For the past 7 years Sander Lak has been at the helm of his own label Sies Marjan. 7 years not only tasked with creatively cultivating the DNA of a completely new brand, but with learning how to be a leader, a manager and ultimately forge a business that has the makings of sartorial success.
But he’s no ingenue. Lak has been a thorough staple among the high rankings of houses like Balmain and Dries Van Noten for some time. Then, in 2014 the Brunei-born designer (who throughout his youth also lived everywhere from Scotland to Gabon to the Netherlands) was offered a from-scratch opportunity from parent corporation Deia (Nancy and Howard Marks’ holding company) to start a label of his own devices. Relocating to New York City, which he now calls home, Sies Marjan (a mashing of his mother’s name, Marjan, and father’s name, Sies) was born, and has since become one with an exciting future.
The fall 2019 collection, presented during the most recent New York fashion week, was an unexpected exploration of the unexpected. Lak has explained he found unique inspiration in discomfort. Not discomfort in the tangible sense, of course, but rather in the taking of himself out comfort zones. By using fabrics he’d have usually dismissed and ideals he previously disliked, he brought about a renegade power to this collection. He conjured a fresh rewiring in the train-track gravitation most of us have to certain looks or ideas. A hopeful sentiment that could be attributed to any long-held, but unnecessary, prejudice, really.
Outside of the runway, Sies Marjan is building a buzzy grounding. Celebrities like Beyoncé, Yara Shahidi and Zoë Kravitz have worn Lak’s pieces, as has Glenn Close. The latter choosing to wear one of the label’s signature crinkle metallic suits to the Film Independent Spirit Awards in February of this year. But while these four might have offered a certain chuff to Lak, the world of celebrity endorsement means little to him (read in the interview below).
Personified, Sies Marjan is a vivacious, youthfully-spirited enigma. One that loathes to be pigeon-holed and relishes in the gregarious, uncouth nature of standing out. Its ensembles are, on the whole, bright. Neon-even. They hold a devilish flame for 80s and 90s trend culture, though Lak is quick to dismiss any such era-binding. The low-rise trousers that sport a bootcut flare, the iridescent metallics and the painterly washes on puckered, ruchey party dresses deliver nostalgic pangs, but without any derivative stigma. To be overarching, shopping the Sies Marjan portal is not a time for minimalism. Its the stop you take for a punch of wearable wild – one that we could all do with more of in our lives.
We sat down with the charismatic clothier to talk all things Sies Marjan and about his capsule collection for online powerhouse Net-A-Porter. Meeting in Hong Kong during the e-tailer’s trend summit, it was clear that Lak is an energetic romancer of fashion as an emotive necessity. He is focused on the practicality, comfort and sustainability of investing in luxury, but he cushions it with a tangent that wanders towards the exciting, the glamorous and the fun.
GRAZIA: Firstly, congratulations on your spectacular fall show in New York…
Sander Lak: Thank you. It was a very experimental collection, and “experimental” I use as a very wide term. It can mean many so many different things. For me it felt very much about wanting to use elements or components of things that I didn’t like, or used to like, or forgot about. It was really about challenging myself. It was very much about a personal approach to “challenge”. For example, people who use lace in every collection they do, then it’s not a challenge at all, but for me it was something very foreign that I didn’t really understand. I never usually gravitate towards it but I really wanted to explore that and see how I could make it into something I would like. And this type of challenge does reflect the brand.
A creative type of wearability runs throughout all your collections and is evident again in the Net-a-Porter capsule. Would you say this is congruent with the personality of the Sies Marjan customer?
We really see everything that we do as something as an overarching component, so I don’t really treat anything with a different viewpoint or a different mentality. Whether we are talking about a capsule collection made for someone in particular or a runway show or menswear, it’s all done with the same sort of viewpoint. The starting point is always colour and wearability. We are a high end fashion brand, and we have a price point that is luxury and treat our garments our materials in a very luxurious way. So we really want to make sure that everything is also really grounded in a way that makes everything make sense to life. To a real person’s real life. Whether it’s a man or a woman, whether they’re from Australia or Hong Kong or Paris, I think that’s something that’s really rooted in my background as a menswear designer, when I always used to design for myself. That kind of mentality has always been something that makes sense to me. It is about fantasy and fashion and all of that, but it’s also about making it approachable in a really fun, luxurious way.
“It is about fantasy and fashion and all of that, but it’s also about making it approachable in a really fun, luxurious way.”
Particularly from your latest show, you talked about taking risks, pushing your boundaries and making something extraordinary out of fabrics or ideas you might not usually consider. Do you think this is a metaphor for how people should treat fashion? To not limit themselves, and never say never?
I mean, it was not my intention but I guess it’s a nice [way to put it]. What I really like about doing a show, about the position I’m in, is the fact that people interpret your work and I really love to let people see what they see and not contradict it. I just put it out there. And I have my own meanings and references, some of them I’ll share and some of them I keep private. I love when people look at something and draw a conclusion. I think this is one of those examples that it was not my intention but I think it’s kind of a great angle. I love this idea of a woman who has never worn lace then seeing our collection and thinking “oh okay this is something I could do now”. Offering interpretation is really what we do as designers. We put things out there, we propose it. Then people either take it or leave it, love it or hate it, but I think that’s the dialogue. That’s the magic.
What are your favourite pieces from your Net-a-Porter capsule?
Well, what I really love is the croc-effect coat. It’s a very easy piece when it comes to what the garment is. And the fabrication has a real practicality to it, so it’s waterproof and all of those things, but in a shiny, papery kind of material. You can use it for a full evening look or just with jeans and a t-shirt walking your dog. I think it’s also really important to play with these elements and the idea of season-less, and no longer needing to say something like “that is so 2018”. It’s just about having that coat and in five years time maybe you buy little shiny pumps from Net-A-Porter by Miu Miu and it goes with the coat. The younger generation are definitely like this, they don’t really see things as a time, for them five years ago is just as long as 15 years ago. They reference things from this era, and this era and this era but it all means the same thing. Not like oh we’re doing something in the 80s so it has to stay in the 80s, for example.
“Offering interpretation is really what we do as designers. We put things out there, we propose it. Then people either take it or leave it, love it or hate it, but I think that’s the dialogue. That’s the magic.”
Beyonce and Zoë Kravitz have both worn Sies Marjan. is it a surreal experience when celebrities choose to wear something you have designed?
Um, I mean it is. It’s a strange thing, because I used to want to be a film director. I never really wanted to be a fashion designer, so for me when I think of celebrity culture it’s always related to film or acting or skills, it’s a very specific thing. I’ve never been in awe of celebrities, I’m not so star driven at all. It’s more when someone I really respect wears Sies Marjan, that really does it for me. If the latest ‘It’ person who I don’t necessarily like wears it, I mean that’s fine, that’s great, but it doesn’t really… But when Glenn Close wore the suit for the [Independent Spirit] Awards I mean that was a real, real moment. I’ve been watching her since I was a kid, and have been so in awe of her talent. And that’s when it’s personal and I like that culture. I’m very European in that sense, it’s not so celebrity driven. And there’s nothing wrong with it, because it is a big industry, and it has a lot of affect…it’s just not the reason I do it, let’s just put it like that. I’d be more excited walking on the street seeing someone I’ve never met before wearing Sies Marjan, than a “celebrity”.
You’re now in your seventh season with Sies Marjan, how does helming your own label compare to your time working with houses like Balmain and Dries Van Noten?
Yes, well, I mean it’s very different. It’s completely different. Working for other people is two completely different jobs. Working for someone else can be really great in the sense that you’re working in a different frame, you have to do certain things and you have a specific job from A to B and the rest is done by other people. But when you have your own label, it’s from A to Z and it’s all your responsibility. I think that’s something really great, and something I really missed. I always missed that element of what is beyond my job, which was of course designing the collection, but I was always so interested in all the other processes and all the other parts that make up a fashion business. So, it really it feels like it’s all coming into place. What my skillset is, what my strengths are, what my weaknesses are – my job now makes sense with everything that I do. I’d been working for 8 or 9 years before I started Sies Marjan, but there was this element of frustration I had. I worked for really amazing people and had really great jobs, but I always felt that there was something missing. And when we started Sies Marjan I was like “ah this is what was missing”. That responsibility, the weight, the building of a team the creating of a work environment and being a boss, and then how do you deal with it. I love it!
How do you hope a woman feels when she wears Sies Marjan?
I would hope, although I can’t really speak for people, that women feel confident. That they feel colourful, happy, joyful and that they also feel comfortable. I think it’s about this combination of comfort and a feeling of luxury. I also really love the idea of fluidity. I mean that in a literal sense but also in a figurative sense. I love the idea of a garment being something that works in different contexts. For example, this shirt that I’m wearing is one I wear when I have to dress up or dress down. When I wear it with jeans it’s something completely different than when I wear it with pants and a jacket. I like the idea of things being not so set in a moment. Demystifying this idea that something is really precious. I mean it is precious but it’s also supposed to be part of your life. I think it’s something that a lot people don’t think about. Of course, our pieces come with a certain price-tag, but I think we need to forget about this idea of a “special occasion”, because what is a special occasion? I mean going grocery shopping can be a very special occasion, you could meet the love of your life! Anything can happen at any time, it doesn’t always need to be a cocktail party!
For the season ahead, from your own collection, which would you choose?
The shearling coat or The cropped metallic jacket?
Hmm, I think the shearling coat. Because I have a few of them and I wear them all the time!
The Ankle boot or sculptural mules?
Um, the ankle boot.
The Khaki trouser or The pink satin cargos?
Pink satin cargos, yes! And put them altogether! I think that’s what so great about shopping now too. You were once limited by shopping only what was available in your town, now anyone, anywhere can get anything so I think that’s it’s so fun!
Lak’s capsule collection for Net-A-Porter is available now. Shop some of our favourite pieces herE
‘Pippa’ shearling coat, $2192, from Net-a-Porter, SHOP NOW
‘Dena’ iridescent mules, $628, from Net-a-Porter, SHOP NOW
Devin’ layered jacket, $843, from Net-a-Porter, SHOP NOW
‘Tatum’ satin trousers, $357, from Net-a-Porter, SHOP NOW
‘Blanche’ belted trousers, $527, from Net-a-Porter, SHOP NOW
‘Jessa’ lace-up ankle boots, $710, from Net-a-Porter, SHOP NOW