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Sies Marjan Girlfriends Project
Sies Marjan Girlfriends Project, AW16 lookbookPhotography Kasper Kasprzyk

Meet Sies Marjan, the label that stole the show last NYFW

Sies Marjan’s debut lookbook is shot on a gang of its designer’s friends – he discusses his inspirations

Sies Marjan’s debut show at NYFW in February was an instant hit. Creative director and founder Sander Lak presented an AW16 collection of androgynous separates that sat alongside super-feminine, Parma Violet-hued chiffon slip dresses, and deconstructed shirting met by low-slung skirts that revealed strips of delicate silk. Lak’s vision for Sies Marjan is unashamedly feminine – as he puts it, “I love menswear and I love this idea of ‘no-sex’ androgynous dress, I completely do, but what we feel is right about what we’re doing, is keeping this idea of femininity pure and not being ashamed of that.” So far, it’s been a runaway success: after just one season, Sies Marjan has secured stockists in the likes of Matches Fashion, Selfridges and Harrods.

Having spent his youth travelling the world, Lak moved to London to undertake a masters in menswear at Central Saint Martins under the direction of Professor Louise Wilson. Finding himself in a year group that included the likes of Mary Katrantzou and Christopher Shannon, who at the time “weren’t necessarily wanting to start their own labels”, Lak was initially hell-bent on going at it alone but changed his mind over the duration of the course. “I wasn’t ready for it,” he recalls. “You know, as a student, you’re very much only exposed to your own little bubble that you’re defining and refining. So I started working in the industry and I was comfortable working for other people.”

Having cut his teeth designing womenswear at the likes of Phillip Lim, Balmain and Dries Van Noten, the latter of which he remained at for five years, when the opportunity to go solo with his own label arose Lak felt he was ready for it. The name of the brand stems from the marriage of his mother and father’s first names. “Sies is a kind of obscure Northern Dutch name, so quite specific, and Marjan is a more common Dutch name,” he explains. “A lot of people think that Sies Marjan is an actual person, which I find very interesting. I’m quite happy to hide behind this fictional figure!”

Whilst taking centre stage himself isn’t important to Lak, doing something that’s personal and authentic is. The AW16 Sies Marjan “Girlfriend Project” lookbook is a testament to this. Playing out as a series of scrapbooked photographs shot by Kacper Kasprzyk, the first source of inspiration for the project was five females from Lak’s inner circle of all different nationalities, and the second was the work of Russian photographer Boris Mikhailov.

“It’s a direct reflection of me,” says Lak. “These are the girls in my life – some for a long time, some for a short time – who have shaped how I think about women and how I think about clothes. What I find really interesting is that even though they’re all from such different backgrounds, there’s a red line running through them wherein they all want the same thing when it comes to what they want to wear and how they feel comfortable. That’s something I find really fascinating, that even though culturally you can be completely different from another person, in the end, we all have the same types of insecurities about our bodies and so on.”

“Yes, they are beautiful girls, you can’t deny it, but they are real women with real bodies and there’s something nice about realness” – Sander Lak

Taking inspiration from teen diary entries and poetry books, Lak asked Kasprzyk to photograph his photographs, in order to create something that felt handmade, tactile and real. “I think as a generation we’ve seen so many perfect things and perfect images, that there’s a tiredness about it,” says Lak. “It’s not a new thing, it’s been going on for a while, but I think it really felt like the right time for me to do something personal with these girls. Yes, they are beautiful girls, you can’t deny it, but they are real women with real bodies and there’s something nice about realness.”

Deciding that they weren’t keen to have more people than necessary on set, Lak and Volkova decided to skip hair and make-up, further pushing the importance of “real”. “This isn’t saying that I don’t think hair and make-up are important because they really are, but there was something nice and free about being like, ‘These girls are beautiful, she has a little red spot underneath her nose and the other has frizzy hair but let’s just shoot it as it is’,” explains Lak. “I feel like people will react to this in a stronger way than to an image of a beautiful girl who’s been photoshopped to perfection. It was really natural, really real and I think it’s a reflection of who we are as a brand.”