Sies Marjan - Tie-dye dress with pleats
A MEETING WITH SIES MARJAN
By Alice Butterlin
Fashion’s young phenom, Dutch designer Sander Lak paid his dues by working with the charismatic creative directors of top fashion houses, like Christophe Decarnin at Balmain, Dries Van Noten and Philip Lim. In 2015, Joey Laurenti tapped him to help build a new brand from the ashes of Ralph Rucci, with support from his atelier and key investors. Named Sies Marjan for the last names of his parents, the brand’s runway shows have fast emerged as some of the most anticipated events of New York Fashion Week. We met with the designer to talk about his background, his passion for color and the challenges of heading up a major fashion house.
Sies Marjan was created in 2015. Can you tell us the story and the background of the brand?
I was contacted by our CEO Joey Laurenti about this possible opportunity to start something new in New York. We spoke many times at length about what this could be and after meeting the investors I felt very much like this was something that could work. At the time, I was entertaining a few different opportunities, but moving to New York to create a new brand really felt like the right fit. Opportunities like this do not really come around anymore. It was really a gut decision. From the beginning, we were both on the same page about what we wanted for the brand, and not just creatively but as bosses as well: what kind of company culture do we want, what kind of people do we want to hire, etc. We took about a year to really build the team and the brand before presenting the first runway collection, which we showed during New York Fashion Week in February of 2016. It’s been crazy ever since. We didn’t expect to be so successful immediately, we thought it would take us years of struggling before we would get anywhere and it kind of all happened from the first season on.
When you accepted the position of creative director at Sies Marjan, was it important to surround yourself with a strong team of creative minds?
Well, Sies Marjan didn’t exist yet, it was just a clean slate, and a space with an incredibly talented team in the atelier we inherited. They all possess a skill set that is really rare to find, especially in New York. They have been couture trained and in an old school kind of way so that was something that was an amazing starting point. I am a team player, I don’t sit at the throne and throw some sketches into the atelier and expect everyone to just make them. I love discussing things, looking at ideas, tweaking, learning, teaching. I have a strong team around me of people who give me their two cents (and then some) and that’s what I love. I don’t want people around me to say yes to everything I propose. We built the team with people who really share the same vision for the brand that we do. I’m really proud of the fact that Sies Marjan is a great place to work! We’ve had very little to almost no changeover in staff since the beginning. We strive to make it a happy and positive work environment. I think its one of the most important things for any successful company to keep your employees happy. Part of the fashion industry still has this old mindset of “torture to create beauty”, which I find bullshit and doesn’t work for me. I need to be happy and healthy and have enough sleep to be able to be my best self and I know most people function that way. I don’t want to be the tortured fashion designer who can only create when I feel like shit. What we do is such a delicate and beautiful thing that I feel like we should try and enjoy it whenever we can! It’s a really tough industry, and these days are particularly hard, so why make it even harder?
It’s the first time you’re at the head of a brand. Is it more fulfilling to have a say in terms of the stores, marketing and ad campaigns? Do you like having this 360° vision of the brand?
Yes! I love having a hand in all parts of the brand. That was one of the reasons I chose to do this after years of working comfortably for other people. I’m talking to all of the teams every day and I’m a part of every decision. It’s really important that Sies Marjan has a strong identity. You should see any part of the brand and say – that’s Sies Marjan.I realized quite quickly that having the 360 view on everything was what I was missing before. I was always working in someone else’s 360 and that started to get frustrating. It is such a joy to be able to work on everything, especially with a team like I have. Making the clothes and creating the collection is obviously the heart of what I do, but dealing with the daily ups and downs of getting it all together and dealing with all the employees and their needs and struggles and successes is what gets me up in the morning. I absolutely love it, even when it gets really hard and I hate it, I still love it!
You stand out for your use of incredible colors throughout your collections. Where did your love of bright hues come from?
This has been something that’s quite interesting for me, as I’ve always known I have a sensibility for color, even from when I was a young child (before I even realized other people don’t necessarily have that). When we started working on the first collection, the easiest part for me was to pick the colors because that comes so naturally, so when we had the first show and people kept talking about the use of color, I didn’t even think that that was what we would get known for. It was only when I was confronted with the reactions to the colors (and they were very passionate and personal somehow) that I started looking at it differently. As a kid I loved dressing in one color, and somehow thought that was a super normal thing: I’ve always been a bit in my own world. If you see my graduation collection at Saint Martins, it’s all in the color blue. It was obsessively blue as people described it.
What is your process when developing colors? Do you have unusual color inspirations?
My sense of color is not really inspired by anything tangible – it’s more instinctual. We always start each collection by creating a color card, which comes from gut feeling and experimenting with swatches of color. Before we even start designing pieces, we know the colors we are working with for the season. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to hues, so sometimes it takes a while to get to the perfect shade! What I love about this process is that the direction of the collection is decided by something abstract. I am not so into the idea of themes or inspiration trips or going to see an exhibition and then the collection is based on that… I hate the concept of muses in fashion and find them very limiting. I like to keep things open for as long as possible, and the way we work with the color card dictating the collection creates that freedom.
Fashion films are a very important medium today. Do you like developing that part of the brand? Does cinema inspire your collections?
I see myself as a failed movie director who ended up making clothes… My first true love has always been film. I was rejected at the film academy when I was younger and somehow ended up in fashion. I do think that being a film director and a creative director in fashion is roughly the same thing. It’s working with a strong team of people from different disciplines and getting them all to work in the same direction under your creative supervision. One day I might venture into movies again, for now I am keeping them somewhat separate, as film for me is such a personal and needed distraction from my intense life in fashion, so it’s more of a refuge then a source for me.
You’ve worked for Dries Van Noten for five years. What did you learn there on a professional and personal level?
I’ve learned so much from all of the brands I’ve worked on in the past – Philip Lim and Balmain – and even when I was an intern for Marc Jacobs and Number (N)ine, or when I was doing illustrations for Nike when I was a student. At every professional experience I’ve been like a sponge, taking it all in and always trying to find what I agree with and what I think should be different. It’s the times that were rough that I learned the most from. I was never passively complaining when things didn’t go the way I thought they should, and always knew there was a lesson to be learned at least.
Living and working in New York, do you feel this city is welcoming to young designers? What kind of energy do you feel from New York?’
People ask me this a lot and I always say that New York is kind of the perfect place to start anything (if you’re able to get to that point, as it isn’t an easy place) because the New York mentality is all about “right now” and especially “tomorrow”! The weight and importance that history and heritage have in Europe isn’t in the culture here, so if you have a good idea and you speak to the right person about it who then gets excited, the doors can open up in a way that I’ve never experienced. There is a real hunger here for new things and people are not afraid to put their money where their mouth is. The downside to that is that sometimes this kind of hunger can lead to short lived hypes and broken dreams, so you have to be sure you have the right people around you to keep it all in place.
How is life in New York and what are your hobbies outside of fashion? Are you interested in art?
I’m a very private person. I love my life in and out of fashion, and I do everything I can to make things work professionally and that will benefit Sies Marjan, but I do draw a line when it comes to what some parts of my life are like. I never had the desire to share every part of myself to an audience, and that is sometimes hard because that’s what people want today. We all want to see when anyone does whatever, and that is fascinating I agree. I just know that I am not built for that and so like to keep a certain amount of privacy and intimacy in my life.
2-xist – tank top, Sies Marjan – skirt
Sies Marjan – full look
2-exist – tank top, Sies Marjan – Tie-dye skirt
Sies Marjan – Tie-dye dress
Photographer: Hans Neumann
Stylist: Melissa Levy
Model: Lydia Grace Neubauer
Hair: Ryan Mitchell
Casting: Felicity Webb