In fashion's mélange of unspoken competition, who stands out above the rest? In our opinion, five young designers who have caught the attention of fickle consumers and jaded fashion veterans alike by proving their mettle with every new collection. They are not merely designers with mainstream inclinations, but ones who revere and celebrate innovation and individuality in their own distinct ways.
Iris Van Herpen, 30
Technological pioneer in three-dimensional couture
The Dutch born designer's haute couture designs are inspired by complex concepts, which are then translated into avant-garde sculptural forms realised in unconventional materials. This may see hours of work in weaving metal thread into gauze-like dresses, printing of three-dimensional bodices and handcrafting entire garments from thousands of brass ribs. A notable figure in the fresh scene of 3D printing, Iris Van Herpen considers the reinterpretation of traditional embroidery and sewing techniques into computer code as not just an experiment but an eventuality.
The interplay of magnetic forces, the ancient belief that all matter has life and even an alchemistic approach to light and electricity are ideas behind the spellbinding apparel she produces. “[Fashion is] also about new beginnings and self-expression, so my work very much comes from abstract ideas and using new techniques, not the reinvention of old ideas,” she once said in an interview.
The refusal to produce merely functional clothing (in their traditional form) only serves to excite viewer emotion and that is what Van Herpen is now well-known for — a pioneer in technological couture whose designs bring science fiction to life.
Thomas Tait, 26
Promising designer and LVMH award winner
Surely, you remember Thomas Tait who came to Singapore earlier this year to participate in the Audi Fashion Festival 2014 and the Asia Fashion Summit. Described by LVMH Executive Vice-President Delphine Arnault as a “great talent”, the up-and-comer is also this year's recipient of the LVMH Young Designer prize, which comes with a year-long mentorship and €300,000 grant.
The London-based Canadian was recognised by a jury of industry old-timers for putting in an exceptional amount of consideration to proportion, cut, form and texture in his creations, resulting in an effortlessly clean and understated aesthetic. It is also his precise hand at tailoring techniques that distinguishes him from others his age struggling to keep afloat in the industry.
What's interesting about Tait is that he is the youngest-ever graduate of Central Saint Martins' Masters of Fashion programme. Although he started his label while still straining under the weight of overdue student loans, his exceptional design and technical skills pulled him through the first few disorientating years of a student transitioning into a full-fledged designer and business owner. Undoubtedly, Tait is one to watch — if your eye isn't on him already.
Olivier Rousteing, 28
The young gun at Balmain
When Olivier Rousteing was appointed as Christophe Decarnin's successor at Balmain in 2011, the young talent was just 25. Needless to say, age (or the lack of it) made the impossibly good-looking and not to mention black designer a controversial choice for such a prominent role at a luxury French fashion house.
Proving doubters wrong, his Spring/Summer 2012 ready-to-wear collection at Paris Fashion Week was hailed a success for continuing Balmain's code of luxurious, elegant sensuality while injecting his own edgy twist. “My job is not just to design clothes but to also give a new vision to fashion,” he's been quoted as saying.
Since then, Rousteing has continued to impress season after season, blurring the lines between haute couture and ready to wear by bringing heavy embellishments and extravagant detailing to otherwise urbane, well-tailored designs.
Known for his tenacity, the Bordeaux-raised pacesetter initially pursued a law degree, before dropping out and moving to Italy where Roberto Cavalli took him under his wing and nurtured the young hopeful into a designer capable of one day taking the reins of a venerable fashion house — and now, he has.
Christopher Kane, 32
The prodigious design talent
Known for invoking cheekily strange ideas through his eccentric collections, Christopher Kane was heralded as one of the fashion world's brightest designers when, together with his sister Tammy, he debuted his namesake label in 2006 at age 24. Between 2009 and 2012, he also served as creative director of Versus, the diffusion line of Versace, whose chief designer Donatella Versace once reminisced how Kane's collaborations with his sister reminded her of herself and Gianni — “brother and sister, working together".
Prints and graphics feature prominently in Kane's collections, but he veers away from clichéd wallpaper floras and boring patterns preferring the visceral instead, be it a scene from a nuclear test explosion or a nebula flare. Imaginative, he contrasts the peculiar with femininity and elegance, melding materials in risky juxtapositions for seasons on end. Who else would bring to life collections marked by eye-searing shades of neon, (near) perverse bondage elements, or structural construction that can only be borne out of scientific study?
Jason Wu, 31
Couturier to First Ladies
In 2009, then 26-year-old Jason Wu shot to fame when US First Lady Michelle Obama arrived at her husband's inaugural ball in a dreamy one-shouldered, floor-length white chiffon gown. That same year she also wore a magenta silk creation by Wu on the cover of Vogue and met the Queen of England while wearing one of his coats. Her very public endorsement of the Taipei-born designer continued when in 2013, she wore a show-stopping ruby red ball to President Obama's second and last inaugural ball.
But Wu is no one-hit (or rather, one-woman) wonder. While others dealt with teenage angst, Wu, by age 16, was already creative director at Integrity Toys, an American fashion doll manufacturer. He went on to study at the Parsons School of Design but never graduated, choosing to intern at Narciso Rodriguez instead. In 2006, he launched his first ready-to-wear collection and in 2008, took home the Fashion Group International's Rising Star award.
Just last year, he was named artistic director of women's ready-to-wear and accessories at Hugo Boss, which some say was a masterful stroke of genius on the part of the German label, known for its classically tailored menswear. With Wu's inclination towards exquisite femininity now referencing Hugo Boss's precision silhouettes, the rebooted womenswear line is an ode to the business-oriented woman who has assertively made men's attire her own.