Wednesday 13 May 2020

Designer in Focus: Malan Breton Takes the Stage

In London, one of Malan Breton's romantic confections that combines cascading Belle Epoque tulle skirts with leather panels and a silk, tailored jacket. Cover picture and all photographs for DAM by Georgie Manion
Malan Breton is a multi-tasking fashion designer with an eclectic career encompassing acting, singing, directing and modelling ~ he even appeared in the first Zoolander film. We take a look at his most recent fashion show in London, before Covid-19 struck, and his new musical single that has just been released. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Reporting and photography by Georgie Manion 

Designer Malan Breton in London
at the finale of the AW20 show
AT the close of his atmospheric autumn/winter 2020 show at London Fashion Week earlier this year, Malan Breton's protean talents were on display. The designer previewed his new music single Something Stupid, a soulful rendition of the Frank Sinatra classic that has recently been released.

The song has a soaring string arrangement that enhances the chorus lyrics that Breton says have a touching note of truth, when feelings are revealed too soon: "And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like I love you." The designer sang the song with Tokyo-born/New York-based musician Juri Jinnai of the Japanese art band, Emergency Tiara.

Breton's multifaceted career began as a ballet dancer in Taipei before he went to New York to work as a model and actor. He started out in the fashion industry as a stylist, working with Kylie Minogue, Celine Dion and Linda Evangelista before becoming a fashion designer and also trying his hand at directing films. The designer says he loves Hollywood musicals and when he designs clothes he imagines different characters wearing his creations in a movie.

In America, Breton is well-known because of his television career, with appearances on Project Runway, America's Next Top Model and The Malan Show ~ a six-part series following his work as an independent designer ~ and as a fashion commentator on programmes including NBC’s The Today Show and CBS' This Morning. Breton won Best Short Documentary award at the New York City International Film Festival (NYCIFF) for his directorial debut on the biographical fashion film, ​Malan Breton - A Journey to Taiwan​.

Malan Breton started out in the fashion industry as a stylist, working with Kylie Minogue, Celine Dion and Linda Evangelista 

Pink ruffled tulle gown with tailored
leather jacket in London
Breton was born in Taiwan and grew up there, but  it was his relocation to New York in the Nineties that launched his career. He modelled at New York Fashion Week after being scouted for the Versus Versace show in 1996 and also worked as a dancer with Missy Elliot, Paula Abdul and Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs. The designer later honed his signature fine tailoring with bespoke menswear, working with Savile Row's Turnbull & Asser. He launched his own label in 2005.

Today, Malan Breton has dressed a long list of clients from Lorde, Ariana Grande and Scarlett Johansson to Michael Bublé, Daniel Craig and the Prince of Wales, as well as designing costumes for stage and screen. Now he lives and works between New York and London, based on Fifth Avenue and in Marylebone.

He has strengthened his ties to Britain with his appointment by the Parliamentary Society for Arts, Fashion and Sports as a fashion and arts ambassador in 2019. Breton was also invited by the Parliamentary Society to present a collection of fashion at the 84th birthday celebration of HRH Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent in London last November.

After Malan Breton created his independent womenswear fashion label, Breton went on to design menswear collections and branched out to accessories, fragrances, cosmetics and bridalwear, stocked in both department stores and boutiques. Breton has also expanded his reach by forming design partnerships with companies and institutions ranging from Lalique, the Smithsonian Museum and the New York City Ballet to Pepsi, Nintendo and MTV.

Breton was born in Taiwan and grew up there, but it was his relocation to New York in the Nineties that launched his career

Breton's gown inspired by the Firebird
Breton's most recent collection, shown in London before the outbreak of Covid-19, embodies his glamourous and romantic aesthetic with tulle ball gowns worn with leather jackets and shimmering sequined dresses with crystal fringing. Called the Rise of the Phoenix, the collection was shown under the soaring beams of St Georges Church in Holborn, enhancing the collection's sense of atmospheric romanticism.

Breton says the theme of the show was inspired by Diaghilev's Firebird ballet and represents rebirth and metamorphosis. The original ballet of The Firebird was first performed in 1910 by Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris, with innovative costumes by designer Léon Bakst. The production was a collaboration between Diaghilev, composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer Michel Fokine. The scenario, by Alexandre Benois, amalgamated Russian fairytales to bring together the magical Firebird with the wicked magician Kostchei.

Breton's collection was presented in three segments following the sequence of the Firebird ballet, with voluminous tulle and faux furs at the start, followed by gowns glimmering with Swarovski crystals and shimmering fabrics like the embers of a fire. Brilliant red silks contrasted with black brocades, fuschia feathers and silvery sheaths and gave a sense of wearable theatricality.

The theme of Breton's latest fashion show was inspired by Diaghilev's Firebird ballet and represents rebirth and metamorphosis

Shimmering and sleek, silver gown with long
 fringes that move with every step
The designer brings his experience in theatre and television to his fashion shows, creating dramatic and creative performances that often include dancers and singers. At his New York City fashion shows he has had performers from the The Royal Ballet, NYC Ballet, the Chelsea Symphony and the Juilliard School on his runway.

This season in London, all you could hear, sitting in the darkness of St Georges Church, was the soft clicking of steps. The anticipation of the audience grew as the sounds of rustling dresses came closer and finally the first model appeared on the catwalk as the crowd seemed to draw breath as one.

The collection's has a mix of extravagant gowns and sleek suits in vivid colours from pretty pinks to bold reds and the signature Breton blue. The pieces showed Breton’s technical ability as a tailor and his capacity to create diverse silhouettes that combine the artistic ethos of couture with ready-to-wear.

The power suits and flowing gowns were counterpoints to each other. The inclusion of some menswear pieces such as jackets with wide, curving lapels in suede combined with pin-stripes made a strong contrast to the fluidity of the evening wear. A long, beaded silvery gown, with one shoulder bare, moved gracefully as the model walked and the long fringes shimmied out with each footstep. The sleek fall of the dress and its simplicity made it one of the standout pieces in the AW20 show.

The designer brings his experience as a performer to his dramatic fashion shows that often include dancers and singers

Blue, checked trouser suit with a half-caped coat
with satin waist coat 
Another highlight of the collection was a brilliant blue, checked trouser suit with a half-caped coat matching a satin waistcoat and wide-legged pants that could almost have been a long skirt. This looked both contemporary and retro at the same time, like what a female Sherlock Holmes would wear today.

Another trouser suit was created from an eye-catching combination of gleaming, grey satin silk finished with pink suede piping, and faux fur lapels and cuffs. Breton's designs straddle the theatrical and the wearable which has made his creations sought after for sauntering the red carpet.

Breton says that sustainability has been at the heart of his brand since his first collection. This season, he integrated upcycled fabrics and paillettes made of recycled plastics into his designs. He uses these materials to encourage sustainability in the fashion industry. He believes by repurposing materials he is also giving a new life to what would have been scraps and turning them into something beautiful.

Despite his packed diary, or perhaps because of it, Breton is very well organised and plans his fashion collections several seasons in advance. The upcoming shows will build on his sustainable fashion vision, and further explore the use of recycled materials and natural ways of colouring fabrics.

Tap photographs to see fullscreen highlights of Malan Breton's AW20 show in London

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