LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Neo-Chic is Now Chic


At the forefront of an about-turn in women's fashion, we profile three labels that encapsulate Neo-Chic.

Reinventing traditional techniques for modern times, our three neo-chic designers give women a clear sartorial voice.

Fashion, by its very nature, is subject to, and instigator of, continuous cycles of reinvention. Some periods produce clothes we'll want to wear forever, others make us shudder even to think about what we were wearing a few years before. Increasingly, however, we are subjected to short-lived fads created to drum up column inches, editorial space and celebrity placement, many of these notions paying scant attention to the desires or innate taste of real women.

And yet, in the darkness of marketing-driven creativity, the fall 2006 season has seen a significant turnaround in fashion, and shows a coherency that had until recently been forgotten. Landmark shows from Balenciaga, Hermès, Calvin Klein, Bottega Veneta, Véronique Branquinho and Jil Sander – all maturing beautifully under a new generation of reverent designers – shaped the season, showing that it's possible to produce fashion that is both instantly desirable and different, that pushes forward the boundaries of fashion without straining its bounds of credibility. It's a trend we're dubbing Neo-Chic.

In order to explore further this emerging trend we've focused on three small, and growing, labels that exemplify the mood-swing in fashion, three labels that are both respectful of the lives of women and respectful of the processes of creating fashion. With backgrounds in a couture-level standard of dressmaking (a major reference point for the fall season) and a belief in keeping silhouettes and production personal and meaningful, our three Neo-Chic labels – Doo.Ri and Ruffian, both based in New York, and Requiem in Paris – are united in a belief in what it means to create beautiful clothes and what it means to be a woman today.


Doori Chung could hardly be described as the archetypal up-and-comer. For six years she learned her skill at the hands of America's best – the best being the late Geoffrey Beene – and in the few short seasons since she started out on her own her star has escaped the basement atelier of her parent's New Jersey dry-cleaning store and soared high on Manhattan's mention-o-meter. In a fashion climate given to sensational silhouettes and celebrity courting, Doo.Ri has come to represent dignity in dressing, focusing on soft draping and a level of highly technical but lightly handled construction held away from the body. She has created an identity for women that's feminine without being girly, subtle without being anonymous. "I design for the dignified woman and I would never subject her to something ridiculous," Chung says. "I make clothes with thought and care for my woman to feel sexy, and confidant. I would like to consider my clothes armor for the intelligent woman." For fall she explored more woven fabrics and patterns like checks and plaid, creating a long-line shape accentuated with a ruffle at the neck or a puff at the sleeve, and says that lately, funnily enough, her reference for creating next spring's collection is Bob Dylan. And in the way that Dylan's lyrics move songwriting into the realm of poetry, so Chung creates a dialogue that makes motion in flat fabric.


When Raffaelle Borriello and Julien Desselle started their Requiem label a year-and-a-half ago it began the union of two creative minds with the same fantasies, the same perception of women and elegance. Borriello, a 33-year-old Rome-born veteran of such houses as Gucci, YSL and Sonia Rykiel, and British-born Desselle, 26, with a background in communications at Dior, Costume National and Gucci, decided to begin slowly with a test collection, but their ethos of architectural elegance instantly found eager takers among flagship names like Saks. With a spiritual heritage in Balenciaga and Capucci couture of the '40s and '50s, that first collection was highlighted by labor-intensive metallic embroidery and antique textile patterns, and the lure of the rare and the handmade has persisted, finding a home in modern sculptural silhouettes, or, as Desselle says, "couture codes in fabric and shape, revisited."

The attention paid to technique and construction is standing them in good stead: Borriello holds up a fourth-season gradated white-to-black silk dress, as striking as a storm cloud, its light, nebulous form cut in one piece of fabric shaped by a dab of smocking at the hips, a gather at the knee, and a voluminous hem tucked under on the bias. The delicacy of the work and its assured execution are, he says, typical of the know-how found only in Paris. The duo's own studio, in a beautifully decorated fin-de-siècle apartment that was once a bordello, forms part of a larger atelier headed by a woman who worked in some of the biggest houses during couture's hey day. It's not a coincidence. "We have an amazing savoir faire at our fingertips in these ateliers," Borriello explains, "a knowledge from people who lived in a period that's not there anymore." And a knowledge they're using to glorious effect.


Brian Wolk and Claude Morais had both worked in Paris at the same time but they never bumped into each other there; that came later. In the French capital – at Chanel haute couture and Hervé Van Der Straaten, respectively – however, they each formulated something that would inform their collaborative label when they eventually met in New York: a love of luxury tied to hand-made technique.

Quebec-born Morais met the American Wolk when they worked for designer Maggie Norris. From there they started their own line. "We very naively started with $200 each," Wolk says, enough to get together a box of accessories they sent to Barneys where they were picked up by the store. They named the fledgling label Ruffian with both a sense of humor and a reference to their signature product, the ruff. With an ethos of "abstracting ideas from couture and applying them to luxe sportswear" they developed a style that referenced icons of American design such as Claire McCardell and Halston and mixed them with expensive European fabrics. All their clothes are made in their own atelier in New York. From the tucks in a velvet cuff to the tongue-in-cheek chic of a mink hoodie they've made it their aim to create a sort of American couture for contemporary times, even going so far as to present intimate trunk shows across the nation. As Wolk notes, "We know our clients in every city, we have an old-fashioned approach."

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