6 Fashion Trailblazers

6 Fashion Trailblazers

Lars Klove
Lars Klove
For these six fashionable trailblazers, inspiration knows no boundaries. They tell us about the places that fuel their creativity, in Ethiopia, Cartagena—and beyond.

Liya Kebede: Model

Liya Kebede isn’t just another pretty face. The Ethiopian-born mother of two, who lives in New York City, is a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization, and through her foundation (theliyakebedefoundation.org) she advocates for women’s and infants’ health issues in the developing world. Kebede also recently launched a children’s clothing line—made in Ethiopia, to benefit her countrymen—called Lemlem (flourish in Amharic). This fall she’s extending Lemlem’s mission by introducing a line of soft cotton scarves, woven by hand in Addis Ababa. “These traditional looms usually occupy a one-room shack and the weavers, all men, sleep on a platform above it,” she explains. “I wanted to open a market for them to showcase their beautiful talent and the way they do things, like drying thread between two tree trunks.” —Shane Mitchell

Kebede’s Africa

  • Gonder, Ethiopia “When I go back to Ethiopia, I try to go out into the countryside. I didn’t do so while growing up in Addis Ababa. Gonder is one of my favorite places, with an incredible castle where the king used to live.”
  • Dakar, Senegal “I went to Senegal for an AIDS conference and was shocked that it only took six hours to get there from New York City. Dakar is the perfect combination of traditional and modern, and it has great beaches on the Cape Verde peninsula.”
  • Essakane, Mali “There’s a magical event here, Festival au Desert (festival-au-desert.org). During the day you nap in tents and traders set up a village market. You spend all night jumping up and down to live music.”

Jason Wu: Designer

Until one cold night last January, most people outside the fashion world would have asked, “Jason who?” But that was before a certain First Lady picked Wu’s one-strap ivory gown to wear at an inaugural ball. “It was more than just a dress,” Wu says. “Now, it’s part of American history. That’s the power of choice—Michelle Obama didn’t follow the rules and use someone more seasoned.” At that point, the Taipei-born, 26-year-old New Yorker, whose own uniform consists of skinny ties and classic Levi’s, had only six collections to his name. But he’s been busy ever since. Wu jets regularly to Tokyo, along with Paris and London. Most recently, he took a break in Turks and Caicos—“I was looking for inspiration for my spring collection”—before launching into another creative frenzy. He says he tends to find ideas for his defined silhouettes and flirty fabrics both in fantasy figures—his fall collection is based on the fairy-tale images of the late English illustrator Arthur Rackham—and real women, including dynamic muses like actress Diane Kruger and stylist Tina Chai. “I love dressing women of substance,” he says, “not the flavor of the month.” —Shane Mitchell

Wu’s Tokyo

  • Undercover “I tend to buy a lot of clothes from local designers. In Tokyo I especially like Jun Takahashi of Undercover. Everything fits me, so I bring an empty suitcase!”
  • Shinjuku “I love to go shopping in this bustling district, where I can duck into the little hole-in-the-wall ramen places to eat. They’re really inexpensive.”
  • Comme Ça du Mode Tokyo “Whenever I’m in town, I shop at this Gap knockoff, which also has great stationery and gadgets.” Stores throughout the city.

  • Elizabeth Kiester: Boutique Owner

    “This is a personal odyssey,” says Elizabeth Kiester, who gave up her high-powered job as the global creative director of LeSportsac to open Wanderlust, a shop on a dusty alley in Siem Reap, Cambodia, near Angkor Wat, with a sister store opening any day now in Phnom Penh. An avid traveler whose father was a Vietnam War correspondent, Kiester had always dreamed of living in Asia; a 2008 volunteer vacation in Cambodia sealed the deal. “Siem Reap was an ancient arts-and-culture capital, and that creative spirit is still here,” she explains. Kiester set out to create a fashion line that is democratic in its approach (one size that really fits all), affordable (nothing over $60), and universally appealing, with a Palm Beach–meets-Phuket look. By commissioning almost everything from Cambodian artisans, she has also been helping to revive artistic traditions: a severely handicapped woman weaves $2 bracelets from plastic bottles; kids from an orphanage tie-dye $6 T-shirts; and a local seamstress creates $8 Jackie O.–style head scarves. “I love a global design dialogue,” Kiester says. —Laura Begley

    Kiester’s Cambodia

    • Hotel de la Paix Arts Lounge “The hotel’s massive gallery and hangout space features new collections every other month by upcoming Khmer and Asian artists. It’s the place to see and be seen, and has launched many a career.”
    • Angkor Wat Temples “Among the zillions of structures that make up the site, my favorites are Ta Prohm, which looks like it’s straight out of Land of the Lost, and Sarang, with its majestic lion statues.”
    • Angkor Beautiful Shoes “This Phnom Penh store and its other location, Angkor Making Shoes, in Siem Reap, will design custom sandals from a picture or copy ones you love, for $12 and up.”

    Pierre-Alexis Dumas: Artistic Director, Hermès

    “We are Parisian in soul, Parisian in spirit,” Says Pierre-Alexis Dumas about his family’s company, which was founded in the French capital in 1837 and, according to Dumas, couldn’t have been started anywhere else. But the city to which he refers is not one of hoity-toity stereotypes (even if the hoity-toity do love their Kelly bags). “The Paris I grew up in is an open place that welcomes foreigners like my mother, who is Greek. It’s a place where great ideas are born.” He sees this in the ethnically mixed neighborhoods like Belleville, in the 20th Arrondissement, where he can find the Asian food he misses after living five years in Hong Kong, and in Paris’s many museums, where he heads for inspiration. Dumas, who studied visual art at Brown University and runs the company’s arts foundation, knows them intimately. Though he jokes that Hermès was established “in horseshit” (the company began life as a saddle shop), it’s the city’s blend of creativity and refinement that the brand really reflects so well, and that Dumas finds almost everywhere he goes. —Alexandra Marshall

    Dumas’s Paris

    • The Grand Palais “I wrote my thesis on this Art Nouveau building. Did you know that in addition to museums and exhibits, it has stables underneath? There’s equipment for hundreds of horses down there.”
    • Virgule “It’s one of my favorite restaurants. The place is tiny and offers unbeatable quality for the price.” Dinner for two $51.
    • Les Puces de Saint-Ouen “I used to go to this flea market with my parents every Sunday when I was a kid. Now I’ve become like the Terminator with antiques. I walk into a shop and scan the place.”

    Miguel Adrover: Designer

    “People who come from islands have a different mentality,” says fashion designer Miguel Adrover, who grew up in the tiny village of Calonge, on Majorca, off the coast of Spain. “You feel like there’s nothing else out there, so it pushes your imagination further.” Adrover’s imagination has never been in question: Witness the increasingly challenging—and critically acclaimed—collections he produced in New York City until moving home in 2004 to get back on his feet following trouble with his backers. After taking over management of Es Jaç (13 Carrer Vallseca; no phone), a bar in Majorca’s capital city of Palma, and turning it into an exhibition space, he began working as the creative director for German eco-fashion company Hessnatur. Adrover’s strong commitment to green materials and the environment around him has made him a perfect fit for the company, for whom he has produced three capsule collections since fall 2008. “It helps that I’m connected to nature,” he says. “It’s paradise here.” —Alexandra Marshall

    Adrover’s Majorca

    • Cabrera Island “About forty-five minutes from Palma, the island is a natural park with virtually no structures. We take a boat out and spend all day there.”
    • Mercat De l’Olivar “This great big farmers’ market, in Palma, has an almost Arab-bazaar feel. It’s like Dean & Deluca—but for the real world.”
    • La Cueva “The tapas at this fish restaurant are the best: pescaditos fritos (fried fish), pulpo (octopus)—a lot of great seafood, all really fresh.”

    Silvia Tcherassi: Designer

    Since launching a namesake label in 1992, Colombian fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi has developed a cult following at home and beyond for her body-conscious, brightly hued pieces with unexpected boho flair; she’s even set up shop in Coral Gables, Florida. Having originally trained as an interior designer, Tcherassi is now returning to her roots with a forthcoming furniture line and, as of last month, the first in a clutch of Tcherassi Hotels. In collaboration with Estudio Morfo architects, the designer transformed a centuries-old mansion into a seven-suite colonial-contemporary retreat in Cartagena’s unesco-protected Casco Viejo (Old Town) where, she says, “every corner is a mystery waiting to be discovered.” —David Kaufman

    Tcherassi’s Cartagena

    • Galería Cano “For inspiration I head to this jewelry and art boutique, where they reproduce gold and emerald pre-Columbian pieces.”
    • Teatro Adolfo Mejía “The theater was built in 1911 to celebrate 100 years of Colombian independence. It’s an architectural treasure.”
    • Restaurante La Vitrola “This restaurant is a local institution, with a six-man Cuban band. I love the grilled fish and patacones (crispy fried plantains).”
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