Contrary to popular belief, fashion month is more than just a mecca for established brands with storied histories. Yes, the industry’s giants oftentimes exhibit their latest collections on elaborate runways, a star-studded guest list seated casually in the front row. And yes, those esteemed labels often receive much of the media’s attention post-show. But by no means does that tell the whole story.
In addition to runway shows housed at the Louvre in Paris (Louis Vuitton), the Armory in New York City (Marc Jacobs), and the Tate Modern in London (Stella McCartney), fashion month offers hundreds of presentations that exist on a much smaller scale. Often attended by close friends and local press, these events manifest as quaint dinners, video releases, and gallery exhibitions, the likes of which rarely make it onto fashion month’s official calendars. For small, emerging brands, these intimate presentations are the result of what’s possible in the here and now. And just as much as the larger, more lavish shows, these gatherings make fashion month the creative hub that it is.
Ahead of the spring/summer 2023 season, these quieter underground moments from the month were the ones we found ourselves anticipating most. These are the shows put on by lesser-known designers from across the major style capitals who have the potential to someday make it into fashion’s hyper-exclusive date book. It just hasn’t happened yet. So with the help of Up Next Designer’s Albert Ayal—a rising star in the industry who started his own PR agency before launching an Instagram-based hotbed for exciting, up-and-coming talent—we narrowed down a list of brands from thousands across Paris, Milan, London, and New York to just four and posed the spotlight on them. Below, read their stories, and while you’re at it, shop their soon-to-be-everywhere pieces ahead of fashion month’s first show.
Jamaican-born designer Rachel Scott is no newcomer to the world of fashion, having worked with brands such as J. Mendel and Elizabeth and James before eventually becoming Rachel Comey’s current vice president of design. But her NYC-based ready-to-wear brand, Diotima, is relatively new. Launched in early 2020, Diotima is Scott’s first venture on her own and one that’s especially close to her heart given its deep roots in her Jamaican heritage. After years of putting it off, the designer was driven to action during the pandemic, which significantly affected Jamaican artisans. Their lack of work during the worldwide lockdowns became just the catalyst she needed to launch her brand, the goal being that it could offer a livelihood for those craftspeople in her home country who had lost their primary income. Two years on, Diotima is well on its way to becoming a breakout success. Its most recent collections were picked up by both Moda Operandi and Ssense, and its signature crochet pieces were featured on the covers of Harper’s Bazaar (on Qualeasha Wood) and Glamour (on Keke Palmer).
Emma Cutts, Liam Sanders, and Kiera Morel met at Norwich University of the Arts in the UK, where they were all studying textile design. Each had rough post-grad plans of their own, but with the pandemic came fewer opportunities, leading the threesome to join forces and channel their mutual interest in knitwear and crochet into Wavey Yarns. Using yarns sourced from secondhand, deadstock, and recycled materials, Cutts, Sanders, and Morel design and hand-make knit and crochet garments of all kinds, from arm warmers and balaclavas to bloomers and micro miniskirts. All of these pieces are made to give the wearer “main-character energy in their own fantasy,” the designers explain. “Our vision is to create garments that people feel empowered in. We want anyone of any size or body type to feel confident in the garments that we create.” Helping to make that possible, Wavey Yarns runs a made-to-order service that allows customers to send in their body measurements and receive a bespoke garment that fits perfectly every time.
For the first time since launching Wavey Yarns, Cutts, Sanders, and Morel will be showcasing their work in a physical way this season at Moosey Gallery in London. “Tactility is key within our collections, and how you wear and interact with our pieces is just as important as the aesthetic of our garments,” the designers say. At the exhibition, they will display their jersey archive as well as some new, exclusive jersey pieces. Additionally, the trio will present a new collection of items developed using sourced vintage mohair and repurposed yarns that is meant to explore shape, form, and function and transfer over some of the design responsibilities to the wearer, inviting them into the creative process.
Lebanese designer Lara Chamandi arrived in Milan in a roundabout fashion. She grew up in Abu Dhabi and studied in London, where she got her degree in design and architecture. It was the designer’s nomadic spirit that led her to the Italian fashion capital, where she eventually set up shop to launch her namesake brand in 2021. A year later, she made her Milan Fashion Week debut with a collection inspired by the moon, which, alongside other symbols of nature and spirituality, has become one of Chamandi’s signatures. Simple yet elevated, the brand’s introductory collection featured a bevy of light, airy dresses and suits in sheer fabrics as well as structured sets made dramatic with quartz brooches and cutouts.
For spring/summer 2023, the designer continued where she left off in Collection Zero, taking inspiration from the “metamorphosis of the soul” and using butterfly wings to symbolize the process. “Air is the main natural element, and Gemini the astral one,” a release from Chamandi states. “Together, they convey the twin-soul talismanic energy of the collection.” After presenting for the first time with an appointment-only format, the designer is using fashion month to display her spring/summer 2023 offering on a larger scale—first at a private event at Daad Dantone boutique in Milan and then again at her showroom before heading to Paris to showcase it at Galerie Joseph during Paris Fashion Week.
Former ballerina and current Paris-based ready-to-wear designer Alice Vaillant got her start at Montréal’s Collège LaSalle, a design-focused university in the French Canadian city, where she enrolled after leaving behind a 12-year career in dance. From there, she received her masters in Paris and spent time at Jean Paul Gaultier and Nina Ricci, both of which prepared her to eventually launch her namesake studio and womenswear label in 2019. “It was quite crazy to create a brand when you are only 24,” Vaillant says. “I was not familiar with the business side at the beginning. I am [first and foremost] a creative, but I have learned a lot from my errors.” After going from just two people to a proper team and having her first collection picked up by Ssense, Vaillant hit her stride.
This season, Vaillant took inspiration from her dance background, designing a collection that showcases her passion for the art and its ability to bring people together. According to the designer, the brand’s S/S 23 collection draws on nature and Paris’s electric energy. “I’m inspired by many things,” Vaillant says. “The creative process is something very intimate and personal.” To display the collection, the designer developed a show in video form, which she will present during Paris Fashion Week. “I am happy and excited about this Vaillant show,” she says. “It’s [been] a great challenge, and I have an incredible team around me.”