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
Checkyoudaily.com. 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
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 Azrouël, 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.