Area: the design studio producing tech-infused garments that are as interesting as the designers behind them. WGSN’s Cassandra Napoli reports.
Prior to 2013, it was unlikely that American born, Beckett Fogg from Lexington, Kentucky, and Polish-born, Holland-raised Piotrek Panszczyk would ever cross paths. Fogg was a student at the University of Virginia with a focus on architecture and multidisciplinary studies while Panszczyk, was receiving his education world’s away at the Artez Institute of the Arts.
This once unlikely encounter became a reality when both Fogg and Panszczyk found themselves in New York in 2013 embarking on the very same journey: a Master’s Degree in Fashion Design and Society from the prestigious Parsons, an institution that has produced some of the fashion greats: Donna Karan, Proenza Schouler and Marc Jacobs.
During their studies, the pair recognised a shared approach to design despite their vastly different paths leading to the institution. “We come from very different places and backgrounds which have many contradictions, but I think that’s what makes it interesting. I think either of us, individually, would not be as interesting aesthetically without the dialogue. It’s always a conversation,” they explain.
Following graduation, Fogg landed a job working in textile development at one of the most iconic American houses: Calvin Klein Collection, a brand that has ridden the wave of minimalism since the 90’s. Panszczyk on the other hand, as an already-trained designer prior to Parsons, spent time gaining international work experience in Paris at the renowned bohemian label, Chloe. The differences in backgrounds coupled with their individual experience at design houses with conflicting aesthetics and also their shared appreciation for Rei Kawakubo (arguably the most forward-thinking designer of our time) is perhaps what makes Area such a disruptive label and powerful industry force in the making.
Area was born despite today’s complex, fiercely competitive landscape. Joining forces with photographer Charlotte Wales and stylist Clare Bryne, the duo found their rhythm in creating collections that marry traditional craft with technology. From the start, the clothing paired with the styling and image contributions from the team pushed the envelope of creativity. “They [Fogg and Panszczyk] really trust the two of us and that’s really allowed us to get to a place where we can push ourselves,” says Wales of the relationship between the designers, and herself and Bryne. “It helps to have worked with them for so long because we are constantly developing the character and we know her really well,” continues Wales referring to the Area ‘girl’ always on their mind throughout the design process. “We are always sharing thoughts and ideas and cross-pollinating each other’s work.”
Area designs have slowly been creeping their way into editorials over the last few seasons for international titles including Oyster, Vogue and Teen Vogue among others. Producing four glamour-infused collections a year stemming from unique inspirations that pay homage to the past with a future-focused lens, it is little surprise that industry heavyweights have taken note. This past June, the pair were announced as finalists for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Program; an accomplishment which has seen them emerge alongside noteworthy fellow participants Adam Selman and Ji Oh. Being heralded by such powerful forces in the industry shocked the pair. “We were in disbelief originally, it’s really such an honor to be considered part of the programme,” says the designers. The programme has definitely upped the pressure, catapulting them into the global spotlight, but the mentorship that comes along with it seems to be the perfect opportunity for the designers to learn how to grow and push their young brand forward. “We have done many site visits with judges who have come by our studio. They offer advice certainly, but are very careful not to try and change our creative approach. The programme has really changed the way we think about our business, it’s given us a lot of confidence to push forward the commercial side of our brand,” says the pair.
The Area team is committed to using technology as a means to improve their products. “We are really interested in technology that increases the performance, or practicality of a textile or garment. For our embossing process, we use hydrophobic technology to make the embossing permanent,” says the designers. Their interest in such properties has led them to join the textile research library, Materials Connexion, which they foresee being the perfect resource in teaching them about technologies that can aid their development of commercial products like jeans and t-shirts. Their use of technology is apparent and is strongly affiliated with their brand identity, but they are careful to note they don’t adopt it just for the sake of doing so. “We use it practically,” says the duo whose designs prove that true craft can very well be preserved even when married with innovation and new technologies.
Most designers face similar challenges: the ability to achieve continued commercial success, growth and expansion into other product categories, production, etc. All of these, however, are obstacles particularly burdensome to small brands who lack large teams, experience, and capital. With that said, one must wonder how Area has managed to develop an easily recognized aesthetic, (seen on Kim Kardashian and Bella Hadid) while consistently producing collections in an industry where newness and success can be so short-lived.
For one, the designers honour the tradition of design by sourcing inspiration at libraries and research centers such as the Fashion Institute of Technology’s library, home to a vast collection of historic and current design resources for reference. In contrast to this, they also note their growing reliance on social media (with a strong preference for the Instagram account @cometakeapuff.) “This season we started by looking at American editorials from magazines that were interpreting Parisian Fashion. We always do a lot of research at the library, but also online on Tumblr, Instagram, etc.,” says the pair. This melded approach to research and design has allowed Area to emerge as a cult-worthy label in the making that is destined to garner the continued attention it deserves as the seasons turn, and more collections are produced. Stay tuned.
Like this? For more on Area see how the brand uses its Instagram account to create a style dialogue here
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