It wasn’t long ago that I was perusing the Spring 2020 SSENSE sale, on the hunt for a piece that would enhance my wardrobe without hurting my wallet. As exciting as the SSENSE hunt always is, I distinctly remember getting sidetracked down a rabbithole of some of the site’s newer and more eclectic designers. Beyond the Burberry’s and the McQueen’s were a breath of fresh fashion air, populated by cutouts, strange fabrics and clashing prints. Clicking around from one sold-out piece to the next, trying to remember names I had never heard before: Nensi Dojaka, Helenamanzano, Ottolinger, Gauntlett Cheng, the list of fashion lust goes on.
Reading the bios for these designers is telling of their qualifications as fashion’s forerunners: Helena Manzano graduated from London College of Fashion in 2014, and Nensi Dojaka graduated from Central Saint Martins as recently as 2017. Esther Gauntlett and Jenny Cheng of Gauntlett Cheng met while interning at the Eckhaus Latta warehouse in Williamsburg, while the young Berlin-based Ottolinger was founded while its creators were in school in 2015. These designers are the shining image of young creatives with brilliant ideas, with an SSENSE deal to boot. I’m partial to these four brands as they were my first foray in the world of eclectic luxury, however the list extends past just them. Names range from Saks Potts and Collina Strada to A. Roege Hoeve and Louise Lyngh Bjerregaard (say that ten times fast) and far beyond. The designers are more often than not young talents fresh from school, drawing upon influences from their varied geographic locale, ranging from Albania to Germany to the UK and Norway.
Saks Potts "Foxy Coat" in "Forest" (€1,288)
You can imagine my disappointment, then, when the “avant basic” trend (a term coined by London writer and consultant Emma Hope Allwood) began to crop up not even a year later. Brands like House of Sunny and Lisa Says Gah–both arguably a few ranks above the fast fashion brands we’ll cover later–began to emerge with eclectic stylings of their own, reminiscent of the aforementioned luxury brands. House of Sunny came out with the Hockney Dress and Island Peggy fur-trimmed sweater, catching onto the kitschy colour palette and silhouettes of brands such as Saks Potts and Collina Strada. These pieces soon became the talk of the fashion town and were worn by just about every influencer ever. Lisa Says Gah, another brand key in the genesis of the Avant Basic styling, became known for their clashing prints and whimsical colour palette, again reminiscent of some of the earlier-mentioned emerging designers. The above-mentioned cutouts and mesh became the subject of patchwork barely-there tops, populated by brands like Matacomplex and Rua Carlota.
House of Sunny "Island Peggy" Sweater (£94.00)
But before we claim copycat, there’s something to be understood about the delicate nature of intellectual property.
Here’s the thing about intellectual property in fashion: there essentially is none. Many designers think of copying more as “inspiration” and less as “ripping someone else off.” Very seldom is legal action taken, unless it’s a very obvious instance of intellectual property theft. In cases of trickle-down trends, wherein the trends emerge in the upper echelons of fashion and later make their way down through the lower rankings, it's not uncommon to see what was initially inspiration among the upper ranking brands reduce itself to sheer copying by the bottom tiers. This isn't to say that House of Sunny went so far as to copy Saks Potts, but simply to introduce the inspiration that is at play. Sure, Ottolinger and the Lisa Says Gahs may seem several points of connection apart, but the gap begins to close once these stylings reach the mainstream audience and lowest tiers of fashion.
Thanks to the Avant Basic forerunners (House of Sunny, Lisa Says Gah, Matacomplex, Susan Alexandra) who popularized the incorporation of funky statement pieces into the everyday wardrobe, this aesthetic has now become its own new form of “basic.” (ie. a trend or style that becomes commonplace once it is exposed to a large audience.) The trickle-down effect continues as brands such as Zara, H&M and Urban Outfitters begin to catch on to the kitschy aesthetics, clashing prints and strategic cutouts. The trend effectively reaches the end of its life once it hits the ultra-fast fashion e-tailers, such as Shein, Romwe and Ali Express. Already Avant Basic has infiltrated this landscape, with easy-to-spot stylings visible throughout the mess of $7 blouses and $2 earrings.
Shein "Graphic Print Tie Backless Crop Halter Top" ($2)
Personally, I’m all for inclusion and accessibility when it comes to clothing: not everyone (myself included) has the funds to purchase trendy clothing that is sustainable, ethical and original. However, after seeing how quickly the eclectic luxury stylings passed through the fashion sequence and down to the bottom rung of the ladder, it’s clear the trend life cycle is being shortened to a worrying degree. In cases like these, with the fate of both fashion and the environment at stake, I believe that just a little bit of gatekeeping is okay in order to offer these aesthetics their rightful time in the sun.
Illustration by Inci Sahin