Rising Stars: Five Emerging Designer Brands

Rising Stars
Despite the harshest economic climate in recent memory, five fledgling women’s labels are showing great promise as they step into the limelight.

Launched: Spring ’07

The look: “Toklum’s universe is about the various roles women play, and the balance, discord and power play between the masculine and feminine sides of the female. The shoes emphasize feminine, womanly curves and silhouettes. My background and education as a production designer have given me strong references in the world of film… An important theme for me while working is the mix of materials.”

How she learned: Her master’s degree in production design and scenography adds dimension to her pattern-making skills, picked up at Ars Sutoria in Milan.

Most looking forward to: “The day I do not have to say, ‘No no, my name is not Tokyo, it’s Toklum.’”

Where to shop: Leah Maria, Copenhagen; Kassandra, Copenhagen; Debell.dk

The retail buzz: “Toklum are Danish designer shoes with attitude. Every season we look forward to seeing the new collection from Toklum, and we are never disappointed. The shoes are very exclusive and extravagant, but still very comfortable and have a fit that we have never seen before. Our customer loves Toklum and would choose shoes from Toklum over shoes from Givenchy and Celine.”

— Camilla Debell, creative director, Debell.dk

Rocio Ildemaro
Fall ’09

The look: “I really design what I desire to wear, but my style does not fall into just one category.”

How she learned: After completing her degree at Ars Sutoria in Milan, Rocio created bespoke women’s footwear in Milan and the U.S. before launching her ready-to-wear collection.

Biggest challenge so far: “I am still learning the rules of retail and what it takes to move a design company forward in this shaky economic environment. For five years, I concentrated specifically on made-to-order shoes and only answered to the client. Prêt-à-porter footwear can involve hundreds of people, and there are specific shipment dates and deadlines. It’s a much bigger production, but the end result is just as gratifying.”

Most looking forward to: “I’m playing with fun vibrant colors for spring. I want to see people have fun with shoes in shades of gold and pink and pair them with easy denim and flirty skirts.”

Where to shop: Gregory’s Shoes, Dallas and Houston; Pome, Dallas

The retail buzz: “Rocio shoes have a distinct shape, different from other designers, a very 1940s feel. We felt that the collection would complement our [styles from] Nicholas Kirkwood, Max Kibardin, LaRare, Behnaz Kanani and the other talented new designers we are promoting for the future. Her usage of exotics — ostrich particularly — allows her designs to bring textures to life. We have had excellent response from customers, and Rocio is definitely building a following.”

— Jon Harris, owner, Gregory’s Shoes

Bionda Castana
Spring ’08

The look: “We specialize in high-heels, as this is where our talent lies and it’s what we find most fulfilling. The designs exhibit the synergy between Bionda Castana’s classic and edgier side — a tough yet polished look that uses hard-wearing and luxury fabrics, and oozes femininity.”

How they learned: No formal training for this duo. They started out on the job with a tutor in a Milanese factory, where they now produce their own collection.

Biggest challenge so far: “Establishing ourselves in the U.S. market.”

Most looking forward to: “Our final sketch review next week for fall ’10.”

Where to shop: In Step at the Wynn, Las Vegas; Nikki Laura, New York; Browns, London; Larizia, London; Estnation Inc., Japan; Tearose, Milan; Garderob, Moscow; Boutique 1, Dubai & Beirut; and on the Web at Brittique.com and Brownsfashion.com.

The retail buzz: “We have had Bionda Castana for two seasons and they have been just flying out. The sales of the brand have been phenomenal, and we are very proud to be working with Natalia and Jennifer. Women favor Bionda Castana because their shoes are trend-worthy and can be worn without being a fashion victim. The designs are gorgeous and feminine and, most of all, are the most comfortable heel I have worn for a long time. We have increased our buy for next spring as we have so many requests for their shoes.”

— Pamela Brady, buyer for shoes & handbags, Browns Ltd.

Michael Lewis
Fall ’09

The look: “The Michael Lewis style is flamboyant, sensual, fun and luxurious with a quirky sense of Britishness. [It’s about] looking at the everyday, seeking newness in the obvious, do-it-yourself constructing and never knowing what might come about. The challenge comes from making it work, and the evolution is often somewhat surprising.”

How he learned: After graduating from Central Saint Martins in London, Lewis designed for Louis Vuitton (alongside Marc Jacobs), Gucci (with Tom Ford), and Burberry, as well as working as creative consultant at Kurt Geiger. Aside from creating his eponymous collection, Lewis also consults on the footwear lines for Loewe, Luella and Jaeger London.

Biggest challenges so far: “Setting up Michael Lewis Ltd., my design studio and my label collaborations, for example, Luella.”

Most looking forward to: “Breaking [into] the U.S., making strong statements and opening my own store.”

Where to shop: Dover Street Market, London; L’Eclaireur, Paris; En Avance, Miami; Hu Shoes, Washington, D.C.; Boutique 1, Dubai; Isetan, Japan; Grey Flannel, Capri, Italy; Garderob, Russia; La Boutique 92, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia; Maison Bo-M, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The retail buzz:
“I went to London for fashion week specifically looking for a new shoe designer. What stood out the most with Michael Lewis was his play with color and texture. Sensual patent leathers mixed with supple suedes in a very elegant and glamorous way with incredible attention to detail … perfect for Miami.”

— Karen Quinones, owner & buyer, En Avance

Sophie Gittins
Spring ’09

The look: “Each collection stems from an artistic or architectural influence, culminating in shoes that are classically feminine, but imbued with a modern architectural edge. The streamlined silhouettes enable the focus to fall firmly on the textured silks, soft nappas and plush suedes used throughout. For me, achieving an elegant balance is paramount.”

How she learned: Cordwainers, London College of Fashion

Biggest challenge so far: “Taking the initial plunge of establishing a luxury company within the economic downturn. … I was fortunate because London has always nurtured young designers. There is an understanding that during these tough times, fewer people are likely to strike out on their own, and so those need greater guidance than ever before.”

Most looking forward to: “We are combining some beautifully detailed fabrics and leathers with some very elegant shapes for fall ’10. Each season brings greater clarity and understanding when designing, so I’m eagerly anticipating seeing the next collection completed.”

Where to shop: Nina and Lola, London

The retail buzz:
“Sophie is most definitely going to go far. The difference between female and male designers is most visible in footwear, I find. Sophie’s shoes enclose the foot softly, and her heel is ever so slightly lower than average. All this will help Sophie build a loyal customer base, as it’s hard to find an elegant and comfortable shoe. In terms of the pure design, I adore Sophie’s use of innovative fabrics and the confident mix of graphic prints and details. Still, the shoes do not overpower an outfit or scream ‘look at me.’”

— Nina May, owner & buyer, Nina and Lola

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