Ones to watch

by Elise Diamantini

Elise Diamantini and John Jones talk to three designers who are on the verge of big things: Micah Cohen of Shades of Grey, Carl Cunow of Onia and Caius Olowu of 020608 Tears of Bleu.

Micah Cohen: Mass Appeal

Micah CohenThe Shades of Grey by Micah Cohen collection is what most contemporary brands aspire to be. Cohen has created an approachable, salable line that infuses subtle design details without being too avant garde. What’s more, he offers 250 SKUs a season, and does it all on his own. (He ends up producing about 175 of that.) “When you’re self-employed you’re always carrying around a huge burden on your shoulders, but I started a clothing line because I wanted to be an entrepreneur and actually create things.

He got his start as a freelance designer for a Chinese manufacturing company, and credits the continued strength of that relationship for his ability to do special things with his own collection, like offer an extensive assortment and experiment with new categories such as suit separates. “This allows me to open up distribution to a wide range of stores from Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s to Urban Outfitters and Oak. “Suiting is becoming an increasingly important part of the collection and looks better than ever for fall 2012. I’m using nicer fabrics, improving the fit and adding more details. Fall ’12 outerwear, which is my strongest category, looks great and I’m also really excited about the sweater offering. I’m using a new knitting factory this season and the results are fantastic.” Retail pricepoints range from $80 to $200 for knits, $95 to $130 for wovens, $95 to $140 for bottoms, $150 to $350 for outerwear and $200 to $275 for blazers. “I’m not priced at the top end of the market so I’m not starting any trends, but I’m able to play a little within the trends that are happening. The best part about my job is that I don’t have any creative restrictions.” —EMD

Carl Cunow: Freestyler

Carl CunowAfter earning his design and production cred at Steven Alan, Carl Cunow launched Onia, his own swimwear collection, in 2009—like so many products, developed when he couldn’t find what he wanted for himself in the market. The collection has met with great success at retailers such as Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, Scoop and, of course, Steven Alan, as well as with resorts like the Four Seasons, Soho House Miami and The Ritz-Carlton (for whom Cunow produces co-branded pieces). Built around fits, styles, fabrics and prints that appeal to a design-conscious guy, the swimsuits retail for $130 to $195, with the higher end selling best this 2011/2012 resort season. Onia maintains an exclusive license for Liberty prints in its fabrics, which are all quick-dry, comfortable and woven in Italy or Spain.

The company is growing quickly, launching boy’s wear for spring 2012, as well as a lower-priced collection called Trunks, a retro-styled board short ($48 retail), which already has a co-branded collection with Atlantis resort. Cunow goes back to his roots this season with “Basic Shirt,” a collection of—you guessed it—basic woven shirts in oxford cloth, stretch poplin and other simple fabrics. Its quality workmanship is designed to compete with poorly made product from some of the fast-fashion chain stores, yet at a more approachable pricepoint ($68 to $78 retail) than designer collections. —JJ

Caius Olowu: Denim Dynamo

Caius OlowuCaius Olowu almost didn’t get into the fashion industry at all because he was intimidated by the female-filled classes at fashion design school. Instead, he enrolled in an architecture program with a predominately male class, but that didn’t last long. After two years he walked out of his architecture job to study fashion. This British-born designer is the creator of 020608 Tears of Bleu (after his daughter’s birthday and name), one of the most creative denim collections we’ve seen in a long time. He infuses details like fully-bound inside seams and tailored pin-stitched back seams. Also impressive are the intricate wash processes he uses. “Most of the washes start with a natural worn development process over a six month period, with added external elements to create a unique finish,” Olowu explains. “Each pair is hand finished using a five- to 10-hour process. A skilled finisher then copies each original, naturally worn finish by hand and adds other elements to give each a unique look. No two washes are exactly alike.”

The collection launched in February 2011 with denim and non-denim offerings for men, women and kids. Retail pricepoints for denim range from $158 to $286; colored twills from $120 to $168. Olowu has held senior-level positions in design and management at True Religion and says that Jeff Lubell, the brand’s CEO, has been an inspiration. “He never took no for an answer and built a brand based on what the consumer wanted. I’m also inspired by Zihaad Wells, True Religion’s design director, because of his drive under extreme pressure and continually coming up with creative products. Takashi Ito, president of AG Jeans Japan, is my mentor. He raised my awareness in the business aspect of fashion.” —EMD