You could call them fashion's best kept secrets-designers whose talent

and passion have led to rewarding careers, who are quietly revered by

the press, buyers and celebrities alike, but who, for whatever reason,

have always remained firmly below the radar. Designers like Peter

Soronen, who, after a decade as a bespoke designer, has only just

stepped into the spotlight thanks to Michelle Obama's seal of approval.

Or J Mary, an LA-based designer whose work is sold in Maxfield and worn

by Ashley Olsen and Janet Jackson, but whose name would draw blanks

from even the most sartorially aware.

A straw poll of fashion insiders reveals that this club has

more members than one might imagine. A brand that comes to mind

immediately is Boudicca, says London-based personal shopper Alexander

Lewis, who also reports on menswear for personal style network It's a great brand, long standing in the fashion

industry with incredible product. The company has been steadily

bubbling away in the pot of fashion, yet somehow has never reached

boiling point.

Fellow Check You Daily contributor and retailer Desiree Kohan

names Juan Carlos Obando as her underground sensation of choice, while

Atelier's Karlo Steel identifies Carol Christian Poell as a designer

whose 13-year-old line lingers in relative obscurity, even though it

has a fanatical cult following, is carried in some of the best shops

in the word and is worn by Jude Law, Brad Pitt, Seal and John Mayer.

Others dropped names that are recognizable-Yigal Azrouƫl, Isabel

Marant, Rogues Gallery, Eileen Shields-but whose notoriety pales in

comparison to some of their contemporaries.

Although they're doing everything right, why haven't these

brands received the fanfare they deserve? For most of the mentioned

labels, it's because they don't really want it. I am small by choice

and am not designing for fanfare-rather I design for women! admits

Peter Soronen. My goal has always been to dress women so they look

their best for that important event. I want them to receive attention

when they walk into the room.


designer and TenOverSix co-founder Kristen Lee agrees, claiming I

don't think staying 'underground' is necessarily a bad thing, and in

many instances, is a choice to stay cool, to stay special. The question

for the designer is how to make money doing this. Adds Kohan: Juan

Carlos Obando is still a 'secret' because of his exclusivity. His

marketing strategies make him a press darling, but he's hard to find in

the retail realm, which I believe to be a good thing. He's exclusive to

Des Kohan on the West Coast and his under-the-radar charm makes his

collection more desirable.

Even so, a vast number of lesser-known designers don't have

the luxury of choosing to remain small. While there is a lot of focus

on emerging designers in some parts of the business, picking favorites

is rife across the globe, says Lewis. Some designers and brands have

to forge ahead for years without serious recognition, but some find

their names in lights only after one or two seasons. That shift is all

down to those at the top.

So what's an underrated designer to do if they haven't yet

received Anna Wintour's blessing? First, and perhaps most obvious, is

to focus on the product. If the brand has the ability to do what it

does better than anyone else, they will prosper with time, notes

Lewis. Self-promotion is also key, according to Cristy Turner, Creative

Director of Forward. Reaching out to key bloggers and style sites is

so important in building buzz and getting noticed, she says. Buyers,

stylists, tastemakers and potential customers all check out who's

talking about who and what's next in fashion.

On a similar note, Atelier's Steele suggests: Play the social

aspect of a designer to the hilt!, while Kohan suggests taking a

grassroots approach to building buzz through trunk shows and

meet-and-greets. You can be under the radar to most of the world, but

make sure the right people know you, she says. But proceed with

caution, warns Lee: I've seen many rising design stars get too big too

fast, and go from being indie-cool to very contemporary and mainstream.

I think those brands experience growth and 'success' in the short term,

but may not last because they lose their original customer base and

become something entirely different. Somehow, we have a feeling those

mentioned above won't need to worry about that.