Sander Lak (Brunei, 38 years old), the creative director of the fashion firm Sies Marjan, became the favorite designer of critics and buyers after his 2016 debut. “Lak’s first show has dominated the conversation almost immediately. The editors have fallen asleep”, they wrote then in The New York Times. Meanwhile, the Barneys department store bought the entire collection and secured the exclusive for two years. In subsequent seasons, interest did not wane and the dressmaker developed a distinctive proposal, focused on colour, which quickly connected with the public, tired of minimalism and beige. In 2018 he won the CFDA Award from the Council of American Designers for Emerging Talent and, always at the forefront, he was one of the first to have trans models on the catwalk. But the brand, which remained independent in a landscape dominated by large groups, did not survive the slowdown in the economy during the first months of the covid pandemic. By surprise, in June
It is not usual to be able to delve into the history of a setback, but Lak opens up without insisting, he has compulsively reflected on that period: “I am not American, I am Dutch, but I have lived all over the world and I have always liked to learn from the different cultures. One of what I realized in the United States is that they have a mentality that encourages to do things as soon as possible. And the bigger, the better. I don’t think my work would have been the same if I had been in Europe, everything would have been slower there, ”he explains by phone from his home in New York. “Here something is born suddenly and, with the same speed, it disappears. That was how we started and ended. There was nothing and almost from one day to the next there was a company. And then it all fizzled out. It’s painful, but it’s also nice to think that we left it at the top.
He did not come from nowhere: when he founded Sies Marjan he boasted a decade of experience in the sector. Formed in the London Central Saint Martins SchoolUnder the mantle of legendary professor Louise Wilson (the one who helped forge the careers of Alexander McQueen or Christopher Kane), Lak landed in Manhattan direct from Antwerp, where he had been Dries Van Noten’s chief designer for four years. He had worked at Balmain, Phillip Lim and Marc Jacobs, and was able to found his own label thanks to the financial backing of American billionaire investors Howard and Nancy Marks.
Now he is able to see the closure of Sies Marjan, the toughest decision of his career, with perspective: “Professionally, they were the most difficult days I have experienced. But, having said that, I lost my father when he was 10 years old, so he had already learned that life changes drastically from one moment to the next. That experience also taught me many lessons: you can’t expect things to turn out the way you want. Having had that loss as a child, I think he prepares you emotionally for something like this, because nothing is going to be that hard. Although in a way my work was like my son.”
In the weeks before the end of his teaching, in full confinement, Lak had been one of the designers who promoted Rewiring Fashion, an initiative that saw in that break a chance to slow down the maelstrom into which fashion had fallen, turned into a disposable consumer item. A naive project that was forgotten at the speed at which buyers drew the card again. “During the pandemic it looked like the industry would collectively bring about change, but, as soon as the emergency passed, each one returned to their own, because deep down each one watches over the survival of their business. Therein lies the problem, but that is the reality. And, honestly, it’s what I would have done if I had held on: we would have tried everything to continue. It is a complicated conversation because it is very easy to judge from the outside the decisions that a company makes, because from the outside you tend to see everything in a single dimension. Do you wish it would slow down? Yes, but we’re not there right now. That’s not how the world works. Going slower implies that you miss things. Perhaps the most relevant change comes when the consumer really decides that he is only going to buy one thing per season”.
He has rejected several offers, he confesses, because he needed to close the chapter first: “I spent a lot of time thinking about what this company that no longer existed could have been. Until I realized that I needed to put an end to it. Something that he does literally and metaphorically with the publication of his book, The Colors of Sies Marjan (Rizzoli), a journey through the burst of freshness that his adventure entailed. A volume that is an ode to colour, accompanied by views on the subject from artists like Julie Mehretu, architects like Rem Koolhaas and writers like Donna Tartt or Hanya Yanagihara.
He now looks to the future with optimism and is prepared for what’s next. Without a touch of black, as in that first collection that New York fell in love with. “I have spent the last year working on this book. When I received the first copy, I felt that I could close this stage and move on, that I could look back with love, without pain. Today I see it as something beautiful, something to which I can always return to feel proud. It’s for me, but also for the people who worked for Sies Marjan and for the fans. It’s a celebration of what was.”
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits