“I couldn’t help myself,” smirks Natacha Ramsay-Levi on the top floor of the Palais de Tokyo. “I had to design a dress.” For the women that swarmed to her intellectual and quirky Chloé collections, the news will come as salvation. Said dress is a deceptively simple leather mini crossed with a T-shirt. But then! Unsnap the leather jumper and it’s just a tank; re-fasten the leather parts and you have what to many would be the perfect dress for a long, champagne-fueled night out. (A later evening spent between a party for Ramsay-Levi in the 1st arrondissement and another for GQ magazine in the 8th all but confirms it.)
The occasion for Ramsay-Levi’s quiet and much-needed return to fashion is the new At.Kollektive. Based in Denmark, the leather-good company has launched with four long-term collaborators alongside the French designer; Bianca Saunders, Kostas Murkurdis, and Isaac Reina. All four have built out leather capsule collections that span ready-to-wear, homewear, and accessories. Created as a sub-label for leather goods manufacturer Ecco Group, the business is fully vertically integrated — tannery to retail — allowing the four designers ultimate control over their product and production. (And potentially saving them from impending supply chain and inflation issues down the pipeline in 2022 and beyond.)
“I was approached in 2019 by a friend of mine,” says Murkurdis, who acted as the spark plug for the collective idea. “Immediately I said no. Then I went to visit the tannery and we had a meeting, and I was so impressed by their knowledge and production. I felt that this is the right moment since the company has so much more to tell. They are able to do the full process in-house, from idea to sales.” For his capsule collection, Murkurdis opted for envelope clutches, totes, and hybrid sandal-sneakers in subtle, rich shades of olive, black, tan, and white. “It’s intended to age very beautifully,” he says of his “industrial, simple” products.
Saunders, fresh from her ANDAM win and menswear runway, had opted for colorful cobalt shoes and pullover leather anoraks for her collection. “Working on this has been a great way to introduce furniture and accessories, things I can’t do yet in my own collection,” she says. “And I’ve learned so much from the process already.” Many of Saunders’s bags, in tomato red and Yves Klein blue, come with malleable wire framing so that the wearer can abstract the classic square shape into something more surreal.
For Reina, a former accessories designer at Hermès, the simplicity of circular forms and multi-wear objects was the draw. He created a “pure” collection of circular pouches and accessories that can be packed up together or worn singularly. Complementing his accessories is a Brancusi-inspired leather lamp. Aesthetes, don’t panic: The wire cord is also 100% leather wrapped.
It’s that attention to every small detail that only a manufacturer could provide. In addition to minimizing waste and shipping because Ecco owns all the production, the company also uses low impact packaging—no plastic tape at all. Instead, shipments are wrapped in felt and Velcro. “It’s all meant to be reusable,” says Murkurdis, “from the packaging to the items themselves. It’s all made to last.”
That’s the sustainability of the product, but according to Ramsay-Levi, working in this manner also allows a sustainability of the mind. “It’s the way I want to work now. I don’t propose a full collection of 400 pieces or 500 pieces every two months—which is great too, but I’ve done it. Now I can focus and say, okay, this is one proposition. This is what I like right now.” Her bulbous sandals, produced from a single piece of leather, and cute stackable jewelry, all bear the mark of her hand: clever, quirky, and sensual in olive greens and bright tangerine. “I felt this project is great because it makes you very responsible about what you put on the market. And it will grow for the next edition, but for now this is what I really like.” And by the looks of guests at the showroom and, later at the dinner, it’s what they really like too: Smart, well-produced clothes for a strange, uneasy time.