The term hero piece is bandied around a lot in fashion but when it comes to that morning panic of what to wear when a heatwave hits, the summer dress deserves a lifetime achievement award. Find the right one and it will become the hardest working piece in your wardrobe. From daytime meetings, to dinner dates, city to beach, all it needs is a hot new summer sandal or addition of earrings and you're good to go. No wonder they account for 30 per cent of Net-a-Porter’s yearly spend. Fashion director of the site, Lisa Aiken explains she has even dubbed them: 'The one piece wonder.'
There’s none of those: Does this top look too fussy with these trousers? Are the trousers actually too wintery looking? What about shoes? dilemnas. When it comes to a dress, there’s no thinking required. It's something you can just fling on in the morning when your head is still fuzzy from too much rosé from the night before. And isn't that just how summer dressing should be? But it's not as simple as just grabbing any old dress off the high-street. From fit to fabrics, you've got to be sartorial savvy when it comes to finding the one. Here are the three designers nailing it right now...
Magda Butrym: 'It’s not about how much you show, it’s about your attitude.'
‘I started working as a stylist with celebrities when I was still studying design. That’s when I realized what was missing,’ explains the Polish designer Magda Bytrum. ‘It was easy to get a dress for the red carpet but I just couldn’t find anything that was special for every day. Something with a twist that you could wear with jeans. So I decided to create it myself’ Fast forward three years later and Magda’s name is the one every streetstyler is dropping. A red silk floral dress in her spring summer 2017 collection, has become one of the most reference looks on trend boards with both buyers and bloggers alike using it to style over jeans. While the BOF report that she was one of the top selling new brands on Net-a-Porter last year with a sell-through rate said to be around 90 per cent. Although Magda might have grown up in a post communist Poland where she explains there was no fashion scene: ‘We were so behind on everything. In the nineties we had the eighties and watched Dynasty so there was a lot of big shoulders,’ her own brand is setting the pace. With her use of romantic ruffles and silk fabrics it’s feminine but with a nod towards street wear and more masculine tailoring too, Magda is leading the way when it comes to street style bait…
My Instagram really helped get my brand noticed. Girls like Style Heroine and Pandora Skyes came across me and liked my designs. As we are a young small company we didn’t have the money just to give influencers clothes so it was very organic as they actually bought the pieces and then photographed themselves wearing them. I feel like influencers give courage to buyers and other girls to buy new and unknown brands. Our prices are similar to the prices of the bigger brands like Gucci but we are not Gucci, so you really have to be confident to buy labels like us.
I think like the girl I design for. Like me, she has things to do, it’s not red carpet wear, it’s more every day fashion. So that I am always thinking where I will wear it. So even if it is a dressier dress I design it so it can be mixed with jeans, The girl I design for has the courage to try new clothes and trends. She researches and knows fashion for sure. But she doesn’t want to show off. She’s not flashy.
When I go to a party, everyone will ask me about what I’m wearing. But I don’t feel like I’m getting that attention because I’m overdressed or wearing something vulgar. And that’s what I like to feel. My clothes give security and courage. That’s why sometimes I make them a bit too big.
For me comfort is key to confidence. Even when I make a sexy dress, I make it slightly oversized. I feel when you go to a restaurant it’s difficult to arrive in something fitted like a corset top. Maybe after two glasses of champagne you’ll feel fine but in my designs you feel cool and confident from the start.
For me being cool is the courage to wear something very feminine, and to mix it with a more masculine style. I love these two worlds mixed together. Every girl wants to feel empowered.
I use florals a lot but to stop them feeling old-fashioned I try to open the material somewhere. I open it, cut it, and work on the shape. Like even if it’s quite retro, and the length is long, I feel like a little opening adds some sexiness.
I use some techniques that are traditional to Poland to make the crochet and I pleat leather in a specific way. I also do the fabrics on the loom which means you can see the hand craft. I start every collection with this and then it grows from there. I try to listen to the buyers and to my clients. I do pieces that girls want to keep. For me the most amazing thing about fashion is that you remember what you were wearing for the most fabulous moments in your life. I saw a girl in Paris wearing one of my jackets so said hello and she told me all about when she bought it. So I love that I’m creating memories, like the dress you get engaged in, or the blouse you get a job in.
I wasn’t expecting my denim designs to do so well because I always thought there are two types of jeans people – Levi’s or those who buy designer like say Givenchy. But I don’t like jeans with stretch so I really wanted to make my own. I hate jeans with lycra as they lose they’re shape so my designs are high-waisted and tight on the leg.
Lots of girls style my dresses over jeans. That’s really cool. I really like how Tiffany Hsu, or Lisa Aiken do it. It’s feminine and strong. I love it with a t-shirt and flats too. You can change it up so many different ways.
I remember a couple of years ago when I’d come to London you’d see girls going for dinner on a Wednesday night in Roberto Cavalli dresses. Now you rarely see that. Girls wear things that they like but they’re not so concentrated on being sexy. It’s not about how much you show, it’s about your attitude.
Anna Mason: 'The over casualisation of what everyone wears is so boring.'
‘I got stopped by a complete stranger in Harrods who said ‘I love your dress, where’s it from’ and when I told her I’d made it myself, she asked if I could make one for her too so I did. Then I got stopped in Selfridges and the same thing happened. And then again at a bus stop. So I thought that’s three out of three. I’ve always wanted to do my own collection so why don’t I just do it,’ explains Anna Mason as she talks me through a rail of her designs. All millineal pink, silk fabrics and pretty broderie anglaise detailing, you can see why women have literally run after her. Design has always been her drive with stints working with Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino, Max Mara and Amanda Wakeley. Before launching her own label in 2011, she had a personal styling service, which also spurred on the idea of filling the missing gap of a collection that was pretty but also practical…
The over casualisation of what everyone wears is so boring. I think life’s too short to really. When I talk to my customers what they really love about what I do is that I make a cotton blouse that you can wear everyday but it looks dressy. If you give people the option to dress up but it’s wearable and it’s washable, I think they’ll do it.
I wash all the silk I use so that it’s really soft and really buttery. That way the customer can also wash it themselves rather than having to dry clean it. You can stick it in the machine on a delicate wash, and then iron the hell out of it. I hate the thought of having to be constantly going to the dry cleaner.
Most of my customers will come to me for a fitting. They try on different shapes and we measure them. As it’s all made to order, they can pretty much choose whatever colour they want. And then we can do little tweaks too, so if a customer wants a removable sleeve we can do that. It takes four to six weeks from fitting to finish.
I have a few benchmark fabrics that I stick with as they’re quintessentially British companies that I’m dealing with that have the stock supported. I use a chino fabric for lots of the tops, skirts and trousers. The colour palettes are vast, but they will never stop making that fabric. In the winter I always use corduroy and a really nice wool crepe. I’ve always done embroidery anglaise and a Liberty print in the summer.
There’s nothing more boring than spending the whole day fiddling with your clothes. When I was younger I used to do that all the time, just squeeze myself into something because I thought it looked better that way. It’s not a good way to dress and I think that’s one of the things that people really like from me. They come and they’re like “It’s so comfortable.”’
I’m really conscious of really boring things like sleeves and arms and necklines and pockets and things being comfortable and not being restrictive. They make a big difference to how you feel and that effects how you look. If you feel comfortable, then you are able to hold yourself well in them.
My pieces are classic but to stop them feeling old-fashioned, I think prettiness is really key. That is where my aesthetic comes from. I think about longevity too, I don’t want things to be flash in the pan. I’ll look at a print and think how will somebody really wear that, if they were dressing it right down, how would they wear it? What colour shoes are they going to put with it? It’s thinking logically. And then I’m body aware but not concicous. If somebody said you should do stretchy dresses I never would. How you move in my clothes is really important to me.
I try to make my things have a sort of: ‘I can wear this as wedding guest but then I will definitely wear it again.’ I think it’s quite key, I don’t really like the idea of buying something that you will only wear once.
Dodo Bar Or: 'You can’t buy coolness.'
‘Since I was very young I’d pretend to be different characters. I was dreaming of the life I wanted. I’d be wearing kaftans and have things in my hair and people would look at me like “Who’s that crazy girl acting as if she is stepping off a private jet or onto her yacht when she’s really walking around Tel Aviv,”’ laughs the Israeli actor turned designer Dorit Bar Or. ‘It was natural I went into acting first. But then I found out that although you play someone else you’re not in control. You say the words someone else has written. You are directed in how to do it. And I realized, actually, I wanted to create the whole character. I wanted to invent her narrative. And with fashion design that’s what I’m doing. I’m creating and telling the whole story.’ Launching her brand Dodo Bar Or (Dodo is her nickname) in 2014, Dodo has quickly become a go-to for women wanting summer and holiday wear that’s chic but still playful. Inspired by her Middle Eastern roots and with a focus on handcraft, Dodo’s designs are as far away from the heels by the pool style of thinking as you can get. Think delicately embroidered kaftans, flirty pom pom peasant style blouses and billowing silk dresses that work just like Dodo’s childhood fantasy as well on a yacht as they do in the city…
When someone looks at a woman wearing one of my dresses I want them to think she is strong. My designs are not quiet, they have volume and make a statement. So the woman who wears them is a trend-setter. She wants to make a statement. Not in a trashy way, she’s not going to scream her sexiness, I don’t believe in that.
For me I don’t judge people by clothes. You can’t buy coolness. You’re either cool or you’re not. It’s inside you. It doesn’t matter what you wear.
I grew up in the Middle East so all my inspirations are from the characters that are there: from the Arabs to the Christians to the Jewish. You’d be super stupid not to get inspired by that or not to welcome the difference. When I design I take something that isn’t considered cool and make it cool. I use fabrics and techniques that are local and combine it with the luxury fashion world. My autumn collection was inspired by the Yemen culture. I used very high quality luxury fabrics like silk and velvet and some of the stars details were dipped with gold.
For me attention to detail is everything. If you look on the outside and the inside of one of my dresses you will see the finish is the same. For one of the pieces in my last collection I printed glitter onto velvet so when you look up-close it looks totally different. I also used a tulle fabric with dots that get bigger and smaller. They look like tiny holes but they are actually embroidered. It’s all about telling a story. Like when you go to the theatre and everything is so big at first but then you focus on one thing. That’s what I do with the detailing.
I love to dress women. I have lots of girlfriends and I really believe in girl power. My patterns are flattering and very feminine. I love to play with volume. Take my silk dresses. They use six to eight meters of fabric so the first impression you are going to give is like “Wow!”’ Styling wise I like to add a belt to give more definition and I’ll wear a flat shoe. I like to do that with something that is traditionally styled with a heel. I think it’s more interesting. And then I love earrings that play with volume too.
Early on the blogger Tash Sefton posted a photo of herself on her Instagram in the Mandy dress. I was just so happy to see someone had bought one of my designs from overseas. A couple of days later I got an email from Matches Fashion for an order. They sold out of the Mandy dress in one day. Then Pandora Skyes, Leandra Medine and a couple of other bloggers posted themselves in the dress too. My e-mails started going crazy. Celebrity wise Selena Gomez and Kelly Osbourne are fans too but for me bloggers have much more of an influence on sales. I think people trust them more as they believe in brands which are just starting out.