Ones to Watch – WWD

While the global pandemic has changed the spring 2021 collections in New York — shifting to a truncated season, a mostly digital format and many marquee names opting to sit the September collections out — it’s a scenario that may provide space for several smaller independent brands, many of whom know how to be scrappy even in non-pandemic times. Here, WWD showcases four emerging brands to watch during New York Fashion Week spring 2021.


1. Aknvas

Christian Juul Nielsen 
Courtesy Photo/Alessio Boni

Designer: Christian Juul Nielsen

Background:​ Born in Denmark, Nielsen studied in London before moving to Paris, where he worked with designers including John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, Nina Ricci (under the creative direction of Lars Nilsson) and Christian Dior (under the creative directions of John Galliano and Raf Simons). Five years ago, Nielsen moved to New York to work for Oscar de la Renta and then J. Mendel. In addition to AKNVAS, he currently works as creative director of Hervé Léger.

Years in business:​ One and a half years

Price points:​ $295 to $890

Stockists:​ Rent the Runway, Greta Sloane and the brand’s own e-commerce

A women’s look from spring 2021. 
Courtesy Photo

Describe your aesthetic:​ Scandinavian inspired simplicity. Enough detail to be special, simple enough to be worn.

How will you present the collection? ​I am happy to collaborate with the CFDA’s Runway360 platform this season, in which I will showcase women’s and debut men’s with a look book. I’ve also invited some of my friends to join me in an Instagram Live session, which will take place during NYFW, to discuss the upcoming collection.

Influences for spring:​ Hope! The hope for a new and fresh spring 2021. It’s a season of traveling and getting inspired. Islands, beaches, a new era where we have learned to appreciate life and each other most importantly after spending so much time inside and alone. I feel a lightness coming after the last six months, which is somewhat worked into the collection. I have also found space in the collection for some more relaxed styles. Regardless of whether we return to the office or continue to work at home, I feel that there is a new space for some less uptight pieces. Aknvas was initially designed as a brand for women that work. It is inspired by the girls I know in the industry. Creative, strong, aware, who are looking for great design and quality in their life. I wanted to take them from desk to dinner. This collection is adapted for our current lifestyle, taking us from Zoom to dining room. For spring 2021, I am adding a men’s wear capsule collection to the brand. As the women’s wear collection draws inspiration from men’s wear, it was a natural progression. I even found myself mixing the collections while styling the look books.

Key pieces for spring/fabrics: Men’s shirting, nylon and print. I created easy shirtdresses draped like the ones I used to do in Paris. The collection is really a mix of men’s and women’s in one big collection. Monogram prints with contrast topstitch.

What was the main thing you learned designing in the pandemic? I had to learn how to make all decisions on my own, while remaining very clear to myself about what I wanted and needed for this collection and getting on with it. Fittings and fabric meetings were extremely limited, so I had to have a very clear idea about the end result.

What is your goal? To dress people of all genders from day to night and create collections that can be mixed across seasons. I want the pieces to be timeless and be worn again and again.


2. Social-Work

Chenghui “Helen” Zhang 
Courtesy Photo

Designer: Chenghui “Helen” Zhang

Background: Social-Work is a New York-based brand founded at the beginning of 2018. It is rooted in contemporary culture with vintage, Western-style influences. By gathering its inspiration from all dimensions of life, art, contemporary culture and styles, Social-Work represents a collective culture across hybrid practices. With its emphasis on production transparency, Social-Work is aiming to bridge the cultural connection between customers and makers. It raises a social dialogue on who, where and what is behind our products.

Years in business: Founded in June 2018

Price Points: $200 to $1,200

Stockists: Mais, W-wardrobe, Dearmoody, Maskovna Store

A look from Social Work spring 2021. 
Courtesy Photo

Describe your aesthetic: Nostalgic and edgy

Influences for spring: As a collective story of nostalgia and youth culture, Social-Work spring 2021 aims for a re-creation by taking inspiration from the Seventies film “La collectionneuse” by Eric Rohmer, which echoes the period of Nineties youth culture. The focus on retro-futurism by combining Nineties minimal silhouettes and utilitarian with Sixties and Seventies retro color palette. This collection creates a new code for a modern wardrobe.

Key pieces for spring/fabrics: Detachable jumpsuit/water bottle plastic recycled fabric

What is the main thing you learned designing in the pandemic?: Sustainable is both important in sourcing/designing and also crucial to the business model.


3. Who Decides War

A look from the Who Decides War spring 2021 collection. 

Designers: Ev Bravado and Tela D’Amore

Years in business: Five years, one year as WDW, four years prior under the company name Ev Bravado

Describe your aesthetic: Medieval-post-modern-avant-garde-Americana-wear

How will you present the collection?: Digitally in a format of a short film

Influences for spring: 1 Kings 19:11-13​ Collection title: “A still, small voice.” A passage in the Bible, current events going on in the world and pieces lacking in my wardrobe. Women were our influence. We have received so many requests for denim tailored to a women’s silhouette, so we got to work. Our women’s wear offering is a capsule of elevated pieces utilizing common fabrics constructed together in an unconventional and wearable way.

Key pieces for spring: New denim (highlighting women’s), knitwear and hats. Fabrics: canvas, wool, Egyptian cotton, leather and lace.

Price point: $200 to $1,500

Stockists: Cntrbnd, Eligens, Fwrd by Elise Walker, Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées, Gr8 Tokyo, Mr Porter, Nubian, Selfridges, Ssense, United Arrows and Sons

Designers you admire? Damselfrau, Virgil Abloh, Ralph Lauren

What is the main thing you learned in the pandemic?: To take time with everything that is being done, to make sure that everything that is being created has a purpose. And that when you do receive the gift of time, to cherish it and utilize it as much as possible, even if that means using that time to rest and reset.

What is your goal?: To provide opportunities and stability for future generations for years to come, and to create opportunities for people of color in a way never seen before, especially in the fashion industry.

4. Presley Oldham

Designer and founder, Presley Oldham 

Background: I’m an actor and writer, and was previously working in film production in Los Angeles. I grew up in a design family and have been crafting and creating since an early age, though. Jewelry and clothing design have always been passions of mine, but it wasn’t until I had some newfound pandemic free time that I began to grow this into a proper business.

Years in business: Launched in May 2020

Describe your aesthetic: Little bit earthy, little bit elegant. My work has been described as “charmingly off-kilter,” which I think encompasses my work (and myself) quite well. I try to create products that anyone can pick up and feel comfortable and elevated wearing.

How will you present the collection?: I’m premiering a short dance film that I created with my friends and long time collaborators. It showcases my latest collection on the people in my own life who inspire me.

Influences for spring: I’ve been living and working in Santa Fe, N.M., since the start of the pandemic — the sky, trees and mountains surrounding me have had a huge influence on my work. Beyond this, Vaslav Nijinsky and his costumes while working with the Ballets Russes are the main inspiration for this collection. I’ve also been looking at Victorian portraiture, Cindy Sherman photographs and Gus Van Sant films.

Necklaces from the spring 2021 Presley Oldham collection. 

Price points: Necklaces range from $150 to $350, earrings range from $40 to $80, anklets/bracelets from $80 to $150

Stockists: Currently only available on web site —

What did you learn from designing the pandemic?: I’ve had to be realistic about what putting products in the world means right now, and why I’m doing it. I started this business at the beginning of the pandemic partially as a way to raise money for my community and local food banks. With money tight for many people, I’ve tried to create quality, handmade products at an accessible price point. The pandemic has also pushed me to fully utilize the resources I have around me — all of my sterling silver wire and findings are sourced locally here in New Mexico and most of my pearls I collected over the years from flea markets or found at small vendors in Southern California.

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