. We have some good supplier relationships, some good producer relationships, which we can lean on so we were able to produce nearly everything in time.”
Asked if reshoring could help improve the economy and lead to more jobs, Krösslhuber replied, “Eventually, yes. It will take a little bit of time though because the producers aren’t used to that need to build up over time. Probably it will lead to more jobs back at home. We’ll see if it’s a sustained trend or if it’s just right now because there are some crises going on. We will continue our way to produce everything in Italy because it’s also appreciated by the customers.”
American manufacturing also continues to see small gains. “Nobody produces fabric in America so it’s all imported from Europe, China—mostly from China,” Birgit Jacobson reiterated. But while Leslie Karten, who was presenting her collection of statement coats and suits at Coterie for the first time, enjoys sourcing standout luxury materials at trade shows in Europe, she is keeping manufacturing local. “I’m actually a New Yorker but I’m in Los Angeles for many years. As of Christmas we took a storefront and I’m making an atelier in West Hollywood between the Beverly Center and The Grove. It will be by appointment only. I have sample makers and then my quantities are made downtown. I have friends that are artists and so I have some beautiful art in the space. It’s really like a salon.” A few local jobs created as California moves to its endemic phase.
Made by Hand
Another highlight from the show were brands supporting women workers who craft the items by hand. After viewing statement items in color and shape, texture made a bid for attention. The popcorn knit cardigan by Zut London, a brand started by two Colombian friends, is knit in Colombian communities. “It’s woman-owned and handmade,” said Birgit Jacobson of FashionLink, who was presenting the brand for its first showing in America. “These groups of women artisans sit and knit the whole day for eight hours so they have their income and it gives them a better position even within their own family. We are so proud to have it.”
Mucho Gusto by Moon van Berkel is designed and handmade in The Netherlands using only self-designed fabrics. “She mixes up a lot of different things,” Birgit said. “They have their own factory in Amsterdam and it’s all happy prints.”
The concept brand, Happy Sheep, uses handcrafted sweaters as the medium to celebrate the rebellious mind. They are created in a women-owned factory in Nepal and focused on paying fair wages. The brand name also references its values as the fibers are cruelty-free. To embrace their brand mantra after a difficult week for so many, “In a world overcrowded with pessimism, where cynical is a synonym for cool and the biggest trend is hate, embrace lightess. Choose to smile. Believe in the existence of happiness.”