How Protagonist is Nailing Seasonless Fashion
The designer behind one of our favorite spring collections makes a case for the ultimate investment wardrobe.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and probably again in another article): right now, when it comes to clothes women are actually investing in, aside from *major moment*, trendy collections like Vetements and Gucci, it’s all about subtlety and seasonless clothing. It’s about spending money on a wardrobe you can build on over the years rather than toss out and start from scratch every season. That—keeping and wearing high-quality garments—is real luxury in 2016. And no brand knows this better than Protagonist.
Protagonist is the brainchild of Vanessa Traina and is sold at her similarly seasonless retail venture The Line, among others (more on Traina and The Line very soon, promise). But it’s under the relatively new stewardship of Georgia Lazzaro, a very sweet, very talented Aussie designer, who, for four years worked at Calvin Klein, and who knows a thing or two about cutting a trouser that you want to wear every damn day. Visiting her at Protagonist’s airy Garment District studio, we got to talking about why female designers make clothes you actually want to wear and why word of mouth can often be more powerful than a big fashion week extravaganza.
The Protagonist brand:
“The legacy that's been established so far is trans-seasonal pieces that are really reflexive—you buy something now and you work it back with something from fall '15 [for example]. I really want to maintain that. It should have longevity and functionality. We're trying to step it up and make sure that what we're producing reflects the price point. You need it to be timeless.”
What sets Protagonist apart:
“We all love story in layers and nuance and that's really crucial in building a collection. But I think the difference with Protagonist, even though you're trying to tell a beautiful enticing story every season, is that there has to be tangibility, there has to be functionality.”
How conceptual design becomes reality:
“Every season is different depending on my feelings at the time, but research and imagery is really important to me. I love the ideas behind things, as much as I've talked about functionality. I love the romance in it and I love thinking about the different women that inspire the designs. I love to look at a lot of objects and art and try to layer that into a framework that we're carrying through every season—working out how to nuance that.
“It's different all the time. It's definitely evolving. The most brilliant part about it is that me and my peers are at a time in our lives where we're able to buy nice things for ourselves—it's really rewarding to be able to make clothes for my friends. It’s so exciting to see them in all the clothes.”
Why it makes a difference to be a female designer making womenswear:
“It's so nice to be a female making clothes for women. We talk about whether our moms would wear this—like my mother has a bigger bust, but great legs so should we lift the back of a garment a bit to accommodate a bra and then shorten it because a body shape will look good in that. It's a very collaborative effort. The beauty of Protagonist, and the thing that I'm loving most, is that it's so directly connected to consumer needs. And I want to use that to help me build it so it doesn't feel unnecessary and superfluous.”
Why the spring 2017 collection is special for Georgia:
“Something I've tried to do with Protagonist is build it out more in terms of silhouette and color. Protagonist started as a very pure, minimal thing and that's definitely my jam, too, but I've tried to broaden the scope of a little bit more without losing that purity. I think color and silhouette is a really instant way to get a gage on how to push things and for resort we really were quite experimental with color, texture and even embroidery. This season I wanted to push that further to see what the response would be. I think spring's a really beautiful time to do that because it’s when you feel like wearing a bright red dress or a green suit. Color was the starting point. And then it’s about how you integrate all the new thing with the codes that Protagonist is known for, and that a lot of women depend on. This collection is an exercise in finding those balances. And that's almost enough in itself to be an inspiration.”
In a Protagonist collection you can always expect...
“Shirting is our 101. It’s really important and wasn't really something I explored at all Calvin. And I love menswear. Because of the underpinning functionality that is at the core of Protagonist, menswear detailing is really key. Pocketing has to be functional and look great, but not have any superfluous details on it. That's something I always try to carry through. Easy dresses are what every woman needs and we need to offer a variety of silhouettes and options there. Tailoring is key. We've been working on a lot of our pants shapes and for spring, I'm really happy with the selection we're offering. Pre-fall, we want to make it even better but for now we've had good feedback from our sales and merchandising director. And then knitwear is something completely new for me but that's so key in a wardrobe—that's a slow learning process, but we're trying to offer more fundamental shapes there.”
Why she chose not to present the spring collection at fashion week:
“We're not a big bang presentation kind of a brand, so it also feels very honest and on brand to have the lookbook and build a strong collection, rather than all the bells and whistles that go around it. Some kind of presentation is really important, but I think it didn't feel right to do it now. It's nice to have a bit more scope to be able to push an idea. I also like the idea that the collection gets traction from word of mouth, from people trying it on in the store and really loving it and telling their friends. I think that is slightly more Protagonist-y than having a show.”