JOIN THE CLUB
Rising design star Sander Lak brings his impressive fashion CV to the new It label Sies Marjan.
Rising star Sander Lak brings his impressive fashion CV to the new It label Sies Marjan.
Ever since that freezing day during February’s New York fashion week when a bundled-up audience had their pulses raised by the first sight of the Sies Marjan collection, the early spotters have been practising their pronunciation. It will be essential to get it right, after all, when you murmur a subdued “Sies Marjan” to the umpteenth admirer who wants to know who made the prettily twisted floral-sprigged dress you’re wearing.
“It’s Sees Mar-jahn,” says Sander Lak with a direct smile and an untraceable English-European accent. “It’s my parents’ first
“WHEN I SEE SOMEONE IN THE CLOTHES, I’M GOING TO WALK UP AND SAY: ‘THANK YOU’”
names together.” The gangly-limbed creative director of Sies Marjan, his shirt perpetually half tucked in, is a former head of design at Dries Van Noten, which partly explains the clamour surrounding his debut in the crumbling splendour of the art deco penthouse of Tribeca’s 100 Barclay building. A faded landmark currently under renovation, the space made an almost symbolic setting for Lak’s tousled-romantic aesthetic, a line-up of intricately cut spiralling dresses, slouchy pants with cargo pockets, skinny-sloppy knits and falling-offthe-shoulder drapery, all spiked with a brilliantly offbeat sense of colour.
Lak himself – Dutch by birth, with a childhood spent in Borneo, Malaysia, Gabon, Scotland and Amsterdam before he completed his studies at Central Saint Martins – comes across as a kind of world citizen, his arrival unfettered by notions of national borders and business shibboleths of how clothes should be designed and marketed. “I don’t see age or skin or culture as any sort of category,” he says. “I’m trying to create my own culture, a clan.”
Like Demna Gvasalia at Vetements and Balenciaga – albeit with a diametrically different aesthetic – Lak belongs to the rising generation of designers who have spent the past decade or so working in the back rooms of big fashion houses and are now emerging in their own right. Turning up at a time when the fashion scene is pretty much in chaos only adds to their feeling of opportunity. “That’s what’s amazing!” says Lak. “It feels like there are no rules now, that nobody can say what’s right anymore. We can do it our way.”
His way is at once grounded, spiked with humour and a passion for quirky colour, and marked by total precision. “I started by looking at old clothes; the cargo pants came from thinking about what the cool girls, who I could never be friends with, wore when I was in high school in Amsterdam in the 90s,” he says, laughing. “Then I look at colours individually, fine-tuning them. And we really worked on fabric: a jacquard with a mountain scene, an old-school Fortuny fabric that was very difficult to make, and a flower print like a cheap shower curtain.”
The resources, along with the rare luxury of time to put all that together, come from the fact that Sies Marjan is an enterprise backed by financier Howard Marks and his wife, Nancy, who headhunted Lak to take over the studio and the sewing atelier once occupied by the Chado Ralph Rucci collection. “We needed a year to build a campaign and a culture, to work out what is our basic fit, the scale of sizing and proportion,” Lak says. “Normally you design something and figure that out later, after the samples are made.”
Lak’s talent extends to a gift for interior design. The wall opposite the elevator at the Sies Marjan studio has been hung with 20th-century amateur portrait paintings, and he’s decorated the vast salon-like reception areas with brilliantly upgraded furniture – a couch re-covered in fluffy white shearling with pink fake-fur cushions tossed on it, a 70s glass table – and banks of bookshelves. “I love fake versions of iconic furniture. I bought a fake Ludwig Mies van der Rohe chair in a terrible plastic and had it reupholstered in carpet,” he says. “I’ve got a leather couch with fake- and real-fur pillows. And plants; I have to have plants.”
Lately he’s been working overtime in New York putting his new Chelsea apartment together. “I’m so excited: I’m going to live in an old ballroom! My first grown-up apartment!” There’s just one other thing Lak is looking forward to. Unfazed by the sudden acclaim, and the whirl of Sies Marjan being instantly snapped up by retailers (Barneys New York and Matchesfashion.com among them), he says that “the best moment will be when I see someone in the clothes; someone who I don’t know, who has spent her own money. I’m going to walk up to her and just say: ‘Thank you.’”
All clothes by Sies Marjan.
Sander Lak in his Manhattan apartment, with accents including an original Hans Wegner chair and vintage lamp from 1stdibs.