New York Fashion Cool-Aid™: Antwerp Ahoy!

Hanley Mellon Fall/Winter 2015
Photos: Laurel Marcus

When history, geography, class, fashion, money and love all come together at the perfect juncture of latitude and longitude, the result is the husband and wife design team and brand called Hanley Mellon. Last night I attended a presentation of co-founding couple Nicole Hanley Mellon and Matthew Mellon’s Fall-Winter 2015 collection at Hudson Mercantile. This aspirational duo each had a background in the clothing industry before they met. She came from Intermix and Ralph Lauren, he as the ex-husband of Tamara Mellon and the Jimmy Choo brand and Harry’s of London (not to mention his pedigree as a direct descendant of the founder of Mellon Bank and that of Drexel-Burnham-Lambert). They made their design debut last September with their Spring 2015 line featuring Kenya, “a place that spoke to them” as inspiration. see video  Their second collection and what I viewed last night, came by way of Antwerp.

For Hanley and Mellon everything is authentic; it was not enough to pick a place as a jumping off point, they also travel to the chosen spot and source their collection with its natives. According to their espoused ethos, “Each location is, at once, a reference for the collection and the story that surrounds it. Collaborations with local artisans are the source of unique designs that echo the traditions of each place and are featured, season to season, as periodic exclusives.” For our second season, we have infused our sportswear sensibility with new references based on our experience in Antwerp.” said Creative Director Nicole Hanley Mellon. Antwerp, known as a gateway between Europe and the New World has a culture rich in fashion particularly from the ’80s and the creative origin of the ‘Antwerp Six,’ the innovative group of designers who introduced the concept of deconstruction and graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.  They include Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee.

The theme of the presentation incorporated the Red Star Line Shipping company which in the 1800’s transported approximately two million early settlers from Antwerp to the New World. Models posed on a “dock” against a backdrop of boat moorings with nautical rope and stanchions. Several fog machines worked overtime in the large, warehouse space trying desperately to evoke a seascape notion however they succeeded in not only making it hard to see two feet in front of your face but also you could forget about getting any decent photos. Many well dressed and well heeled guests including Mary Alice Stephenson mingled about talking, taking photos and drinking champagne in the dense and moody atmosphere.

The clothes themselves define luxury sportswear and the influence of RL’s Black Label can be sensed. Special attention is given to ease of movement and fabric hand. For instance, I asked one model if I could touch her almost metallic mohair-looking vest (another model wore the same fabric in a skirt) thinking it would be stiff and prickly. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was an extremely soft and sumptuous textile with a silky smooth feeling. There are separates in chiffon, tweed, wool crepe, cashmere, waxed leather, matte jersey as well as dresses of suede, wool crepe and satin. There are multi-layers and much versatility as some lightweight coat dresses are fully reversible and can be worn alone or over other garments. Colors range from mustard, cabernet, emerald, toast, blue moon and of course, black. I noted that shoes got a credit from Manolo Blahnik, probably the most direct competitor to Jimmy Choo however Tamara Mellon, as we all know, is no longer with Choo and has her own eponymous clothing line. There is no bad blood apparently as the former Ms. Mellon is still in their life (she and Matthew have a daughter together) and she even attended their 2010 wedding at Diane Von Furstenberg’s place in the Bahamas.

Photo: The New York Times

When I first became aware of this brand and the titular couple that run it, I admit that I made the obvious connection to Tory and Chris Burch back in the day. In fact, Nicole looks to be about the age that Tory was when she started her company (mid 30’s) and they both came from the RL “stable.” Matthew, 50, seems to be the older benefactor. Nicole also appears to be the brand spokesperson as she did all the interviews and claimed the spotlight while he stood in the shadows talking with friends. The similarities won’t quit: he Burches resided at the Pierre as do the Hanley Mellons with major works of art on the walls. Both travel in top-notch social circles and attend the best fetes. Speaking of that, while viewing Mathew’s Instagram (@asliceofmellon) I noticed an amazing photo that he took at the Bal des Sauvages (a masked and feathered “animalistic” soiree) to celebrate the 40th birthday of party planner extraordinaire Bronson Van Wyck which piqued my interest. (see Instagram) Vogue Magazine attended and covered the event as well and the costumes are not to believed: view slide show here.

Hopefully the similarities end there as it seems apparent that this couple worship and adore each other and collaborate so well together it would indeed be surprising if they succumbed to the same fate as the Burches. Hopefully you will not read about them suing and counter-suing each other in court over stock sales or unfair competition.

While most of us can only sit on the sidelines and wonder what it would be like to live this lifestyle, with notable friends such as Diandra Douglas, Grace Hightower DeNiro, Jason Pomeranz, Kelly Rutherford, Marie Douglas David, Mickey Boardman, Muffie Potter Aston and Vikram Chatwal (all scheduled to attend the after party at Beautique which sadly I did not make it to) however the Hanley Mellon’s seem to be taking it in stride. With two young children and a Yorkie, although they are sure to keep traveling both for their business and pleasure ventures, home is firmly based here in New York. The Hanley Mellon logo even features the subheading of 40.7 Degrees North, 74 Degrees West (the coordinates for the Big Apple) indicating that however far they roam, they are first and foremost New Yorkers.

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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