NAT­U­RAL SE­LEC­TION Jonathan Saun­ders is per­fectly suited to his role at the helm at Diane von Fursten­berg.

Long ad­mired for his print skills and bold use of colour, Jonathan Saun­ders is per­fectly suited to his role at the helm at Diane von Fursten­berg. By Al­ice Ca­vanagh.

VOGUE Australia - - Contents -

Pos­sessed with charm, in­tel­li­gence and an in­tox­i­cat­ing sense of hu­mour, Scot­tish fash­ion de­signer Jonathan Saun­ders has the air of some­one who could con­vince you to wear, or do, just about any­thing. All of which makes him well suited to his role as chief cre­ative of­fi­cer of the muchloved, all-Amer­i­can wom­enswear brand Diane von Fursten­berg. Charged with dress­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of women who flock to “DVF” for flat­ter­ing, fun and well-priced dress, he is also the first per­son (and a man to boot) that the brand’s 70-yearold name­sake has been happy to hand the reins to.

For those who have fol­lowed the 39-year-old Glaswe­gian’s ca­reer closely, his ap­point­ment last May was not en­tirely left-offield. Since his fledg­ling days as a Cen­tral Saint Martins grad­u­ate on the Lon­don fash­ion scene, he has stood out for his tex­tile prints and off-kil­ter, ar­rest­ing colour com­bi­na­tions. In his hands, gar­ments are bold can­vases of ex­pres­sion.

“The first col­lec­tion I re­viewed of Jonathan’s, in 2004, is still one of my favourites … it showed all his tal­ent for clear, zingy colour and print en­gi­neered to flat­ter,” says Sarah Mower, chief critic at Vogue.com. “That was quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary in Lon­don then … a dull, dark time in fash­ion and noth­ing much was hap­pen­ing. Jonathan was the first of the new gen­er­a­tion of young colour and print rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies who put Lon­don on the map.”

Von Fursten­berg’s as­cen­dance was not all that dis­sim­i­lar. The block­buster suc­cess of that iconic wrap dress – a bill­board for fe­male con­fi­dence and em­pow­er­ment – lies not only in its flat­ter­ing sil­hou­ette and care­free fit, but in the way she choose to an­i­mate it. Alive with pat­tern and colour, the DVF look se­duced gen­er­a­tions of woman seek­ing clothes with char­ac­ter.

“I was al­ways fas­ci­nated by Diane as a per­son,” Saun­ders says of Von Fursten­berg. “At Saint Martins, stu­dents, es­pe­cially print de­sign­ers, would grad­u­ate and go away to this won­der­ful world in New York called DVF, an amaz­ing work­shop where peo­ple were mak­ing tex­tiles all day.”

Some 18 years later, here he sits com­fort­ably, dap­per in jeans and a Prada blazer, with a glass of red in hand on the sofa in Von Fursten­berg’s Left Bank Parisian pad. It’s Paris fash­ion week, but Von Fursten­berg her­self is not in town. She’s here in spirit, though: her por­trait by Andy Warhol is hang­ing on the wall. Still, her ab­sence is a clear state­ment: she has of­fi­cially passed on the ba­ton.

Start­ing with the new spring/sum­mer ’17 col­lec­tion, Saun­ders has made a con­vinc­ing case for the new DVF look, which be­gins with a col­lec­tion of a fresh of­fer­ing of asym­met­ri­cal dresses in a se­duc­tive mix of block colour and prints. Lively, con­tem­po­rary and more lux­u­ri­ous than be­fore, the line stays true to that same DVF sen­su­al­ity, with dresses drop­ping off the shoul­ders and bar­ing the dé­col­letage. “I like the idea of a gar­ment fall­ing on or off the body, in an ef­fort­less man­ner, just like that orig­i­nal wrap dress,” Saun­ders says. “If it takes the woman longer than two min­utes to get into it, then it’s just not rel­e­vant.”

“Jonathan has a tal­ent for friend­ship with women … and that charm and easy un­der­stand­ing of women has been im­por­tant to his work, too,” Mower says of Saun­ders’s in­stinct for know­ing what women want to wear. “That he and Diane von Fursten­berg have found each other seems a nat­u­ral to me: mar­riage made in heaven.”

Saun­ders came to fash­ion by way of prod­uct and tex­tile de­sign. As a teen he was into mak­ing things with his hands, fur­ni­ture, mostly – use­ful items that wouldn’t be deemed as friv­o­lous by his deeply reli­gious par­ents. The lure of fash­ion proved too strong, how­ever, and while at the Glas­gow School of Art he made the switch from prod­uct de­sign to tex­tiles, even­tu­ally mov­ing to Lon­don to fin­ish his stud­ies. “I love that fash­ion re­lates di­rectly to peo­ple and it can be emo­tional, it can make you feel some­thing,” he says now of the switch. “You can ap­pre­ci­ate a piece of fur­ni­ture from a dis­tance, and you can love it and in­ter­act with it, but it’s not as emo­tional.”

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, he clocked up print work for the likes of Alexan­der McQueen and Phoebe Philo while she was at Chloé, be­fore start­ing his own line in 2003. Tex­tiles were his first love (some­thing he says he felt trapped by at times), but as the sea­sons pro­gressed his propo­si­tion evolved. “At first print felt very prom­i­nent – as if the body was a ve­hi­cle for Jonathan’s vir­tu­oso tech­niques – but grad­u­ally the woman be­came equally tan­gi­ble; she be­gan to in­habit the clothes and their amaz­ing colour schemes,” agrees Penny Martin, ed­i­torin-chief of The Gentle­woman mag­a­zine and a con­fi­dant of Saun­ders.

Twelve years later, de­spite os­ten­si­ble suc­cess, Saun­ders closed shop and was ready to take a break. “I felt very trapped by the cy­cle of pro­duc­ing col­lec­tions,” he ad­mits. “With con­sult­ing and my own brand, I was do­ing 12 col­lec­tions a year and, at that pace, you for­get who you are and what you’re do­ing. It wasn’t a good mo­ment for me.” Time off saw him de­sign­ing a line of fur­ni­ture and rel­ish­ing in the all-round “slower pace”. But then Von Fursten­berg and her then CEO, Paolo Riva, came call­ing.

“When I was first ap­proached, my gut feel­ing was that they didn’t need me be­cause they al­ready had such a strong iden­tity,” Saun­ders ad­mits. “I was also at a mo­ment in my life when I wanted to slow down, I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily want to go and head up an­other brand.” Still, they met for a drink in her suite at Clar­idge’s Ho­tel, and “be­fore I knew it, my feet were up on the sofa and I found my­self say­ing: ‘We could do this and we could that,’” he says, shak­ing his head and laugh­ing. “I went in as a con­sul­tant and ba­si­cally never left.”

Saun­ders has since found him­self man­ning a “fiercely loyal team” with the sup­port and means he’s al­ways de­sired to achieve his am­bi­tions. With­out the stress of run­ning the day-to-day op­er­a­tions, as he had pre­vi­ously done, he’s able to tackle the big­ger ques­tions. Like, most press­ingly, with­out the brand’s beloved mas­cot at the helm, who is the DVF woman of to­day? For that, he’s re­ly­ing on that very fem­i­nine in­stinct of emo­tion. “The ethos with which Diane started this brand was ef­fort­less clothes with imag­i­na­tion; and there was al­ways an emo­tional con­nec­tion between the woman and the clothes. So that is what I ask my­self with each de­sign: ‘Is it emo­tive? How will it make her feel?’” he says, the words turn­ing over in his mind as he says them. “The DVF woman is ex­pres­sive, she has imag­i­na­tion; she is the per­son you want to be with be­cause she’s com­fort­able with her­self.”

“I LIKE THE IDEA OF A GAR­MENT FALL­ING ON OR OFF THE BODY”

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