LONDON, United Kingdom — For Alexander Lewis, preparing for the launch of his debut collection has been a gradual and methodical process. “Even though I’d known what the collection was going to be about, I put that on the shelf and spent a lot of time working on pure business research and building my business plan,” the Chicago-born, London-based designer with Brazilian roots told BoF. “I saw it being a very slow brew, not a flash in the pan.”
Lewis’ first collection, a line of luxury beachwear for Resort 2013, made for women but tinged with a menswear sensibility, is the culmination of many years of experience in the fashion industry. “I had a fashion education; I just wouldn’t say it was a formal one,” explained Lewis. As a communication and business student at the University of Southern California, “everything I did was based on fashion,” he said, noting the collections he designed for the school’s fashion shows.
While in his last year at university, Lewis took a job at the legendary Los Angeles vintage store Decades, where his informal education in fashion continued. At the store, where he stayed for almost two years in a role that encompassed buying, merchandising and sales, Lewis studied original pieces from greats like Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli and was able to cultivate his own design vocabulary. “You need to understand the past in order to move forward,” Lewis said. “People learn Latin so they can have better language skills; fashion history is the same thing for designers.”
In 2007, following a short-term job assisting the “larger-than-life” André Leon Talley of American Vogue, Lewis returned to the United Kingdom, where he had lived since the age of eight, working first as a personal shopper at luxury department store Harrods before becoming a pattern-cutter at Norton & Sons, a bespoke tailor on Savile Row. “My training was there. That’s when I developed my eye, seeing how things fit and how things should fall.” Eventually, he became head of brand and business development at E. Tautz, a more fashion-forward ready-to-wear line launched by Norton & Sons boss Patrick Grant.
But this past October, Lewis made the decision to strike out on his own. “I really wanted to work for a brand on the creative side, but I would never have been looked at because I didn’t go to one of five [top fashion] schools. So I decided to take a leap of faith and go for it.”
As part of his “slow brew” strategy, Lewis has focused his line on the transitional, and traditionally more commercial, collections: resort and pre-fall. “I found, in my experience, in all my research and the sales appointments that I’d been involved with for previous companies, that these are the most successful commercial collections, they have the best sell-through and they have the best opportunities for sales to buyers. Everyone else is focusing first on the main collections and ‘pre’ only becomes important later. I thought, ‘why couldn’t it be important for me to begin with?’”
The focus on resort, in particular, also makes perfect sense creatively. His primary design inspiration were the Brazilian women who frequent his family vacation home off the coast of Bahia. “They are young, they’re fun and they maintain this nonchalant Brazilian sexiness about them. Just because they have their body on show doesn’t mean they are doing so for an overtly sexual reason. I wanted to look at different parts of the body like the nape of the neck, the clavicle and the ribcage.”
Indeed, there is a distinctly Brazilian air of sexiness to the collection, from the bikini tops to the sheer knits and cut-outs. “I wanted it to reflect the exact location and atmosphere where I imagine the clothing being worn,” Lewis said. Weaving and crochet, employed by furniture makers and artisans in the region, are referenced in his knitwear and chunky woven skirts and dresses. “I am Brazilian and I’d love for my collection to be worn in Brazil,” Lewis added.
For this month’s Spotlight, Lewis has created a custom logo for BoF that features a classic Brazilian weave that appears in sweaters in the designer’s debut collection. “This weave is inspired by techniques used by artists such as Sergio Rodgrigues and Claudia Moreira Salles,” he said. “To me this is something very significantly Brazilian but with a modern interpretation and when worn I hope breathes a new life into the old craft.”
But the designer is also thinking globally and drawing from his Savile Row background to bring a level of sophistication to his work that is equally suited to the streets of fashion capitals like London or New York. Take, for example, a mid-length skirt that mimics the look of a men’s shirt and a wide-leg trouser pleated inward in traditional suiting fashion. “I made sure that everything that I made was as modern, fresh and contemporary as possible to give it more of a global appeal,” Lewis said.
Indeed, it’s a collection that we suspect will find fans the world over. Best of luck to Mr. Lewis as he launches his resort collection this week in London and next week in Paris, where he is taking appointments.
The Spotlight is BoF’s showcase for emerging talent who employ creativity and business acumen to make their mark in the fashion business.
Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 20 June, 2012. An earlier version of this article misstated that Alexander Lewis was born in Brazil. He was not. He is half Brazilian but was born in Chicago. The article also misstated that Lewis worked for André Leon Talley before taking a job at Los Angeles vintage store Decades. He did not. Lewis worked for André Leon Talley after spending two years at Decades.