Activists and Outsiders: Rising Designers to Watch This Season

A few weeks out from fashion month, we list all the promising new talents you need to know.
Reading time 5 minutes

For those watching closely, it can often feel like the entire fashion industry is cycling through the same trends, but a few emerging designers are reminders of the originality and potential for change that still exists on the runway each season. Though yes, it seems everyone is wearing streetwear, tiny sunglasses, and a leopard midi skirt, the runways are full of emerging voices that have been taking jaded audiences by surprise with their inclusivity, artistry, and ability to dream beyond the status quo. Some of the designers below have already earned awards for their strong starts, while others have been winners of industry attention as they collaborated with major names and presented visions unlike any already out there. A few weeks out from fashion month, we list all the promising new talents you need to know, assigning some of the chicest summer reading possible. Below, see six up-and-coming labels on the main fashion circuit, then for a bit of extra credit, read about the visionary designers making international names for themselves from home bases in Tbilisi and Copenhagen.

The Activists 

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Telfar Clemens doesn’t call himself an activist, but his work is bringing change to fashion nonetheless. Inclusivity, which only became cool industry-wide within the last couple of years, is exactly what the designer’s eponymous brand has been advocating since it was founded in 2005. That, along with his winning the 2017 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, has made him only more relevant today, leading to more people buying into his genderless clothing and his “Shopping Bags” (when they aren’t sold out, of course). Now a highlight of NYFW, the concerts Clemens throws in lieu of runway shows reinforce the idea that his platform is a diverse community – as should be for fashion.

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Pyer Moss

For luxury ready-to-wear with a real message, look no further than Kerby Jean-Raymond’s unisex label. Through his powerful runway shows, Jean-Raymond has bravely tackled sociopolitical issues like mental health, racism, and police brutality in America. More recently, for Spring 2019, he celebrated the experience of being a Black American. Like Telfar, Jean-Raymond was singing this tune long before the fashion world cared (or approved). Now, with a Reebok partnership and a 2018 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund win under his belt, his clothes do all the talking, often on famous figures like Michelle Obama, Rihanna, and Dua Lipa.

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Bethany Williams

Creating sustainable clothing still means you’re creating more clothing – something that Bethany Williams was wary about when joining an industry responsible for massive waste. Her solution: limited quantities of streetwear garments made only from recycled materials, tied to a mission of giving back to the community. For each collection, the British designer works with different nonprofit organizations from around the world – like women’s shelters, drug rehabilitation communities, and prisons – and later donates a portion of the collection’s proceeds to them. While highlighting underlying issues in society, Williams is creating a blueprint for actually sustainable fashion for others to follow.

The Outsiders

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Tomo Koizumi

Tomo Koizumi’s name wouldn’t have rung a bell to anyone outside of Tokyo before his sensational New York Fashion Week debut in February. After renowned stylist Katie Grand took notice, she organized a last-minute presentation where the costume designer sent the likes of Gwendoline Christie and Bella Hadid on a walk through Marc Jacobs’s studio in his ballooning ruffled frocks – “ruffle armor for girls” – made of Japanese polyester organza in all kinds of candy colors. The show blew up, and rightfully, so has Koizumi. Besides viral looks (one of which naturally ended up making the Met's Camp exhibit), what he really brought to New York was a sense of fantasy, which is more than welcome in a city that has just seen an exodus of designers.

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Of all the people you’d think are likely to switch to a career in fashion, a graphic designer is not one of them. But that's exactly Eftychia Karamolegkou's story, having made the big move after moving out of Athens and training in Central Saint Martins. Her eponymous London-based label's offerings are not too different from what she showed at her Master's collection: elegant suits for women, taking heavy inspiration from those that men initially wore in the 1920s. Karamolegkou’s tailoring is masculine (and therefore, to her, empowering) and unpretentious. Her career change certainly proved wise after she made the short list for this year’s LVMH Prize. Philophiles, take note: maybe Eftychia is where you should flock now that Hedi Slimane has totally changed Celine.

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Sterling Ruby

A frequent Raf Simons collaborator, Sterling Ruby is not new to the fashion industry as an artist. Last June, though, he made a raved-about debut as a fashion designer for his label, S.R. Studio. LA. CA. The Spring 2020 collection largely centered on denim – featuring paint splatters and patchwork much like Ruby’s collages – and prints, which came from photographs by his wife. For fans of the American artist, it’s a treat to see his vision continue to live on a new medium they could likelier collect; for fashion fans, Ruby’s label offers a refreshing break from clothing derived from trends or heritage (and the one place we can pretend Calvin Klein 205W39NYC ready-to-wear still exists).


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