Net-a-Porter designer Orseund Iris burst onto the scene with a ribbed corset that left not much to the imagination. Cinched at the waist with inverted cups and structured boning, it was cut from a thick ribbed-knit in butter cream and ballet pink; a modern, Uptown take on the very old-fashioned practise of corsetry. Worn over big white tees and oversized shirts, it became a star both in fashion and celebrity circles, with almost every It-Girl pedalling its scant under-wiring. What followed was a succession of sartorial hits worn by an It-Girl elite money couldn’t buy (well it could, but it would be very, very expensive). Kylie Jenner in the Box Blazer. Kourtney Kardashian in the Workwear Jumpsuit. Bella Hadid in the Cropped Off-The-Shoulder Sweater. Emily Ratajkowski in just about everything. And for a generation who now predicates their wardrobe on these very women, to hold such names in your fashionable court is to have the winning hand.
26-year-old, New York-born designer Lana Johnson has that hand. The founder of Orseund Iris – pronounced OAR – sünd EYE – riss – her label fast became the go-to garb for every pretty young thing, this kind of déshabillé dressing having such mass appeal it created a kind of fashionable genre unto itself: It-Girl dressing.
But Hadids and Jenners aside, Johnson is driven by something much greater. Moved by a season-less aesthetic and vintage timelessness, her approach to design a streamlined sensibility that moves slowly. Thoughtfully. In her own words, now is “the time for the young designers and the less-is-more,” a time to slow down and savour beautifully considered and crafted fashion that speaks to its customer. Basically, it’s her time.
To reach the pot of gold at the end of the sartorial rainbow is to sell your wares on luxury e-tailer, Net-a-Porter. It’s what every designer dreams of, a kind of jackpot moment for any up-and-coming clothier to truly bestow their brand to the world. For Johnson, that moment came last year with Orseund Iris’ arrival on Net-a-Porter. It was a long-time in the making, but in 2018, “it just made sense”.
In Hong Kong for the retailer’s trend summit, GRAZIA chats exclusively to the spirited designer about the cultivation of cult, season-less wearability and how a simple subway ride in Brooklyn can turn into Bella Hadid’s next wardrobe staple.
GRAZIA: As a young designer, it’s sometimes overwhelming in this industry right? How does it feel not only to achieve a major cut-through but also covetable cult status?
lana: Well, I have to say it was all a surprise, having the attraction and the success that has come so fast for us has been a blessing. It’s very truly incredible, when I started the brand it was all for love and design and being really motivated and focused. So to see all that hard work paying o is so incredible and I’m so thankful for the customers and everyone following along. The kind of formula we created that was successful was honing in on very few skus, very few really impactful, incredible designs. Rather than trying to offer so many and being everywhere and everything; it was like OK, let’s hone in and focus on five styles and make them amazing. See if anyone wanted them and kind of test them out and grow the social media platform organically. Find those like-minded people on that platform to show them what we’re about, so that means literally going on Instagram liking people who we believe will want to purchase, those little nuances over time, over three years got us from zero to over 200k followings today. And then the combination of dressing the it-girls of the world organically, never paid for which I am really proud of. It’s a combination of multiple things.
G: it’s interesting what you’re saying with Instagram because you can really get to know a customer and get feedback one-on-one.
A: Exactly. And it’s not to say that if you create something and it doesn’t perform well on Instagram it’s not a great design, but you have to see if people care especially if you’re new and you’re boot strapping it financially. I was doing everything on my own, I couldn’t really afford to make big volumes. It was like, OK, scratch that idea – you can’t really screw up here. What do you love in your closet that’s vintage that everyone cares about? What do you want to make? What do you want to see? And that’s how that kind of started.
G: Instagram and social media have played a big part in the crafting of your brand personality and overall exposure, do you think this strategy is helping to fuel the slower, non-seasonal fashion movement?
A: I love that question, because I support it and I think it’s really cool that you saw that. I don’t think a lot of people see that that’s happening but yes, it definitely is. There’s this feeling you have where if it resonates with you you want to see more and you kind of instantly want it. Me personally shopping, that’s how I do it. When I know I like something, I buy it, I know it’s a match so I think this approach with social media is definitely inspiring people to do the less-is-more and slow it down and people really care about the community behind the scenes of the brand and the individual, too. I think the Zara’s of the world will still be around, but it’s definitely a time for the young designers and the less-is-more. I keep going back to the vintage because it’s my favourite thing, but when you’re going shopping and you’re picking it out and you see these pants or you see this blouse and you’re like, “Where is this? What on earth is this?”, that’s kind of the feeling I want when someone stumbles upon Orseund; whoa, whoa, whoa, what is going on here? This is beautiful. What is this about? I’ve never heard of this. It’s this discovery; and it’s mysterious and beautiful and it’s kind of a journey and I think people want that.
G: Your ribbed corset and knits have become incredible successes and worn by everyone from Emily Ratajkowski to Bella Hadid. How does that feel? Were they always pieces you thought would go fashion-viral?
A: Yes, Instagram has been able to get us from here to the whole world and in the beginning, we were dressing fashion girls, the influencer, the blogger who all have very amazing aesthetics, very great style, great girls, but I had this urge to tap into the celebrity, the It-girl. But what did that take? How do we get in front of them if we do our own PR? And from there Bella Hadid was the first one to wear our off-shoulder ribbed jumper, and then we were taken very seriously. It was kind of a game-changer. Kylie Jenner wears our pieces because she wants to, it’s the coolest thing. And these girls have hundreds and hundreds of clothes, I’m stressed for them, trying to to dress I need like three options – otherwise I’d freak out! But the fact they’re picking our pieces is just beautiful.
G: You have a sustainability consciousness and use vegan leather, is this sensibility something that is very important to you?
A: So, I always want to be clear. We potentially will use leather throughout the collection but vegan leather was a choice for the Trench and Cha Cha outfit because I love the fabrication and the way it kind of felt like the interior of a car; there’s this vinyl aspect to that fabric. But in terms of sustainability, yes. I think it can feel overwhelming for designers to tap into that because it’s a whole other beast. That’s going to take some time but I’m definitely passionate about moving in that direction. I’m definitely motivated this year, it’s challenging but we’re going to figure it out and move towards that.
G: What is your choice as key piece for this season from the collection of Orseund Iris on Net-a-Porter?
A: First off, I love their choice of colours because they’re so timeless and classic. The nudes, the blacks, the ivories, the colours you can wear forever. But my favourite on the website is the Trench. The Trench comes with a little satin headscarf, and to me, this jacket embodies timelessness. You wouldn’t really know what decade it was it you were just looking at it alone hanging. Is this the 1940s? What year is this? And I don’t think it will ever go out of style and it comes in oatmeal and cherry red. You’ll notice there’s a little pattern, I love to keep it neutral and then I’m like let’s get wild with the colours! There’s always two options throughout the styles. I love that the trench has the headscarf because I love giving a little additional token to everything. So we hook you up. You have this, and that, and you can wear or you don’t.
G: What was it like the first time you found out you would be stocked on Net-a-Porter?
A: That was a long time coming. When I started the brand, it was very focussed on being digital, e-commerce, I knew that was the mission and Net-a-Porter has always been someone I would stalk. I’d go on their website and be like, what are they doing, what’s up, let me check in on them. And when we got approached it was six months to a year until we finally said yes, we’re ready for this, because it’s a whole different level rather than doing one-on-one with your customers, this a different beast, a different world we’re tapping into and I had to ask myself: are we ready for this? We’d been approached by many, many stockists that wanted to pick up the brand and I knew Net-a-Porter was just the right match and made sense. I trust them. We were stocked in a few smaller stores, and then we made a commitment and it’s so exciting. It’s the right fit.
G: Do you find a refreshing freedom in not being bound by designing seasonal collections?
A: Yes, it’s the way I thrive in terms of designing. I like to look at things at a micro level and make sure I can make the most beautiful piece than trying to do too much, so I believe the non-seasonal, smaller-level designs have helped me produce each piece with so much thoughtfulness and focus, and I’m looking to edit and make sure there’s no room for waste, or pieces to fill it in. I want none of that. I want the real deal. So when you arrive at Orseund, it’s like, wow, everything is what I want here.
G: Do you design pieces as you become inspired? What fuels your inspiration?
A: It’s a combination of things. I would say sometimes I’ll design things from vintage, so I’ll have this top – both guys and girls will say, “OMG, I love that top”, and if people are going out of their way to say something, this is a sign that people love it, clearly. So I’ll modernise that. Or, I’ll kind of have this…vision, walking in Manhattan just thinking about things. There’s two ways. There’s either the vintage; I need this but there’s a lot wrong with it so lets fix this. Or, it comes spontaneously and naturally, and it hits you. I feel like people say the shower is the most reflective place, but it’s funny, I was saying to Elizabeth (von der Goltz, Net-a-Porter’s Global Buying Director) about how nice it is taking the plane because I’m always on my phone. Even getting my nails done, I’m like, “give me my phone!” so to have that time on the subway, you can’t really go on your phone and you’re just aimlessly sitting and then all of a sudden your best ideas come out.
G: You must live in Brooklyn then!
A: Williamsburg, and the office is off the L. Morgan stop. I love Brooklyn, but I think people are not giving it enough credit. Even Chinatown, there’s a lot of cool stuff happening. We have a factory Uptown on 30th Street and it’s fantastic, but Brooklyn’s slow.
G: How would you describe the Orseund Iris woman?
A: She’s really powerful, she’s strong, she’s fierce, she’s bold. Wearing our pieces they’re pretty individualistic and powerful and you need to own it when you wear it and I think she’s definitely someone who inspires.