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The hunt for fashion's next big name

Renowned retailers are looking for pragmatism, elements of romanticism as they scout new design talent

By Wendy Donahue, Tribune Newspapers

August 22, 2013

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The pool of fashion talent swells with each passing season. And the fashion fishermen are trawling for something more than beautiful clothes.

Retailers scrutinize new brands for elements of romance — the story of the people making the clothes — and pragmatism — do the clothes fit, and will shipments arrive on time?

"First and foremost, no matter what the brand stands for, the product has to look good, it has to be something that people want to wear," said Betty Lin, who owns an eponymous boutique in San Francisco.

One up-and-coming line she carries, Maiyet, guides artisans in developing countries to apply their skills to luxury-caliber clothing and accessories.

Maiyet just reached that threshold for boutique Forty Five Ten in Dallas.

"I looked at the line five times," owner Brian Bolke said. "I've always been intrigued, but you can't buy something just for the story. This was the first time where I thought, my customer who loves Dries Van Noten is also going to love these clothes. The clothes really stood on their own."

Here are a few other new brands that are earning space.

Rosie Assoulin

"The most amazing designer on the scene right now is Rosie Assoulin," says Claire Distenfeld of New York's FiveStory, which has picked up Assoulin's sculptural dresses and voluminous pants. Assoulin dropped out of the Fashion Institute of Technology, opting for on-the-job training as an intern with Oscar de la Renta and Lanvin. Friends urged her to launch a line. "It always seemed very scary," Assoulin told style.com. "And it is scary. But it started to be scarier not to do it." See rosieassoulin.com.

Cedric Charlier

Belgium native Cedric Charlier, whose fall collection leaned dark and architectural with an occasional shot of hot pink or jade, is one of Lin's new favorites. "He is a new brand with a ton of experience, a super nice guy who was creative director for Cacharel before launching his own brand," Lin said. "Before that he was assistant designer at Lanvin. Everything fits, it's always cut perfectly. For a store like mine, it has to be good design, but it has to fit a woman's body too. The production has to be right on the money. With some newer brands, the production and fit are an issue even if the design is cool. I can't afford that." See cedric-charlier.com.

Maiyet

When Lin threw a party for the brand Maiyet, her Presidio Heights store sold out of almost everything, Lin said, not just on the strength of the story. Maiyet partners with Nest, a nonprofit organization that develops artisans. "The founders don't just give people work, they help these artisans apply their craft to something the first world wants," Lin said. It's that last part that matters most. Maiyet's fall collection, inspired by the Himalayas, produced coolly modern vests from hand-felted wool and turned jackets with rounded shoulders into urban armor. Maiyet just opened a New York City flagship store. See maiyet.com.

Simone Rocha

Simone Rocha has developed a fan base in just two seasons at the renowned Jeffrey stores in New York and Atlanta. A recent graduate of Central Saint Martins in London, Rocha asserted texture as a signature right out of the gate, pairing tinsel with mohair and rendering a shift dress in pale yellow faux fur for fall. Rocha's assertive schoolgirl is proving to be an appealing muse. "When you have a new brand that sells really well from the first season," said David Rubenstein, vice president and general merchandise manager for Jeffrey, "that's a really good sign." See simonerocha.com.