An Armani fashion-and-furniture flagship, monogrammed French sandals and national style stereotypes.
“I wanted to make collections women can actually wear, pieces that can be worn season after season,” says Daria Rhee, founder of Vartist. After studying visual merchandising and interior design in San Francisco, the Korean-US designer splits her time between LA and Seoul.
“It’s all about the fabrics and colours rather than themes,” says Rhee from her boutique on a backstreet in the glossy Gangnam district. Vartist has a ready-to-wear line and a signature collection (all made in South Korea), and there are plans to open an outpost in LA next year.
Knickerbockers were a favourite of Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen. A century on, Roald’s descendant Jørgen Amundsen is bringing them back with his outdoor brand.
L/Uniform is best known for its bags but these summery sandals are just as covetable as the brand’s totes. Boasting cream-and-yellow cotton straps and a vegetable-tanned-leather base, they can be stamped with a customer’s initials at L/Uniform’s shops in Paris and its hometown of Carcassonne in the south of France.
Umbrella brand turned sunglasses specialist Revel Paris has teamed up with Lebanese fashion designer Rabih Kayrouz to launch a capsule collection of 32 unisex models. The sunnies come in eight tones (from tortoiseshell to tangerine) and in various round styles.
It is best known for its pens and leather goods but Montblanc is fast making inroads into the watch sector. Frenchman Nicolas Baretzki took over the reins of the Hamburg company in 2017, tasked with pushing its watch division, which comprises 30 per cent of sales.
Tell us about the big launches at Montblanc this year.
This is the 160th anniversary of Minerva [Montblanc’s watch factory], which is a big source of inspiration for all our new collections. There are two major launches – one in the 1858 line and one in the Star Legacy – but all our new models have been built by looking to the Minerva archive. For the 1858 line we reference the 1920s and 1930s, where we had a lot of military watches. They were very legible and made of rubber for extreme conditions. There is one particularly aspirational piece in each new collection: in 1858 it is the 1858 Geosphere, which has the Montblanc logo from the 1930s and a steel bezel. Nobody can believe the price, which is below £5,000 [€5,750].
What are you doing to bring in younger buyers who haven’t bought a mechanical watch before?
Maybe that’s where Montblanc is different from other maisons. Because of our price point and the number of categories of models, we already have a lot of millennial customers. We are not trying to bring millennials to Montblanc, rather we are trying to work out how to satisfy these customers.
The Armani Group has been catering to every aspect of customers’ lives for some time. Homeware offshoot Armani/Casa launched in 2000 and there are also Armani-branded flowers, chocolates, hotels and nightclubs. Now, for the first time, the company has made its fashion and furniture collections available under one roof, opening a flagship on Sloane Street in Knightsbridge.
The three-storey outpost is blessed with high ceilings and the offerings span men’s and women’s casualwear and eveningwear, men’s made-to-measure tailoring, fragrances and homeware (from beds to tablemats). Armani/Casa has kitted out two London townhouses and put them on the market, and one imagines they look something like this. Each room is entered via a mother-of-pearl doorframe and boasts a different marble floor – whether blue quartzite or caramel onyx – and everything, from shimmering silk wallpaper to compact teal armchairs, is for sale.
Armani doesn’t release breakout figures for the strands of its empire (including Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani and AX Armani Exchange), although its revenue totalled €2.5bn in 2016. Showing its luxury fashion and homeware collections together is sensible because it amplifies the number of products on offer. This is the sort of all-in-one emporium that will get shoppers into stores.
National stereotypes are an odd thing. We all loathe generalisations about our homeland but, when it comes to style, there is often something that connects people from a country. I’m yet to ask a French, Spanish or German designer what is “French”, “Spanish” or “German” about their creations and not be met with an eye-roll. But the topic is an effective (albeit crude) way of wrapping my head around a place and its fashion scene, so I persist with it.
Certain style archetypes are well established. The French and Italians are masters of nonchalance. In Italy there is even a word for “studied nonchalance” – sprezzatura – but this is an art best left to the Mediterraneans. Looking thrown together is terrifically tricky: you end up looking contrived or like you have crawled out of a bin.
Some generalisations are more accurate than others. French dishevelled elegance is mostly particular to affluent Parisians but it has become international shorthand for all French style due to the Nouvelle Vague movement. “There are actually many strains of French style. Nonchalance is one of them but, for instance, French workwear is also a big movement and is equally important,” says Déborah Neuberg, founder of Paris label De Bonne Facture.
The more truthful stereotypes are perhaps those linked to a deeper social culture rather than a celebrity or film. Sweden’s minimalistic wardrobe is connected to the weather (cold darkness necessitates sensible dressing) and the Nordic social concept of jante, which advocates not sticking out. In my experience Swedish designers are more open about discussing national “style”; some even name jante as inspiring collections.
Designers don’t design – and people don’t get dressed – in a vacuum. We profess originality in how we put outfits together but, usually, styles are influenced by surroundings – even if that means rejecting them (wearing something quiet in Korea, where flashy streetwear dominates, or outrageous in Sweden). So apologies in advance but this niggling question will not be erased from my interviews anytime soon.