Is Sander Lak, creative director at luxury label Sies Marjan, New York’s new hope?
With celebrity fans including Beyoncé and Zoe Saldana and an optimistic attitude that lights up the catwalk, Sander Lak is helping business boom at a brand backed by billionaire investors Howard and Nancy Marks
“The landscape of fashion is not so simple any more,” says Sander Lak, the 34-year-old Dutch creative director at New York’s hottest new luxury label, Sies Marjan. “Back in the day, it was more like ‘this is my muse, this is my woman’, but now the customer is so varied and different. Here, you can have a cool 16-year-old girl with money, or an Upper West Side older lady who’s 65, and everything in between – there’s every skin colour and size and group.”
Sies Marjan’s latest autumn-winter campaign, shot by photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber, reflects this attitude to a tee. Models young and old reflect different looks and ethnicities, while the star-studded cast includes Isabella Rossellini and her photographer son Roberto, and supermodel Sasha Pivovarova with her daughter, Mia.
“We focused on who we want to reach as a customer, forming a sense of family and inclusiveness, regardless of age, sex, or gender,” says Joey Laurenti, CEO of Sies Marjan. “It was a dream working with Bruce Weber, who had the immense talent and deft ability to capture the essence of Sies Marjan.”
Today, Lak is wearing a bright pink top and khakis in the label’s stylish headquarters, a beautifully revamped atelier that once belonged to American fashion legend Ralph Rucci. We are in the midst of a freak New York snowstorm, but there are still staff buzzing around the West 26th Street offices preparing for a busy week ahead. Light floods in from big industrial windows onto racks of clothing showing off bright, beautiful colours and fluid shapes, and eye-catching accessories such as a towering 1970s-style platform boot in green crocodile leather.
This is an incredibly young brand. It has only shown three seasons of collections, with its fourth, marking two years of output, coming up at New York Fashion Week in September. Despite this, the label’s fresh and modern sensibility has already made huge waves in the American fashion scene. Fashion doyennes Anna Wintour and Cathy Horyn both sat front row at Sies Marjan’s first show, and it has received glowing reviews and built an impressive following ever since. Beyoncé and Zoe Saldana have worn its gowns on the red carpet and the brand has just released a men’s capsule line.
“New York is really great in that sense – it really embraces newness and people just stepping up to the plate,” says Lak, who moved to the city to build the brand and was a nominee in the 2017 CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Fashion Awards. “If it were Paris, it would have taken me seasons before anyone would have shown up.”
He was first contacted by Laurenti over LinkedIn, but was not very interested; “the idea seemed quite abstract,” he says. After some back and forth, the pair finally met in Antwerp, where Lak lived at the time.
“We connected and I felt that I could trust him … I then met [billionaire investors] Nancy and Howard [Marks] and had the same feeling … I was almost one foot into another company at the time but just had to cut it all off, say yes and move to New York to risk it.”
The risk paid off. Business is booming and no one is more surprised at the scale and power of the response as Lak and Laurenti.
“We’re already stocked in over 80 points of sale around the world,” Laurenti says. “The speed of our growth has been at a very natural and organic pace. We view the market from a global perspective and don’t feel that we have oversaturated any specific region with Sies Marjan yet.”
In Hong Kong, the early adopters of Sies Marjan have been more luxury fashion places such as Joyce Boutique. When I last spoke to Laurenti, he said they had just sent a delivery of autumn-winter 2017 items to the retailer.
‘Explosive’ sales make China ‘great again’ for Louis Vuitton after consolidation to stem downturn, says CEO
The brand has no doubt benefited greatly from having backers Howard and Nancy Marks as investors, which for one allowed them to take up such a nice home on West 26th Street. From the start, the company has had more capital than most fashion start-ups, allowing it the professional sheen of an established company.
So what exactly makes this new kid on the block so appealing? For the fashion set, it is the optimistic and easy attitude that is capturing their attention. There is structure, but ultimately it is about fluidity and a sense of playful levity.
Much has been written about the brand’s positive, almost pure vibe. It is the underlying European sophistication towards cut, shape and silhouette, however, which speaks to Lak’s experience designing for brands such as Dries Van Noten and Balmain, and his training at Central Saint Martins.
There are also the luminous fabrics and bright colours that have quickly become a signature, lending the brand a quirky sense of romance and earning it a reputation for being refreshing. You can see why: the designs are a bright light on New York runways dominated by sportswear, urban aesthetics and dark hues.
“For me, I always dress really colourful, so it’s nothing new,” Lak says. “ I think that freedom is something very important … It’s also about stripping; sometimes we start really big and then we strip down to the essentials.
“It wasn’t a calculated reaction to anything,” he adds. “Within the landscape of New York, all these people say it’s a breath of fresh air. It was quite nice that this optimism almost became a political statement and people started reading into it a lot more, even if that wasn’t my intention.”
Lak says his naivety towards the US fashion scene while building the brand might have actually helped in making something that affected people so much. Sies Marjan, he says, reflects the way he dresses: “It is kind of a female extension of me,” he says.
With men’s ready-to-wear coming up, there will be even more of a connection.
However, Lak is wary of putting himself too much to the fore, even though he is the founding creative director. He has been selective of what interviews he gives and purposely did not want an eponymous label.
“I didn’t want to use my name. I felt it wasn’t right. It was never about my ego or celebrity. I felt like I want a distance from the brand … Sies is my father’s first name and Marjan is my mother’s first name. My father is not alive any more but my mum is and she’s really, really psyched.”
It is not only the culture of celebrity designer that Lak and Laurenti want to get away from, but also the stereotypically shallow, often hysterical and cutthroat fashion scene.
“We don’t want any bitches and fashion queens, attitudes and egos,” Lak says about building the Sies Marjan team. “Neither of us wants to be surrounded by that. We’re lucky to have this really fun, down to earth and egoless group – most of us are mostly the same generation, we have worked several years for big brands and had great experiences … Today, I just feel like the luckiest person.”