How an Aussie designer approaches New York cool with a South American twist. Here is your front row seat to Harare.

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

written by COURTNEY ISEMAN

It’s not every day you hear of a designer starting a brand to promote the work of others. But that’s exactly what Caroline Fuss has done with her brand, Harare, making its New York Fashion Week debut. At first glance, the line fits right into the landscape of cool, contemporary womenswear, even rising about the mainstay brands with an innovative vision for modern, downtown chic and incredible craftsmanship. But these covetable designs are actually crafted with woven textiles from artisans in Guatemala. Through Harare, Fuss is merging New York sensibility with South American tradition.

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

The Australian native always knew her path. “I always wanted to be in fashion, so when I had the opportunity to interview in Sydney for the East Sydney Tech fashion program, I took it…the program is the most prestigious in Australia, it would be like Parsons here. Everyone was like a family, and there was so much individualized attention, it was such an incredible place to learn.” Fuss specialized her fashion degree in textiles, and after graduation, was selected by IMG to present at Australia Fashion Week. After gaining that experience, Fuss moved to New York. “Moving to New York was always a dream for me. There all these big companies in America and I wanted to see how these companies work. Sydney is a bit different, there aren’t all these large companies…I wanted to learn that in New York and make some valuable connections.” Soon after moving, Fuss started working for Proenza Schoulder. She told them she would be there every day, working her hardest and learning. She assisted Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez, and worked with their textile designer, Elizabeth Clayton, honing both her craft and her knowledge of how such a company worked.

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

After leaving Proenza Schouler, Fuss began to travel, exploring Central America. “I wanted to be exposed to all these different cultures. Unless you travel, you’re never exposed to these textiles and fabrics.” Fuss fell in love with the vibrant, intricate textiles of weavers in Guatemala. She arranged to travel to the region more frequently, and began to learn how to weave with these families, even learning Spanish to try and communicate more easily – although that’s still a bit difficult, what with these weavers actually speaking in an indigenous tongue and not quite the Spanish you’d learn from a class or tutor. Fuss learned the essentials of their craft, and realized she wanted to bring their incredibly unique and rich tradition to New York. “That’s when the idea of the brand hit me. I wanted to bring these textiles to New York in a way that fit into the contemporary womenswear market.” She signed on with an American-Guatemalan agent who became instrumental in helping her coordinate both her plan for the brand and her travels. Fuss flies down often to meet with the artisans and see how the designs are progressing, witnessing the beauty of their art unfolding and then heading back to New York to nail down where the collection is in its design process.

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

Fuss designs her line to benefit both the wearer and the artisans behind these textiles. She wants to make women remember why they invest in clothing by giving them designs that truly stand out, that have a story and meaning. “People are drawn to the clothes at first because it’s so different, they don’t even realize at first that the fabric is from Guatemala. They see the fabric, and then touch it, and they say ‘oh, I thought that was print!’ They’re amazed at the craftsmanship.” She points out her collection captures the differences from high fashion and fast fashion with its quality, uniqueness and background. “A consumer will see ikat prints all over at H&M, and they don’t realize the origins of ikat. That’s what I want to do with the brand, bring these trends and techniques back to their origins, and show people where they came from, and why they’d want to invest in the original, true versions.”

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

Also benefitting from Harare are the artisans involved. “My agent’s told me he works with this brand because he believes what I’m doing will help preserve the craft there. Less and less people know these crafts, they actually teach them in universities now because they don’t want these skills to die. The brand helps expose the craft and encourage it. It also helps with income, through paying well for the work and the fabric. And there’s a connection with these artisans…we’re excited and they’re excited…we all believe in it. At first, it took meeting with four families of weavers until we found someone willing to try what we were envisioning. These weavers had never worked with a circular weave, they worked with more linear weaves. But we found this family and they were really excited to try a new technique. There’s that energy and that connection…they’re proud of the work they do. It helps preserve tradition and globalize their craft.”

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

 

Fuss drew inspiration from expressionist artists like Frankenthaler, Diebenkorn and Rothko for her FW14 collection’s aesthetic. The linear shapes spoke to her, as well as the color-filled spaces versus the empty spaces that feel unfinished but are, in fact, not and are intentional. She also wanted to channel the watercolor effects of Diebenkorn’s work. For her creations, Fuss applied the focus on pigment that she learned from the works of these artists. “We worked with airbrushing to achieve pigment saturation, which is something present in Frankenthaler’s work. We wanted to achieve that and be able to do things like ombré on leather, and really see those colors diluting into each other.” She was also inspired by the very process of creating such art. “I was really interested in the methodical experience of creating,” Fuss notes when discussing how she was motivated to re-envision patterns, like breaking up plaids so they’re still recognizably plaid but maybe not typically linear.

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

The up-and-coming designer looks to brands like Suno and Maiyet for inspiration, Suno for its eclectic worldly aesthetic and use of West African prints, Maiyet for its global reach. “I’d like to take my company in that direction, and do something like what Maiyet is doing, how they have hubs all over the world, and they set up their own factories to work with artisans in places like Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Peru.” Fuss sees business models like Maiyet’s and hers as the future of fashion, believing that fashion is becoming more and more globally conscious. “It’s like how before people weren’t paying so much attention to shopping for food, and as stores like Whole Foods have come around, now people are shopping organic and thinking about that. I think consumers are starting to want that from their fashion, knowing where it’s coming from, how it was produced, the quality.” Fuss attributes this to the unfortunate reality of the poor conditions in fashion production in many parts of the world – something that could be greatly helped by companies setting up their own hubs of production in partnership with the craftspeople of those places.

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

FW14 HARARE NEW YORK

Fuss plans to take her brand into other areas like swimwear and accessories in the future, noting the incredible potential for artisans’ work with the materials and patterns that would be involved. She’d like to build an entire lifestyle brand, doing more than designing clothing but truly cultivating a lifestyle of global consciousness in fashion and beyond. “It sounds maybe selfish, but as a designer, it’s like this is my little world, what I find beautiful, and I want to cover the whole world in that, what I find beautiful.” She wants to work with more artists, saying she’s dying to visit India and work with artists there, among other regions. “I want to have this rolodex of incredible artists all over the world, and be able to continue to work one-on-one with them.” It’s a fresh approach to fashion that’s sure to make waves and stand out in the market, and one that will bring a much-needed cultural, educational aspect into what we wear.

x SHK had the chance to go #BTS with Caroline Fuss of Harare. Here are some pics of her design process x

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