Bright colors are well and good, but for city women, the real summer staple is the little black dress. Designers have reimagined the LBD for years, as shoppers seek out new versions of it time and time again. And this season, with sustainability on the rise, responsible brands from all corners of the world are offering shoppers their hottest little (ethically-made) numbers, bringing out all the style and none of the waste.
“A little black dress is a must-have in any wardrobe. With the reopening of the city, we knew we had to include the perfect dress for a night out in our SS21 Collection,” Apparis founders Amelie Brick and Lauren Nouchi said.
The Azka dress is Apparis’ bold twist on the classic LBD with color blocking tie strap details.
“It’s functional, flattering, always on trend and a go-to for an easy feel-good moment,” the designers said. “We strive to produce long-lasting pieces that can be worn on repeat. The Azka can be worn season to season and will be in your everyday closet rotation. From daytime to drinks with friends and date night, this wearable piece can be styled for any moment.”
Brick and Nouchi launched Apparis in 2017 after having spent most of their careers working at luxury fashion houses and witnessing the negative impact the industry’s unethical manufacturing practices were having on the environment.
What started with a pop-up in New York City’s Williamsburg has become a city staple, much thanks to the brand’s luxurious faux fur coats and silky vegan dresses, which can be easily spotted around town on a Saturday night.
Apparis’ most iconic coat, the Sasha, is made with their signature Pluche™ faux fur. In the fall, the coat will be reintroduced as the Stella, now made with 100% recycled polyester Pluche™. They will also be launching a capsule made with 100% bio-based fabrics. The goal is to eventually produce the Stella in a plant-based Pluche™ fabric.
“Apparis stands behind the mission that the future of fashion is vegan,” the founders said. “Apparis products are always 100% vegan and cruelty free. We believe that ethical fashion and an accessible price point can coexist without compromising style or quality.”
The customer Apparis’ little black dress was created for “is independent, bold and wants to make a statement with their fashion,” Brick and Nouchi said. She or he values vegan fashion and is taking steps toward living a more sustainable lifestyle. This summer, this on-the-go customer needs a piece that can take her or him from day to night, that is easy to wear and that can be worn on repeat.
“The little black dress is a must-have, it’s that dress that you’ll wear over and over again and will never be out of fashion. You can get tired of it at a point, but you rediscover it later again,” MANURÍ founder and creative director Manuela Pungan said.
The Patricia dress, Pungan said, wasn’t necessarily inspired by one particular thing, but like many of her recent designs, it has some ’90s influences. It also comes in a longer version: Patricia on Saturday Night.
“Being a stylist for so many years made me want to create items to compliment the women’s bodies and to suit all types of silhouettes, from skinny to generously curvy, ” she said. “I think the Patricia dress has this.”
Pungan launched MANURÍ in 2010, while she was still a fashion director at Cosmopolitan Romania. She said that after having spent over 10 years in the fashion world, starting her own brand felt like a natural next step.
Today, the brand offers sustainable everyday garments and bridal attire. Pungan said more than 80% of their textiles are sourced from deadstock, and they produce very limited quantities of each piece to cut back waste. Also, 99% of their textiles come from natural fabrics: They mainly use cotton, silk, linen, viscose, wool and TENCEL™.
Every ethically-made product the brand offers has a “cool” factor that resembles Gen Z street style but with an air of vintage couture, like an old-school Madonna.
“MANURÍ girls are cool, seductive and look confident. They wanna enjoy life and dress up again,” Pungan said.
“The little black dress is feminine, timeless, the one and only dress every woman should have for all occasions,” Parisienne et Alors founder and designer Laury Thilleman said.
The Furstenberg dress was inspired by the wish to be comfortable during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thilleman said. “It perfectly matches the saying, ‘Less is more.'”
Thilleman founded the brand in 2018 with the goal of making chic clothing for a young, sporty, sexy and casual customer who is “concerned about ethical issues.”
All of the brand’s production is made in France in their ateliers near Paris. They only use natural or recycled fibers and all of their materials are Oeko-Tex certified.
This summer the Parisienne et Alors customer is “waiting to start traveling again, meeting her friends on terraces and having fun!” Thilleman said.
“There is no complete collection without a little black dress, and it should always be sexy, timeless and with vintage references,” Musier Paris founder and artistic director Anne-Laure Mais said.
The stunning Baila dress, which comes in black with a white trim and faux pearl straps, was “inspired by ’80s mixes of casual material (jersey) with jewels,” Mais said. “This is how the Musier girl dresses: sexy and chic, but still comfy.”
Mais founded Musier Paris in 2018 for a young, international shopper who is looking for basics with perfect, modern silhouettes. Their most coveted styles include sleek midi dresses, flashy sandals and cropped knit and ribbed tops.
The team makes an effort to avoid waste and reduce their carbon footprint by ensuring most of their production takes place in France, producing limited quantities of each product and up-cycling all of their fabrics from one collection to another.
This season, Mais said, the Musier Paris customer is “waiting to have fun and go dancing again!”
“The little black dress is the most important and powerful item in my personal wardrobe,” KES founder Lia Kes said. “Minimal and versatile, the little black dress is my Monday morning and my Friday evening, it’s my dinner on the beach dress and my travelwear. Each collection I design incorporates a new take on the iconic idea. To me, black transcends color entirely.”
The Duane St. high cowl neck silk dress is a more minimal take on a previous design. Kes said she was inspired to create a piece that ignites a sense of power in the wearer, that is flattering for all body types and that can be worn anywhere, all year round.
The designer founded KES seven years ago in New York City. “From a young age, I knew that dressing people would become a significant part of my identity,” she said. “The brand is my connector to the human embroidery.”
She said that at the very center of her brand’s identity is a deep respect for the planet and the resources that we use to create our clothing. “We employ eco-conscious practices that minimize our impact on the environment: working locally, incorporating organic and biodegradable materials and designing with the intention of longevity,” Kes said.
Kes said she designs not just with timeless style the environment in mind but with the hope that her designs will be transformed and “activated” by the wearer. “The wearer defines the garment, while the garment flatters the wearer,” she said.
As a designer, Kes is best known for her fantastic slip dresses which are made to be both casual and ultra sexy in the most understated way.
“The slip dress is the most minimal silhouette and yet the most versatile dress,” she said. “The slip dress allows you to bring your own character to the garment, rather than the garment defining you, and is therefore deeply empowering.”
Over the past 20 years, Kes said she’s worked primarily with silks, which are her “passion” and her “obsession.” Her designs are deliciously minimal, but she loves to see them styled or layered by her shoppers.
“Our customers are independent thinkers and global citizens who consider their wellbeing as an extension of the wellbeing of their surroundings,” Kes said. “Our clientele is multi-generational, ranging from a 17-year-old going to prom, to a woman in her 80s who is traveling to a yoga retreat in Mexico.”
“The little black dress is a wardrobe staple that can come in many shapes and forms,” Room 502 co-founder and designer Sophie Theallet said, adding that when she thinks of a LBD, she pictures women like Coco Chanel, Catherine Deneuve and Edith Piaf.
The brand’s Model 4 Yara is inspired by a dress Theallet had as a young girl. It’s a short A-line dress with a couture style bubble ruffle, designed to be versatile, easy for a day or night out, to be worn with high heels or sandals—or even over pants. “Model 4 was named after Yara Shahidi who wore an earlier version at an Emmys Party,” Theallet said.
The Yara was once notoriously rocked by legendary supermodel Naomi Campbell, just as many of the brand’s dresses have become celebrity favorites. Meghan Markle, for example, turned heads in her Model 2 Stephanie during a royal outing.
Theallet said Room 502 went live in August 2019 as “an ethical luxury alternative to mindless consumption.” She and the entire Room 502 team are always looking to simplify their shoppers’ lives by offering them “timeless and versatile styles, rooted in couture savoir-faire.”
That also means providing their customers with high-end garments that were created ethically.
“We personally don’t use the word sustainable, we prefer responsible,” Theallet said. “We are an ethical luxury fashion brand. We only produce limited series, never overproduce or go on sale.”
The brand, based in Canada, works with ethical factories and local artisans and uses only natural fabrics. In addition to their clothing, their packaging is purposely minimalist, compostable, biodegradable and recyclable.
“Our client is fashion aware, but not a fashion victim,” Theallet said. “She is looking for clothing that compliments her lifestyle and her silhouette. She is not looking for a trend, but prefers looking great and empowered.”
Nu-in’s take on the little black dress is a luxurious one-shoulder number made out of 100% recycled materials. The brand’s founders call it simple, but “anything but boring.”
“Sustainable fashion doesn’t mean boring,” the founders said. “Recycled fashion saves space in landfills by giving life to what would otherwise be wasted. When you use recycled materials, fewer natural resources are needed, meaning you’re saving on water, energy, and CO2 emissions.”
Nu-in, a PETA-approved vegan company, was founded in 2019 by friends Mike, Poppy, Marcus and Stefanie, with a simple mission to create beautiful clothing without negatively impacting the planet. “The fashion industry is one of the most polluting, and we feel a responsibility to reduce this as much as possible while educating our customer base on sustainability,” the founders said. “We want to be an alternative to the bigger brands producing unsustainably, showing the world that affordable fashion and sustainability can coexist.”
Nu-in’s entire brand identity is based on creating responsibly and finding ways to steer positive change in the industry. The founders are committed to creating products that never end up as waste, and yet they are able to offer elegant, expertly-crafted garments in a variety of categories, including dresses, denim, outerwear, activewear, swimwear, underwear and more. Some of their bestsellers are their 100% organic dresses and 100% knitted tops.
The brand’s Buy For Good program is the founders’ way of contributing to initiatives that are helping make the world a better place. Once a month they donate all their profits from a certain period to a cause that benefits the community. Organizations include: Fridays for Future, Thirst Project, Seaspiracy, Qquality Now, The Children’s Society, Fareshare, SOS Amazonia, Horizont, Young Minds, Tafel, Die Arche and The Female Lead. So far they have raised and donated over $60,000.
The Nu-in customer is someone who is looking to update their wardrobe with affordable, sustainable, stylish basics that can last them a lifetime.
“The little black dress is a timeless wardrobe staple that can be dressed up or down for any occasion,” KERISMA creative director and co-founder Lihui Ke said. “Without color or pattern to disguise her figure, the silhouette is key in showcasing a woman’s confidence, charisma and elegance.”
The brand’s Dahlia dress was inspired by Diane Von Furstenberg’s elegant wrap dresses. The adjustable V neckline and generous dolman sleeves are flattering on many body types, as they accentuate the shoulders and hips while thinning out the waistline.
Lihui Ke and father Phil Ke founded KERISMA in April of 2010 after realizing there was a need for a versatile knitwear line that was accessible, well designed and beautifully constructed. Lihui, who studied architecture, said she became disconnected to the slow pace and grand scale of architecture projects and decided to channel her creativity into fashion. Still, she chose to embrace knits for their architectural qualities, “as in textural diversity and shaping flexibility,” she said.
Depending on the gauge and type of warp or weft knitting construction, she said, there’s infinite play in the range of yarns, stitches and patterns one can use. There are also constant improvements in machine-knitting technology, which make it “fascinating and fun” to create new garments season after season.
Another thing that led Lihui to launch KERISMA was her desire to create a family business that would allow her to spend more time with her loved ones and continue to bring them together for generations.
“I wanted to create a family business that could support our long-term family health and wealth while reconnecting with our Chinese roots, culture and language,” she said. “My parents worked in garment production for decades. I grew up watching them work long 10- to12-hour shifts from Monday to Saturday. There was little to no time for family bonding besides occasional trips to the mall and holiday dinners. I wanted a better, more connected and relaxed future for our family.”
Many would say it’s not easy to sustain a family business, but for Lihui and Phil it has certainly worked out. While Lihui leads the design process, Phil’s experience in the garment industry is what has helped the brand grow over the past 11 years.
Today, KERISMA is based in Los Angeles, and its garments are manufactured in top women-run and operated factories in China. They do not to work with large department stores and retailers, and instead supply small, independent retailers, most of which are family-owned and operated. This allows the founders to better control the scale and quality of their production and to stay creative on their own terms.
Quality, sustainability and ethics are all priorities to the family. Lihui said they’ve taken many steps over the years to reduce their ecological footprint and increase their philanthropic efforts. For example, they constantly source “better yarns” with the understanding that both natural and synthetic yarns produce waste and exhaust the Earth’s resources. They are also on schedule to be plastic polybag free by July of 2022.
Apart from that, starting this summer the team will donate 2% of their online sales each quarter toward arts and culture programs in alignment with their values.
When designing one of KERISMA’s ethically-made pieces, Lihui said she thinks about a woman who is creative and who embraces her body at every age and stage in her life. “She craves comfort and versatility in all of her personal expressions,” she said. “Clothing is a physical expression of her beauty; it empowers her to live her best life each and every day.”