Designers creating one-of-a-kind handmade products
It might have been the grand launch exactly a year ago, during Paris Fashion Week. Or maybe it was the high profiled collaborators including photographer/director Cass Bird, stylist Lori Goldstein and Daria Werbowy as the face of the brand. Maybe it was the fact that no up-and-coming designer, but rather a human rights lawyer and a merchandising expert, Paul van Zyl and Kristy Caylor, envisioned the line, and looked for a more than experienced fashion designer. Gabriella Zanzani, who has worked for Celine, Calvin Klein Collection, and Donna Karan, now guides the creative direction of a brand focused on a philanthropic message and hand-crafted products, as much as in selling luxury fashion.
In fact, Barney’s New York is the exclusive retailer for Maiyet, which up until now has presented their main collections in rather small gatherings during Paris Fashion Week. The last one was a Resort presentation of seven looks launched in New York, where their headquarters are located. Small and yet encompassing an impressive amount of people involved behind, or rather in front of the cameras, Maiyet is all about handcrafted products from all over the world guided under the niche of minimalistic design and grownup sophistication. According to the announcement at last September’s Clinton Global Initiative, Maiyet will “purchase at least 3 million dollars of goods from [artisan] participants, setting an example for other companies,” over the next three years.
Journalists and critics can say whatever they think regarding the validity of the line, for instance when discussing that “some of the [fw 2012] dresses with contrasting shoulders and experiments in piecing together tailoring with free-flying Indian block-printed chiffon felt less than sophisticated.” (Mistry, Style.com) But, within the much competitive and overflowing fashion market Maiyet certainly doesn’t look crafty, or too artisanal, considering the amount of almost tribal techniques involved into the design of the clothes and accessories. A knitwear detail is never too artsy, and a handmade print too out there, when the style is clear and consistent. Let’s just say it’s refreshing to see collections taking a step back from the range of new synthetics experiments in textiles, digital printing and jacquards, which have rather reached common ground in fashion.
It is also lovely to see hand embroidered pieces, made outside the French ateliers of Maison Lesage, whose legacy might be in decay out of the death of founder earlier on this year. Third world artisans have practiced it at the same level of expertise, but within very different socio-cultural contexts. Thankfully Maiyet, in partnership with non-profit organization Nest, continues to sponsor and train them. “The most powerful output of this work is the catalytic effect and success of our partners and ultimately the impact they will have on their communities. We expect to see a virtuous circle of prosperity, investment and employment, and a return to the artisanal roots of luxury,” said co-founder Paul van Zyl.
How inspirational is it to see hand embroidered artisanal pieces of clothing under the luxury spotlight? Maiyet’s jewelry from Kenya looks as appealing as contemporary fine jewelry, not only because of the craftsmanship value, and the circumstances in which it was manufactured – meaning, within sustainable environments and fair trading – but because the poured brass, carved horn and bone jewelry from Nairobi, Kenya does look good!
For a brand focused on bringing “hand-made treasures” and new artisanal business into the business of fashion, the look of the products is fairly minimalist in style. The first Spring 2011 collection was based around the ivory color, with blue and red accents, whereas their fall presentation had as much black and white, whit add-ons of burgundy, navy, and subtle hand blocking prints from India gradually placed along chiffon dresses and blouses. The resort presentation, as succinct as it was, carried clothes for city girls that don’t want to scream craft, nor ‘trend-focused,’ or ‘fashion victim’ in any case. And it introduced enough tones to embody a bit of the natural feeling from the Brazilian and Argentinean pampas (Let’s just say that at Maiyet, the fact that their work is so based on a global search for handicrafts, special regions and places have served as inspiration for their collections and overall feel. For fall 2012 the inspiration was Santiago de Compostela in Spain).
How far can this philanthropic project go as far as sales and the embrace of the fashion public? Maybe none of the clients might think the brand’s commitment to purchase and collaborate with 18 artisanal businesses, and 2600 individuals all over the world. A customer could even get touched while buying a piece of clothing or accessories that carry a little tag saying where it was handcrafted, but maybe at the point of sales it’s all about looks and fit.
Maiyet also works with leather handcrafters in Italy for bags and shoes, and let’s just say that Barney’s, while celebrating and donating to the causes of Nest & Meiyet, hasn’t considerably bought any artisanal-looking clothes. The carry mostly Maiyet’s leather goods, jewelry, and solid colored clothing, which include hand knit sweaters, textured wool coats and leather panel dresses.
We guess selling Maiyet makes it special somehow, very much so.
Images courtesy of Nest and Maiyet