Our round-up of the latest looks for spring takes in unisex cashmere from Amsterdam, ethical cotton from Nigeria, Japanese specs in the spotlight and the resurgence of a thoroughly modern Marimekko.
Clothing For Contemporary Life (cfcl) is a knitwear brand designed and made in Japan that’s currently making waves beyond its home shores. The label’s debut collections – both unisex and womenswear – have won over important retailers such as United Arrows in Tokyo, skp in Beijing and the e-commerce platform Ssense. The clothes – think seamless dresses and a minimalist unisex coat – are largely produced by Shima Seiki’s whole-garment flat-knitting machine, which creates an ultra-comfortable fit. “Shima is the best in the world in this field,” says Yusuke Takahashi, cfcl’s creative director.
Having previously worked at Issey Miyake’s design studio, Takahashi started his own brand to “have greater control over everything, from sourcing to manufacturing. If you are an employee, you can’t be fully responsible for social issues,” he says. Takahashi, 35, who studied computer-programmed knitting at Bunka Fashion Graduate University in Tokyo, has a complete understanding of his craft, from thread to final product. Wherever possible, he uses materials that meet the Global Recycled Standard, such as polyester made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (pet) bottles. But he’s not doing it for the sake of good marketing.
“Eco-friendliness can’t be your label’s strength, because everyone should work towards it,” he says. “First and foremost, the clothes have to speak for themselves.”
“Locally manufactured” is a term frequently bandied about in the fashion industry but Nigerian label This Is Us takes the concept as far as it can go. The brand’s boxy indigo-dyed uniformwear isn’t just “100 per cent Nigerian end to end”, as husband-and-wife owners Oroma Cookey-Gam and Osione Itegboje say. The cotton is grown, woven, dyed and sewn into clothing in the region around Katsina State. “I used to have another line,” says Cookey-Gam. “I stopped because I was using a lot of imported fabric and I couldn’t find myself in the stuff I was creating.” So she and Itegboje took a cross-country road trip to find materials, ending up at the cotton farms of Funtua, in the north. “In the process, we realised how much exists in our textile industry that’s under the radar,” says Cookey-Gam. They felt so strongly about spreading the news that their first T-shirt was printed with the words: “This is Funtua, Nigerian-made cotton.”
The pair are part of a vibrant creative scene in Lagos and, since their label began, they’ve connected young makers with the farmers and manufacturers that they work with in Katsina. One business that has benefited is the Kofar Mata dye pits: when the duo found them, “there was only one operating pit and the rest had trash in them,” says Cookey-Gam. This Is Us began dyeing its clothes there in a process that hasn’t changed in 500 years. Now, partly because “people have reached out to us, asking how to start dyeing there”, the facility is undergoing a resurgence. “We have an interest in more than fashion,” says Cookey-Gam. “We want to be in the middle of the talent, the resources, the craftsmanship. We want to create something useful for the industry.” For the pair, “Us” includes people far beyond their design studio.
It’s impossible to walk around Manhattan right now without noticing the increase in vacant shops. But for businesses with deep pockets and a long-term interest in physical retail, the upended property market presents opportunities. For Italian cashmere label Loro Piana, that means a second New York shop, this time located in the Meatpacking District, where it will attract younger customers than the brand’s Madison Avenue flagship.
The new shop, designed by Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen, sits on a prime corner site. The interior is all about textures, which makes sense for a company whose fabric of choice is valued for the way it feels. The Portland-stone walls contrast with the super- soft scarves and sweaters displayed in front of them, and the European oak finishes nod to Loro Piana’s outdoor roots. So does the glass-enclosed garden – a life-size terrarium, complete with a tree – that dominates the centre of the shop. Its contents will be updated four times a year, in line with the seasons.
The other regular change (apart from new collections) will be a series of art installations. These began with blanket sculptures by the artist Marie Watt that draw parallels between Loro Piana’s origins and Native American crafts. Now that so many of us have spent months shopping exclusively online, it makes sense for savvy retailers to create reasons to visit them that go beyond mere commerce.
Among the trendy bars and independent boutiques of Munich’s well-heeled Glockenbach district, you’ll find Deru. It opened its doors in 2019, with the aim of bringing top outdoor brands from Japan, such as And Wander, Goldwin and Snow Peak, to a German clientele. Deru comes from the Japanese term “to go out,” says co-founder Jonathan White – and his customers care about how they look both on the streets of the city and up in the Bavarian Alps.
“We want to encourage people to spend time outside,” he says. “But outdoor gear is too often focused on performance. We wanted to offer both performance and style.” Since the shop opened, European labels, including Sweden’s Houdini, have joined the Japanese range, in line with the global boom in popularity of well-designed outdoor wear, particularly for men.
The selection at Deru is small and tight: White’s mission is to involve curious customers in buying decisions and form a real community around the brand. “I want Deru to feel like the skate and surf shops that I used to go to when I was young,” he says. “These were places of community and the exchanging of ideas. Deru is becoming a destination not only to buy stuff but also for good people to hang out and have a nice conversation.”
Marimekko is unmissable in Helsinki. Not only is the Finnish capital home to the brand’s HQ and textile printing press but its distinctive graphics are all around. There are half a dozen retail outposts in the city centre alone, and residents carry the brand’s signature typography-heavy tote with pride.
Marimekko has occupied this central role ever since its foundation by Armi Ratia in 1951, but that did not automatically translate into good business. “At the end of the 1980s, we were nearly bankrupt when Marimekko had been sold to a conglomerate that didn’t know how to lead a creative firm,” says ceo Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko. But, as the company turns 70, it’s on a stronger footing than ever. The clothing, homewares and textiles brand is expanding both at home and abroad – it even increased its profits last year, despite the retail disruptions.
Today the unisex approach that Marimekko pioneered in the 1950s is clearly resonating with the next generation. “I cannot think of a brand that’s more democratic than Marimekko,” says Danish industry veteran Rebekka Bay, who was appointed creative director last year. “A lot of our inherent values are really relevant now.”
While its classic prints are a lasting success, Marimekko knows not to rest on its laurels. The firm champions design talent by commissioning several fabric patterns every year. “We are hoping to create the future icons for Marimekko,” says Bay. “Our legacy is so strong that you can afford to challenge, even mishandle it a bit.”
With that in mind, Marimekko decided to celebrate its 70th anniversary year by inviting outside creatives to apply their own techniques to the brand’s heritage. First up were graphic designers Antti Kekki and Matts Bjolin, whose capsule collection is a collage of Marimekko archival material. “We utilised existing elements – photos, citations, classic prints – to bring out something that looks like Marimekko but is interpreted in a completely new way,” says Bjolin.
A collection by the Japanese fashion designer Wataru Tominaga will be out in August and more international collaborators are to follow. “It was an opportunity to create strong partnerships in our key markets,” says Bay. “We provide the canvas, and now we open up the creative dialogue.”
Malthe Risager has spent the past three years laying the foundations of fashion brand Artikel with his partner Siri Leijonhufvud, brother Gustav and their mother, Helle Jørgensen. From the start, their mission was clear: work out the value and profitability of manufacturing everyday clothing in-house, and stay local. They first set up shop on a quiet street in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro district, where they invited friends and passers-by to inspire their designs. “We wanted to make ordinary clothing for ordinary people, so we had to understand our customers’ needs,” says Risager, taking monocle through the current product crop, which includes hard-wearing men’s cotton-twill worker jackets in neutral tones and simple felt handbags in pop-tinted greens and oranges.
Artikel has recently moved into a larger space around the corner from its old digs. Here, a sparsely furnished retail area champions the clothes crafted in the adjoining production space, these draw upon high-quality textiles sourced from a small selection of suppliers. “One of our biggest challenges was finding companies that accepted small-scale orders,” says Leijonhufvud, the label’s co-founder and also its brand manager.
“We produce every piece to meet demand and like to carry a small stock.” Among Artikel’s partners is the Danish textile producer Kvadrat, which supplies hardy wool sourced from the UK, originally developed as upholstery fabric. “We like to see our items as pieces of well-crafted furnishings: long-lasting and timeless,” says Leijonhufvud. “They’re something you invest in for years to come.”
“We’ve always worked from the fabric up,” says Agyesh Madan, co-founder of Stòffa, the New York-based menswear brand that’s built a cult following for its made-to-measure casual clothing. “We try to really understand the functionality of a product and to create a personal garment that stays with you for a long time.”
The brand’s signature flight jacket is a case in point: luxurious and reassuringly simple, with clean lines and a two-way zip. “It was the first outerwear piece that we designed and it’s still a favourite among clients,” says Madan. The jacket is now available online as part of a move to a new seasonal model – Stòffa will present nine to 12 outfits every quarter. It’s the antithesis of “pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap”, designed to give clients a streamlined experience.
“We’ve always tried to be more thoughtful and less wasteful,” says Nicholas Ragosta, Madan’s business partner. Beyond the brand’s classic jacket, its felt hats have proved popular. Travel-ready, these handsome creations can be rolled and packed in a tube to bring on sunny breaks or simply for the walk to work.
Alexander Taylor, founder of London-based brand atid, admits that using dead-stock textiles is nothing new in the fashion industry. But he didn’t launch his line in 2020 to make profits out of leftover material. Instead, he wanted to put an existing problem under greater industry scrutiny: fabric waste due to overproduction. “I wanted to establish a platform where this problem could be driven towards smarter and more sustainable solutions,” says Taylor.
Partnering with ktc, a textile supplier in Hong Kong, atid makes items from high-end fabrics left over by premium sportswear brands. Due to the lack of supply of particular fabrics, items are produced in limited numbers – for instance, only nine atid Frame charcoal weekender bags were made. “They are very special and help people to understand the notion of creating less waste,” says Taylor, while noting that other pieces have bigger runs. Still, every product is stamped and numbered by hand, adding exclusive value to the mix.
From glossy calf-leather totes to compact horn-edged handbags, Sagan Vienna’s designs are united by a sense of crisp minimalism. Founders Tanja Bradaric and Taro Ohmae met while studying at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, and moved to Paris after graduation to hone their design skills working for Chloé and Balenciaga. In 2012 they moved back to Vienna to launch their own brand.
Despite their roots in Croatia and Japan, it’s Bradaric and Ohmae’s adopted hometown that provides them with the most inspiration. Their bags harness everything from Austrian cow horn to the woven cane used in Thonet’s classic Viennese coffee-house chairs. “We like to include materials that people don’t usually use on bags,” says Bradaric. “These are materials that have a history behind them and we set ourselves the challenge of bringing them back to the modern day.”
Tetsuya Okada is the founder and owner of eyewear shop Globe Specs, twice winner of the Bestore Award at Mido, the world’s largest optical trade fair in Milan. His shop in the Shibuya district of Tokyo features 40 brands from 20 countries and it’s a go-to for bespectacled creatives and corporate types alike.
How did you enter the eyewear business?
In the 1980s, eyewear was not seen as a fashion piece in Japan. Although they sit right in the middle of the face, they were purely a prescribed optical tool. So I wanted to add a style element. I worked for two Japanese eyewear companies before I started my own. When I worked in New York and travelled around Europe, visiting small eyewear studios, I saw many people enjoying glasses as a means of expression. I opened this shop in 1998 to spread that culture into Japan.
Who are your customers and how do you serve them?
They are men and women, young and old. Some work in fashion, music, finance – and there is a judge too. Style advisers who serve corporate ceos come for our advice on glasses when they want to create a great image of a company executive. People also come back to find their second and third pair to look the part in different situations. They often have a rough idea of what they fancy but we might throw them a curveball suggestion. We like to help them pull off a new look they didn’t know they could.
Any style tips for us?
Don’t limit yourself to a specific shape, round or square, because you can wear both well. It’s all about choosing the right look for your personality and dressing for each occasion.
Tetsuya Okada’s picks
The Kyoto cat’s-eye model by Ahlem:
“An exclusive piece for our Kyoto opening.”
The Anne & Valentin/Pierre-Louis Mascia collaboration: “A combination of multicolour and a metal frame. Plastic frames in multicolours can be too strong.”
Okada’s original brand with the Japanese fashion label Old Joe: “The smaller the frames are, the more classic they look.”
French brand Lesca Lunetier: “A round, classic style – a design trend this year.”
Interior architect Vincent Ribat could not find an office bag he liked, so in 2014 he decided to create his own – and Rue de Verneuil was born. Based on the classic US toolbag, these striped canvas totes are made in France. The Parisian brand opens its first shop, in Palais-Royal, this month.
Is it important to have a shop?
Any brand needs to have its own space, to learn who its customers are – the feedback from physical retail is invaluable. For us, our designs mean that customers want to try our bags on.
Who are your customers?
We have lots of Japanese and American clients. But we’re seeing a big rise in European customers; when we launched, it was not very cool in Europe to have a fabric bag.
Is it a risky time to open a shop?
It has been our plan for years, and young brands should not be overly reliant on wholesalers or e-commerce. Cities need independent and multi-brand stores for their identity.
Saskia Dijkstra and Camille Serra combined their 25 years’ experience in knitwear manufacturing and fashion design to create Extreme Cashmere in 2016. Based in Amsterdam, the brand is known for its unisex knitwear. Its mission statement – to craft the perfect sweater that could be worn and loved for years – came in response to the rise of fast fashion. The brand has a “forever” collection of pieces that are available every season, with new colours and styles released every year that build on its bestsellers.
What inspired your one-size-fits-all ethos?
It was an accident. We created one knitted sweatshirt that had a loose cut and a crew neck, and I took the sample home. My partner, who is 1.95 metres tall, tried it on and it fitted him. My mother, who is 1.75 metres tall, also wanted to wear it. So that’s how it started. Our brand is about finding your style rather than finding your size.
Is that why the product offering is so tight?
In a way, yes. And it stops excess production, which is what inspired the brand to begin with. We have carry-over styles that are core to our collection and available every season, and we introduce nine new colours a year. We get a lot of repeat customers. They like the fact that our cashmere can be thrown in the washing machine.
Are you now targeting more menswear retailers?
We realised that men were borrowing their girlfriends’ sweaters rather than the other way around. But menswear shops are more conservative about picking up our product if it’s shown with a skirt, for example. We’re making our imagery more gender-neutral to overcome that hurdle.
Photographers: Trisha Ward, Naoyuki Obayashi, Levi Mandel, Constantin Mirbach, Stephen Tayo, Ernest Protasiewicz, Jan Søndergaard