Saturday, March 22, 2014


(Kate Wendelborn, designer of Protagonist)

Last week, I was fortunate enough to visit The Apartment once again -- this time to preview the second Protagonist collection. I waxed poetic about this new label before; I will likely continue to do so for years to come, because it pretty much has everything I look for in clothes: timeless, simple silhouettes with interesting details; luxury fabrics; fluid, skimming cuts; and philosophy based on simplicity and paring down. I am intensely curious to see how the designer, Kate Wendelborn, will evolve the idea of simplicity. As is, the shapes, cut in thankfully substantial, dense fabrics (even the silk crepe feels dense rather than flimsy, with a distinct albeit subtle sheen) with a fairly basic (although by no means simplistic) silhouette are pretty near perfect. The tanks accommodate bra straps and the seams are angled; the backs are longer than fronts; the detailing, be it the narrow swath of fabric of a deconstructed turtleneck, or a double layered fabric, or a smocked cropped hemline, or eccentrically long cuffs (reminiscent of sleevelets of Dickensenian clerks) are not only aesthetically pleasing but also enhancing the drape of the fabric. Moreover, these details also seem to be well on their way to becoming the brand's signatures. So the clothes are not only gorgeous but also functional.

 (Clothes on the racks in The Apartment's dreamy closet)

The attention to detail always pleases me: for example, I noticed that the closures, that used to be invisible hooks in the first collection, are now buttons, and that the cuts are slightly roomier. Of course I tried on a few things, so here are some hazy dressing room selfies:

I was especially pleased to chat a bit with the designer herself; Kate Wendelborn won me over by the unabashed joy with which she talked about her collection. It is clear that she designs the sort of clothes she likes to wear (which, to me, is a huge reason for preferring female designers -- they actually give thought to comfort and wearabilty, although apparently in some circles it is seen as a detriment). She looked stunning in all white Protagonist ensemble, favoring a minimal and clean achromatic look (and I was thrilled to hear that she is going to expand into making pants.) She talked about her plans for the future (knitwear! Prints for people who don't wear prints! So exciting!) and her approach to sourcing quality fabrics, and this conversation got me thinking again: Protagonist's clothes are undoubtedly luxe, and yet quite down to earth, which seems to be not unusual lately (cf this article on Celine and sartorial invisibility.)

It seems to be a definite trend in current fashion that luxury is simplicity: with fast fashion retailers mimicking whatever walks down the runways in a matter of weeks, the trends are becoming irrelevant. Quality is manifesting in the simple cuts manufactured in good textiles, and this is something I've seen lately with smaller designers. While the large fashion houses often seem to increase their profit margins by employing cheap labor, outsourcing manufacturing, and choosing synthetic fabrics (I will be dead in the cold cold ground before I pay a three-figure sum for anything in poly), it is the smaller independent houses that take time to source high quality textiles. In case of Protagonist, the weight and the drape are divine, and not something that could ever be mistaken for Zara. 

I will probably have more to say on all of these things -- the undervalued women designers and the difference in invisibility between Celine and Normcore, and on quality of textiles becoming the main signifier of luxury as opposed to visible embellishments of the eighties. For now though, I just want to scroll through the lookbook for Protagonist's second season, and dream about their fall collection. because there is always something new to look forward to, especially in fashion.

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