Saturday, May 12, 2012

desigual: the fab and the bold

by frédérik

The first time I came across Desigual, it was on the site of a former deli on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. It stood out for being exuberantly iconoclastic in a street once filled with thrilling independent stores like the now-defunct Midnight Special bookstore, but now branded with the likes of Old Navy and Apple stores. Stepping inside the store was like walking into a carnival at night only to be dazzled by the bright lights of the rides and the cheerful noise of the games. As if a textile mill had been merged with a paint factory and exploded by a mad graffit artist, the clothes consisted of a riot of colour, patchwork patterns, and an unabashed repudiation of timid design. Never mind that the awkward name sounds like something strangely kinky; at last, a store that isn’t afraid to celebrate fashion, to be positive, to indulge in that grand spice of life called variety.

Started in 1984 by  Thomas Meyer, then a 20-year-old from Switzerland, this Barcelona-based company employs 2,900 employees and has stores in major cities around the world. It’s only recently that the store made a splashy entrance in the Los Angeles market, and as far as large chains go I’d say it’s a welcome alternative to Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and the like.

Here’s a few embiggable snapshots from their website to give you a tease of what they offer:

A sampling of men, with the usual fabrics and colours and a few standouts...
By comparison, the women have plenty of options....

Beautiful dresses...
Their association with Cirque du Soleil seems entirely natural, even if it does play into a commoditization of the Cirque experience. (“See the show, then buy the pricey merchandise!”) But – and you suspected they would be a but, right? – as much as I love and admire their enthusiastic design and applaud their efforts to step up design from the usual, Desigual leaves me with mixed feelings. Predictably, the men’s collection, though more creative than the average designer’s menswear collection, is a shadow to what’s on tap for women. In addition to clothes, Ladies get the joy of splashy shoes and sandals, while men get…nada.

A cornucopia for shoe lovers...
Aside from the usual state of affairs in fashion design, the surprising lacuna is that however adventurous Desigual is with patterns, colours, and even the tailoring details, the company isn’t overly bold with forms. The collection consists of the usual shapes for dresses and pants, t-shirts and button-downs...but just as I get irritated when the best artistic designers can do is slap pretty pictures on t-shirts, I’m rather peeved at finding the usual kind of apparel serving as a canvas for otherwise inspired designs.

To Desigual, then, I say this: We have the fab and the bold in graphical terms, now give me the flared pants, the 3/4 lengths, the asymmetry – for men as well as women. Stop playing into the usual notions of gender. Don’t just bat around: bust fashion open like a piñata filled with tasty sweets. Do that, and I’ll overlook your inelegant name.

Regular readers of this blog won't be surprised by my stance, so I'll just add one more thing. Despite failing to fully live up to its ambition, Desigual does succeed in a way many brands don't, namely, by creating a distinctive and memorable signature style. And there's no denying the kinetic energy of a Desigual store. The brand's disappointment, in a sense, emerges because of an inability, or unwillingness, to carry the Desigual design philosophy to its logical conclusion, holding itself back instead. This is more than be said for many mainstream fashion brands whose designs are too domestic to even chart an ambitious path.

Other than the design, there is the question of where and how the clothes are manufactured. As I've become increasingly dominated by a preference for locally made clothes, I'm reluctant to sing the praises of Desigual without learning more about this aspect of the business. Unfortunately, I don't have any information to share about this at the moment, but will definitely revisit this intriguing brand when I learn more.

Until then, what do you think of Desigual's designs? Do you have any of their clothes in your wardrobe? I'd love to read about it in the comments below.

Here's that link to their website again. Where? Right here.

Housekeeping note: Becky and I are both inundated with work-related activities, which means that updates to this blog might be erratic, though certainly not non-existent, for the next few weeks. Do bear with us, please.

Disclaimer: images are screen capture's of Desigual's website, and will be removed if requested to do so by the copyright owner of the images within the screenshot.


Mica said...

I love their prints! I don't have any of their items but I like the ones you've shared. I suspect that the prints and bold colours may be too much for the majority of play it safe fashion buyers, and that is perhaps why they are reluctant to expand into shapes and cuts? It's easier for me (a fairly unadventurous consumer) to desire a simple dress in a fun print than a fun print on a new or less common shape.
Hope work calms down for you soon, always enjoy reading your blog, I usually learn a lot from the posts you and Becky write :)

Frederik Sisa said...

Thanks for the kind words, Mica. I really appreciate it!

And I totally see your point about how bold prints and unusual shapes might be too much. In the end, it's all about being able to choose...and it's nice to have a larger variety of options to choose from. :)

jim said...

I very much appreciate the colors, vibrancy and energy of their designs. I love the shoes, too.

The could use a new Web site, though. ;)

Frederik Sisa said...

Hey Jim!

A new website, yes. And perhaps a fashion photographer who doesn't feel compelled to have his models chew on the shoes. :)

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