It’s hard to stand out during the clamour of fashion month – editors and journalists, after all, have hundreds of shows to attend. For a highly anticipated debut, Jonathan Saunders’ collection for New York stalwart label Diane von Furstenberg last September was surprisingly one of the less ostentatious affairs (instead of a traditional runway show, the brand opted for an intimate presentation), but it made people pause and take notice.
Furstenberg made a name for herself as a designer when she introduced the wrap dress – a versatile garment that looked professional without sacrificing style or womanliness. Made of comfortable, body-skimming jersey, it was – and continues to be – easy to wear yet appropriate for almost any occasion. It is so iconic that the Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has a few in its collection. According to The Telegraph, it continues to sell to the tune of US$500 million (approximately S$705 million) every year.
But it never hurts to switch things up, especially in today’s millennial age, the Glasgow-born Saunders tells the British paper. “When a brand is bound up with one person’s identity, it can be alienating to someone,” he explains.
A critically adored independent designer who broke into the scene in 2003, the 40-year-old quickly became known for his artistic command of colours and prints, two qualities Furstenberg herself liberally employed in her designs. Now with the reins of her empire handed over to him, how will he shake up its decades-old blueprint?
First up, there’s the melange of prints – all new and developed in house – ranging from florals (including reworks of those from the archives) to polka dots, graphic checks to bold stripes. Then, there are the refreshingly sprightly colours: vermilion red, cyan, celadon, periwinkle and chartreuse. But it’s through Saunders’ modern, fastidious approach towards coordinating them all that his light touch becomes most evident.
“It’s a question of being meticulous about the tones so that every blue goes together, and every print could work as a co-ord or a deliberate mismatch,” he says. The result: a more youthful take on the brand’s signature vintage patterns.
In the same vein, he’s expanded the brand’s range of separates, each a sophisticated staple with a twist. Think asymmetric, one-sleeved blouses – spaghetti-strapped on one side, ruffles cascading down the other; or sinuous wrap skirts with a D-ring belt that can be worn as is – or layered over wide-legged pants. The whole mishmash effect sounds risky, but it works, coming across as both trendy and timeless. True to the brand’s DNA, they offer what real women want in a wardrobe: mobility, the versatility to go with what they already own, mileage.
Which brings us to Saunders’ interpretation of the iconic wrap dress, now bias-cut in silk crepe de Chine. What this means for the wearer: greater fluidity and movement, as well as luxe factor, as compared to the original jersey options. The best part? Prices remain comparable to those of previous seasons.
And to complete this more of-the-moment look, Saunders has cast a stricter eye over the accessories that – up till a few seasons ago – were complementary to the ready-to-wear at best. Now, the bag line – concise yet comprehensive – includes a hip circular shoulder bag with an extra wide strap, a smart oversized hobo-bucket hybrid in the supplest of leathers, and a chic, day-perfect saddle. Each comes in either monotone classics (tan, white, tomato red) or Saunders’ signature colour blocking (teal and cobalt blue, anyone?), and lined in an unexpected, contrasting hue.
In a press release, the 70-year-old Furstenberg, who’s now focusing on philanthropic work, declares that “Jonathan’s extraordinary passion for colours and prints, his effortless designs, and his desire to make women feel beautiful make him the perfect creative force to lead DVF into the future”.
With his debut collection, Saunders has checked off all that, but perhaps the last bit about taking the brand forward resounds the most: He’s breathed a cool downtown vibe into the brand without alienating its loyal base of sophisticated working women. As he explains: “It’s not a question of age, but of how any woman would want to feel – the freedom, the movement, the glamorous-but-not-overdone ease of it. Not forgetting a sense of playfulness.”
This story first appeared in Female’s March 2017 issue.