There are only so many creative-director chairs in fashion, and whenever the luxury conglomerates pause the music, much rushing for the nearest seat ensues. The game of musical chairs struck up once again in 2013, with changes at Louis Vuitton, Rochas, Jil Sander and Ann Demeulemeester. But for all the familiar shufflings at big-name brands, there was one hire last year that signalled something truly unusual in the industry. The Italian brand Iceberg appointed a young, unknown Frenchman to helm their label and launch his debut SS14 collection in Milan. A new name had arrived in Italy’s fashion capital – a rare occurrence.
Alexis Martial was in his Paris apartment when he got the call informing him of his new position. He remembers the moment well: where he was standing, the din of the traffic muffling the line. It was a seminal moment for the 28-year-old, who felt “like I’d woken up on Christmas morning”. And it was to prove seminal for the brand as well.
Iceberg was founded in 1974 by Giuliana Marchini and her husband Silvano Gerani, with a focus on knit and sportswear, then a rather unusual combination in Italy. Marchini had fallen in love with sketches by the designer Jean Charles de Castlebajac, and invited him to work with her on collections, forging a brand that would operate successfully for 40 years.
But in the brand’s heyday, Martial was a teenager growing up in Paris; he confesses that before his appointment, he knew little of Iceberg. He found its name “very cool” and decided to explore its history. “I was really impressed by the list of people who designed Iceberg collections in the past: fashion designers of the calibre of Marc Jacobs, Giambattista Valli, Dean and Dan Caten of Dsquared.”
Though Martial’s name is new to that list, his experience is impressive. At 16, he enrolled in a Parisian school specialising in haute couture; after short stints at Balmain and Alexander McQueen, he took a position at Givenchy, working under Riccardo Tisci for five years before moving to Paco Rabanne. “I worked for Riccardo on all his women’s collections. I witnessed first-hand how to make people understand your universe, your vision. The energy was frenetic. Riccardo’s work really marked a renaissance for the fashion house!” What Martial learned from Tisci was invaluable, and you can trace his influence on Martial’s Iceberg in, for instance, the ingenious and commercially shrewd sweaters emblazoned with graphic icebergs.
Giving his collection a curious theme – “a boy scout travelling to Tokyo” – Martial played with uniforms, something he had seen in the brand’s archives. He combined this with high-tech fabrics: plastic strips sewn into skirts; holographic details embroidered on shirts. Using sheer textures, shades of white and bleached-out neon hues, Martial wanted to “make people sense the brand’s fresh new feeling”. With critical acclaim for his debut, and the paint drying on a new Paris studio in Le Marais, Martial is making Iceberg cool again. §