Color is apparent immediately upon getting off the elevator to the Sies Marjan showroom in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, with a singular wall painted in a lemon-ice hue. Inside the studio, a rainbow-sherbet shag rug livens up the concrete floor. In the glass partitioned pattern and sewing area, shelves hold roll after roll of bright fabrics. There are racks of clothing samples — all heavily pigmented though not all candy-coated — for the upcoming spring ’19 runway collection, which showed on Sept. 9.
It’s a lot of what one might expect from the brand, which is only 2 1/2 years old but has quickly entered the New York fashion vernacular as the go-to for easy-to-wear silhouettes and wacky footwear shapes. The collections — and the entire showroom space — are the creation of Sander Lak, the 35-year-old Dutch creative director of Sies Marjan.
He’s curated the expanse of coffee table fashion, photography and art books that line the floor-to-ceiling walnut bookcase and picked out each piece of furniture, much of it sculptural wood pieces from the art and antiques aggregator 1stdibs, with which he partnered early on for a pop-up at Selfridges. “Give me anything, and I’ll do it,” said Lak of his ambitions. “I would love to design a TV, an iPhone cover, I would love to do sneakers.”
There are many eyes on the world that Lak has created — even more after the designer snagged the CFDA Swarovski honor for emerging talent in June. The award validated Lak’s offerings and marked a major milestone for the company’s entire team, including fashion executive Joey Laurenti and investor Nancy Marks — who set out to launch a new luxury label after closing Ralph Rucci in 2015.
With an infrastructure already in place (including the showroom and 12 patternmakers, sewers, cutters and hand-finishers), Laurenti sought out Lak while the latter was still head of design at Dries Van Noten (a post he held for five years).
“Sander’s taste and sensibility is what initially attracted me to him; I was drawn to his aesthetic, intrigued by his design interests, and appreciated his overall approach to fashion. Beyond those things, he’s also just a lovely, smart guy who I immediately felt chemistry with and knew we would be able to work well together,” said Laurenti.
What was not in place was footwear production. Rucci had used Manolo Blahnik for runway shoes, but Lak was intent on creating his own, even for the first show, which was held in February 2016. That collection featured platform slides in chocolate croc and banana yellow, all of which had softly rounded shapes on all sides and a heel with an exaggerated curve. The shapes were reminiscent of midcentury modern design motifs like Eero Saarinen’s tulip chairs and pedestal tables or artist Erwin Wurm’s inflated “Convertible Fat Cars.”
“We thought we’d do bags first and shoes later. But the shoes were a thing. People went crazy over them,” said Lak. “The second season, in the showroom, the buyers were almost [forcing us to] sell them. But we said, ‘We are not there yet.’ To produce shoes is a whole different ballgame. All of a sudden, fit becomes No. 1 priority, which for a show, it doesn’t matter that much. We had to start from scratch.”
Retailers persisted, however, and by the third season, fall ’17, a plan was in place to produce the shoes in Italy for commercial sale. “I was really excited because they were still fashion shoes,” recalled Lak. That season included a full look in aquamarine (from head and hair to patent leather toes) and saturated hot-pink ready-to-wear contrasted with mint-green open-toed slingback loafers with the same mod and slightly cartoonish curved pedestal heel.
“The shoe is the base that the cake is on — literally, the grounding aspect of the full look. It immediately speaks the language in a certain way,” the designer said. “That’s why shoes are so important and also why they are a bit more sculptural. I don’t like sculptural clothes. I like clothes to be fluid and to be wearable, so shoes balance that out in a nice way.”
The footwear is now in its third season and has evolved to include a few more commercial styles for fall ’18, including a patent leather croc-effect navy loafer with a lower curved heel, and a flat suede slide loafer in soft pink with the same roundness of the first season. Still, the curved heel is there — its most colorful version is a glossy lipstick-red mule.
In total, there are 10 styles, with prices ranging from $495 for loafers to $995 for boots. The collection will roll out in two deliveries, one already in stores and another in late September. Retailers include Barneys New York, Selfridges, Nordstrom.com, Martha Louisa, FWRD, Matches Fashion and Net-a-Porter, which just launched an exclusive color. “[It’s] eclectic yet feminine, and each piece in the collection looks and feels super-special,” said April Koza, VP of L.A. online retailer FWRD, which has carried the brand’s shoes since last year’s launch. “We love Sies Marjan’s strong point of view.”
The spring ’19 show, which showed at New York’s Lever House on a particularly rainy Sunday, opened with an atypical lack of color — long, flowing garments in whites and khakis, paired with sneakers (a new style for the brand) and mules — but quickly morphed into Lak’s usual color wheel, with his signature muted salmon pinks, pumpkin metallics and lipstick reds, along with some new neons and navy-and-white nautical stripes. Many of the shoes had the cake-stand pedestal heel, though there were also new stacked heels with buckle accents.
Lak’s shoes have been a street-style fixture since their debut. Editors, influencers and even typically risk-averse celebs are embracing Lak’s full monochrome looks. They match ready-to-wear pieces with equally high-impact footwear, like last season’s metallic pumpkin pantsuit and curved heel mule (all of which called to mind the foil wrapping of a Hershey Kiss).
Expect to see fall’s iridescent trench coat and elongated loafers somewhere on New York Fashion Week’s sidewalks. Lak calls it the “summering of fashion,” a reversal of the industry’s tendency to wear only black — a trend undoubtedly caused by Instagram’s peacock mentality. “It’s not just because of us, but there was a moment going on, and we were definitely part of that moment,” said Lak. “All of a sudden, people were experimenting with color. But it wasn’t overnight. The first season, people said, ‘Great color, but nobody is going to wear it. No one is going to buy it.’”
Lak is still mindful of how the brand’s colorful and carefree DNA translates from the runway and Fashion Week sidewalks to the more sobering realm of retail, where buyers and consumers can still be reluctant to take risks. “People are so used to an Instagram timeline. You swipe up and like it, and then it’s gone. Not everything works like that,” he said. “Sometimes things work instantly, sometimes you have to show it several times before the customer gets it. That’s when it gets good.”
He also understands Sies Marjan’s position as a luxury brand, and a niche one at that. “Not everyone is a Sies Marjan person, so it’s about making sure that we cultivate the group [that is]. You should never think that you should be everything for everyone — you’ll get lost,” he said. He encourages customers to dip their toes into the brand with a colorful shirt or pair of shoes to start.
For spring ’19, the designer is looking back to his youth — he said he’ll pay homage to a specific shoe from the past. “It’s done with full admiration and respect. It’s about this moment in time when I saw something and I thought, ‘Oh my God, what is this? This makes me sweat [with] excitement.’”