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Austria’s most exciting new designers

Though Austria may not be known as a fashion hub, exciting new designers are emerging every year. This season Romana Zöchling, Alila and Roee are ones to watch, as Sally McIlhone discovers

Sally McIlhone

Feature

by Sally McIlhone

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Austria is known for its stunning landscapes and rich cultural history – and now, increasingly, as a destination to watch when it comes to fashion. The 2014 Métiers d’Art Paris-Salzburg Chanel show saw the likes of Pharrell Williams and Cara Delevingne descend upon the birthplace of Mozart, and countless column inches around the world have been devoted to Vienna-based Polaire’s 3D-printed shoes.

New voices
Austria’s next generation of designers is ambitious and driven, aware that to be heard among the fashion chorus they must strike a powerful chord. Romana Zöchling of Ferrari Zöchling is one such designer. ‘After graduating from university I soon discovered that if I wanted to make a living in the clothing industry, my options would be, a) to leave Austria, or b) to become a entrepreneur and work 24/7, saying bye-bye to a steady income, vacations, free time and sleep,’ she admits. ‘The choice was easy. The label was established in 2013 in Vienna.’

This desire to chase one’s dreams at any cost is one shared by many of Zöchling’s contemporaries, with brands and designers working together to achieve success. ‘Since day one of Ferrari Zöchling I’ve collaborated with other Viennese artists, who also happened to be close friends, and used pieces of their art for prints,’ she explains. ‘My social environment has always inspired me to create fashion.’

Love of the craft
Ferrari Zöchling’s latest collection offers beautifully draped dresses, slouchy tailoring and androgynous printed sweatshirts, showing off Zöchling’s varied set of construction skills, something that harks back to her childhood. ‘My earliest memories are of my mother sewing at night and me falling asleep to that familiar sound of the sewing machine,’ Zöchling says. ‘That I’ve become a fashion designer has its origins in my love of the craft itself.’

When it comes to the future, Zöchling is keen to showcase her brand to an international audience. ‘I have established an online shop,’ she says. ‘Somebody is wearing my shorts in Barbados, which is awesome. I definitely want to show my pieces in different countries in the near future. One goal in particular is to show my collection at an Asian fashion week because I’m fascinated by that part of the world.’

Upmarket upcycling
Vienna-based Alila is another distinctive Austrian brand, specialising in upmarket, upcycled clothing created using mainly vintage Japanese kimono silks. ‘I started Alila in 2008, based on my passion for textile art and travelling,’ says designer Barbara Lindner. ‘I was constantly buying beautiful fabrics, so I decided to create a small collection of accessories and sell it. It was a success, which gave me the confidence to start my label. Then I discovered Japanese vintage garments and fell in love instantly with the beautiful textiles – which are now the base materials for my collection.’

Sustainability is a large part of the brand’s focus and Lindner is understandably passionate about this aspect of her enterprise. ‘I love to reuse precious fabrics and give them a new life as contemporary fashion. Working in a sustainable way is natural to me. It is not only about the reuse of vintage or sustainable fabric, but also about local and fair production, lasting quality and timeless styles that will last many seasons.’ Owing to the nature of upcycling, Alila’s collections aren’t produced according to fashion seasons; they are trans-seasonal investment pieces designed to outlive temporary trends.

Local scope
For Lindner, the draw of international catwalks is not so appealing. ‘As I am producing one-of-a-kinds on a small scale with vintage material, I prefer staying more local and independent.’ This more direct way of meeting potential customers has not hampered Alila’s success. ‘Recently a woman from New York, who saw my collection on her last visit to Vienna, contacted me to order a dress for her wedding,’ Lindner explains. ‘I also travel with the collection, selling in other European countries including Germany and Switzerland. Currently I am working on increasing the network of shops and outlets that sell my collection, not only in Austria but further afield.’

Global sights
Roee is another Austrian brand with its sights set on world domination. Its latest collection contains functional coat-dresses and is inspired by Terry Gilliam’s dystopian fantasy film Brazil. Designer Rene Pomberger doesn’t believe that the label’s Austrian roots will hinder its success.

‘In the globalised world it is difficult to start from anywhere, but the internet makes it much simpler to cross borders,’ Pomberger explains. ‘The Austrian fashion scene is growing and growing.’ In the face of this expansion, Austria’s designers remain confident. Pomberger continues, ‘Our plans are to strengthen the brand and, in few years, when our name is renowned, we will go to the big fashion weeks …’

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