|Sybilla in her studio in Madrid |
Portrait by Juan Gatti
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Sybilla Sorondo (she goes by Sybilla), who rose to fame in the 1980’s, has been referred to as "the most exciting designer to have emerged from Spain since Balenciaga”. Born in 1963 in New York City, she is the daughter of an Argentine diplomat and Polish aristocrat mother. When Sybilla was seven, her family moved to Madrid (she considers herself quintessentially Spanish).
|Sybilla iconic circle coat fall 2015|
Fashion has always been in her blood: her mother worked as a fashion designer under the name Countess Sybilla of Saks Fifth Avenue, at the age of 17 she was an apprentice cutter/seamstress at YSL, and by the age of 20 she showed her first collection in Spain. She opened her first studio in Madrid in 1983 (she also has a studio in Majorca where she resides) and participated in Barcelona’s Gaudí Salon two years later. In 1987 she signed with the Italian company Gibó which launched her international reputation, leading her to Milan, Paris, New York and Tokyo.
Her last formal runway show was in Paris in 1991. While she never totally left fashion or the world of design (they are her life), she took a break for awhile. As she has said, “I retired at a time when fashion was not going in a direction I felt able to follow but maybe now there is room for something a bit different again. We are managing to do things our way. We don’t have many means but there is passion and emotion”. She staged a comeback in Paris in March 2015. Her clothes are currently available in select stores worldwide (including Bergdorf Goodman) and on fashion forward/high end websites such as www.farfetch.com.
|Brightly colored Sybilla separates from autumn winter 2016|
I’ve long been a fan of her minimal, structural, organic, well thought out designs, so when I received an email early on Saturday morning inviting me to a private sale at a pop up store in Nolita, (it runs through February 19, 323 557 0388), I ran right over (fashion week is not just about showings and presentations). And I'm glad I did, because in addition to seeing the clothes, and having a chance to shop for special, beautifully made, timeless pieces, I also had a chance to chat with Sybilla (I covered her shows in Milan when I was a senior editor at Harper’s Bazaar).
|The designer with her orange leather coat|
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner
Set up in a small compact space at 174 Elizabeth Street, there were 5 racks of select pieces priced from approximately $450 to $2000 and arranged by color: black, pale neutrals, hot saturated shades of yellow, orange, hot pink, green, and of course red. Color is very important to Sybilla, whose ‘signature’ color combination is red and black owing to her Spanish heritage (she once remarked that “if you are wearing red, it made you feel like you can eat the world!”). Everything popped against the graphic black and ivory rugs which she designs in an atelier in Madrid along with scarves, candles, jewelry, and floor tiles.
Owing to the hues, the stripes, and the chicly underdone, minimal shapes, I was instantly reminded of the late great Bonnie Cashin, particularly in the case of one collarless coat that I was especially drawn to made of orange glove leather and lined in horizontally striped silk in shades of yellow, green, orange, and red.
I am not only a fan of Sybilla’s designs (which she describes as “easy to wear and special; different but not too costumey”); I admire her integrity, aesthetic, and the wisdom behind her creations. Her clothes are not only modern, beautiful, timeless, and comfortable, they are practical and versatile and many of her designs transform (such as a dress with a removable panel that transforms to a coat, a vest made from red silk that can also be a blouse, dress, or cape, and a long, lean red dress that is actually a jumpsuit and is easy to get in and out of). And they are designed to be flattering; the shapes are round and based on the circle and they purposely draw attention away from the tummy (which can be a problem spot for many women).
|Sybilla in the pop-up shop|
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner
She produces the collection in Spanish workshops, the knitwear is done in Italy, she wholesales from a showroom in Paris and intuitively knows what her customers want and need. Her customer is more important than ever and connecting with them is key. Hello Instagram @sybillaofficial. She understands the transformative power of clothes and their ability to beautify. She has said, “Women are warriors and I want to give them an armor that can be light and strong at the same time!”
She once observed that the biggest challenge for a designer is “being in fashion and staying happy”. “I think we are more and more forgetting that fashion is more than money, marketing campaigns, and fashion weeks. It was created to make us happy”. Touche!
- Marilyn Kirschner