When we first met designer Peter Do during a tumultuous Paris Fashion Week back in March, Europe was just awakening to the harsh reality of the coronavirus pandemic – which has since taken a huge toll on the entire world. A finalist of the prestigious LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers , Do was presenting his autumn/winter 2020 collection at the headquarters of LVMH, the luxury conglomerate that, like much of the fashion industry, has been severely impacted by the crisis . From large companies such as J. Crew to independent labels like Sies Marjan , the pandemic has caused its fair share of fashion casualties – especially in the United States, where Do established his brand in New York in 2018. Order cancellations from beleaguered department stores, cash-flow issues and production delays have put an end to a number of fledgling brands that weren’t prepared to deal with one of the biggest crises that the industry has faced in decades. Unlike many of his peers, Do has so far managed to survive the impact of the pandemic almost unscathed, thanks in no small part to his unique approach to building a brand. The designer, who founded his label with a bunch of friends after learning the ropes at French brand Celine and New York-based Derek Lam, only experienced a three per cent drop in orders from buyers for his autumn/winter 2020 collection. Will fashion graduates start own labels or work for one this year? “There’s an advantage to being an outsider because you don’t have to follow certain rules and can do what works for you and adapt more easily because we’re so small,” says Do from his studio in New York, where he’s been busy holding video calls to present his spring/summer 2021 range to media and buyers. “Everything is designed by us and done by us, so if something comes up it’s very easy to adapt and make things work, whereas at bigger brands there are so many layers you have to go through. We’re more flexible.” Fashion companies have had to rethink their business models as a result of the crisis, but Do was already doing things his own way, defying the preconceived notions and expectations often associated with building a luxury label from the ground up. For starters, Do has never held a fashion show, an expensive endeavour that works for mega brands that are able to put on a real spectacle – like Chanel, Dior or Gucci – but makes little sense for independent designers who don’t have those kinds of budgets. The company has from day one focused on its direct e-commerce channel and has relied on a very small number of retailers, such as Net-a-Porter, Ssense and Dover Street Market , to carry a well-edited selection of pieces. Describing Peter Do as a brand that was “born online”, Do recalls that long before he and his team had even moved into a studio or made a single piece of clothing, they had started to document the creation of the brand on Instagram, building a loyal following among industry insiders who were able to witness the genesis of the label as it was unfolding. “I honestly think our Instagram channel was the propelling factor,” explains Do. “Two years before the brand launched we started posting all the behind-the-scenes action, like us going to Ikea, designing our logo, making our first top. We documented the whole process and there were no clothes yet. And then people from the industry started following this random brand that didn’t exist yet: just a bunch of friends in Brooklyn, starting to make things.” This hardscrabble approach, however, belies the timeless and – more importantly – ageless appeal of Do’s clothes. Whether it’s a sharply tailored jacket, a well-cut pair of pants or a dress that turns into a cape, Do’s clothes are not trendy items that only cater to 20-year-old girls. His clients range from a high-powered lawyer in Hong Kong, who Do describes as one of his top customers, to fashion students , and celebrities such as 23-year-old US actress Zendaya. “I just want to make clothes that people want to wear. If it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t fit well or the fabric is too scratchy, I’m just not interested. That’s at the core of the brand,” says Do. The designer attributes this no-nonsense point of view to his childhood in Vietnam , where he was born before moving to the US with his family as a teenager and attending FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York. “I grew up in Vietnam on a small farm outside the city with very little. I owned five things, like a T-shirt, overalls and a pair of pants and that was it,” says Do. “We didn’t buy new clothes until they were very worn out or your older cousin would give you something, so that philosophy always stayed with me – and now I want to make things that we feel we love and are essentials and not things that you can throw away. It comes from my upbringing of owning very little and treasuring everything.” This idea of buying pieces that last and are not meant to be worn once and then relegated to the back of the wardrobe is resonating with luxury consumers amid the current financial downturn. Do’s clothes, which are made in the garment district of New York, are the definition of “investment pieces”, wardrobe staples that you can wear season after season and that are more appealing to consumers at a time of financial uncertainty. “People now want more from clothes and are tired of trendy ,” says Do. “During the pandemic, so many people fantasised about just being outside or getting a coffee or going to work so things that are familiar and you can wear forever and will last resonate.” Net-a-Porter’s global buying director, Elizabeth von der Goltz, says that the retailer hasn’t seen a new designer of this calibre for a long time, and praises Do’s “sophistication and execution as the definition of true luxury.” Speaking to Do, you realise that in spite of his prowess with digital technology and the scrappy way he and his team have built the brand, what matters most to him are things like dressmaking, construction and fit. These vital aspects at the heart of garment making have become afterthoughts in an industry obsessed with clothes that make an impact on social media but often lack substance. For the spring/summer 2021 collection, Do stayed true to the brand’s DNA – a curated wardrobe for a strong and powerful woman – but made things softer and more relaxed, reflecting the do-everything-at-home situation in which so many of us find ourselves in right now. Many of the items can be worn in different ways, giving clients more bang for their bucks and the freedom to style them the way they see fit. As small labels grapple with how to hit the reset button amid a crisis that is likely to cause even more pain, the lean and mean approach of a brand like Peter Do bodes well for the future of an industry that can’t just rely on the powerhouses of Milan and Paris but more than ever needs fresh thinkers like Do to stay relevant.