by Heidi Arenberg, Lifestyle Editor
Some of my earliest memories feature a young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed me sitting cross-legged on the rug during story time in kindergarten. My teacher would open a giant book, and she’d slowly and carefully tell the story inside, matching her expressions and voice to the vibrant illustrations. But then class let out, time marched on, the tales grew fewer and further between, and story time ended.
It’s hard to cast your eyes upon a garment by Suno and not wonder its story, how that intricately expressive piece came to be. As the hues and prints draw you in, you find yourself asking where that fabric, so one-of-a-kind, came from, not to mention how it could be so effortlessly incorporated into high-fashion apparel. Take Fall 2012’s floral on floral blouse and trousers (below, left), for example. Or Resort 2013’s mix of stripes and plaid (below, middle) on and over a cheeky pleated skirt. Or even Spring 2012’s jumper get-up that dares to add happy polka dots to the plaid-and-stripe mix (below right).
Emerging from somewhere in the realm between childhood wonder and the cultured satisfaction that only accompanies old age, this New York based brand’s pieces are refreshingly nonpareil in their abilities to tell a story. And Suno’s founding designer has a story to tell.
Max Osterweis, co-designer of Suno, is a bit out of place. A former NYU film student, he didn’t go to fashion school. He didn’t even aspire to be a fashion designer while growing up. But he saw an aesthetic he wanted to share, and moreover a story he wanted to make known.
“I was first drawn to kangas (Kenyan fabrics) because of their bright colors. I would see them on women and wash lines in towns and villages around coastal Kenya,” Osterweis explains. “I saw that the [fashion production] process was not so far from film making that it would feel completely alien.”
It’s no surprise, then, that when Osterweis teamed up with designer Erin Beatty in 2009, they constructed a collection of pieces entailing one-of-kind quirks.
“There were kangas from all different eras,” Osterweis says. “Psychedelic patterns from the seventies, geometric patterns from the sixties, even US dollar bills and American flags from eighties.”
It wasn’t long before fashion industry A-listers took notice. These busy, kooky-looking prints retain an unexpected cosmopolitan grandeur due to their juxtaposition with high-end materials and posh details, which may be why Anna Wintour stood among the well-wishers at the designers’ debut Fall 2010 show. Collaborations with Opening Ceremony and Loeffler Randall quickly materialized as well, but judging from the dozens of notable people (Rachel McAdams, Rachel Bilson, Rihanna and Michelle Obama) who suddenly popped up sporting Suno, the shoppers in the audience approve of the line’s “anti-minimalism” just as much as the fashion bigwigs.
In the age of outsourcing and the peak of globalization, maybe all the buzz surrounding the CFDA-nominated line stems from the brand’s remarkable ethics: construction is done by artisans in Kenya, and the success of Suno relies just as much on them as it does on the New York patternmakers. It’s a brilliant socially-aware process, as Osterweis hopes that dipping Kenya’s toes in the high-end garment industry may lead to sustainable futures for these artisans, put Kenya on the map as home of talented tailors and designers, and inspire other companies in the fashion industry to consider changing their business methods for the bettering of, well, the world.
Our society’s idea of fashion has reached a curious contradiction, an unfair prejudice. We spend our most impressionable, story time-filled years decked in prints and colors, unapologetically mixing green with orange and plaid with stripes. And for every tiny floral shirt out there exists a partnering pair of tiny floral pants. But somewhere in the blur of tweendom and angst-y adolescence we lose our appetites for bold patterns, favoring plain over interesting. So we carry out our adult lives in bland neutrals sans this passion for sartorial intrigue and imagination, the same passion we once had for those now-dusty storybooks.
Yet when our kids’ kids grow up and we slow down, retire and ponder about life again, we revert to our juvenile selves, taking time to nurture that passion that has been missing for so long. We read, we create, we plant and we educate ourselves. And like a complex version of The Wizard of Oz, mismatched patterns and colors enter our dresser drawers once again. Is it because we have more time, or we’re wise, or we’re more confident in our dressing? It’s hard to tell. But it isn’t hard to see that midlife’s current shortage of passion and storytelling and mindfulness (and the seemingly accompanying affinity for prints) negatively impacts our world. Suno shows us that we need to bring this missing fervor for life back; it’s an essential part of preserving widespread altruism and humanity. And it really comes down to this: you buy a piece from Suno and get change back.
“Max Osterweis, Suno- Fashion Designer.” Seeds and Fruit. 4 March 2009. 1 July 2012 www.seedsandfruit.com/2009/03/max-osterweis-suno-fashion-designer
Alison Baenen. “Suno Fall 2012.” Style.com. 14 Feb 2010. 1 July 2012 www.style.com/fashionshows/review/F2010RTW-SUNO
Images via Style.com and InStyle.com