Over the last few years, it has become fashionable to reinvigorate sleepy fashion houses; note the success of Carven, Delpozo, and, of course, Céline. Unlike those former couture designers, Jan Nehera was a Czechoslovakian entrepreneur renowned for his garment manufacturing in the first half of the 20th century. He opened over 130 fashion stores throughout Europe, Russia, USA and Northern and South Africa in the thirties before the developments of WWII halted business.
Skip to 1998, and the forgotten name, Nehera, was acquired by Ladislav Zdut, an expert in marketing and brand management. He got Samuel Drira in 2014 to run the creative side and reposition the name in the luxury sector. Drira, a French stylist and creative consultant who has worked with top tier luxury brands including Hermès, The Row and Christophe Lemaire, is also founder and editor of the Parisian magazine Encens, which portrays and discusses fashion as an art form, operating outside of seasonal trends.
Indeed, that's precisely the tack Drira is taking with Nehera. 'The title of the first collection for S/S 2015 was "Blank Canvas"; we had to invent everything from scratch,' he explains. 'We spent two months thinking about the basics; like "What is a white shirt? How should the collar be? The pocket? The cut?" I don't think a designer anymore is someone who just makes a beautiful sketch, that's a cliché, and that's what I learnt from the designers I worked with in the past.'
Drira, who splits his time between Paris and the studio in Bratislava, showed his third Nehera collection for A/W 2015 at Paris fashion week in March. Rather than focusing on individual garments, Drira considers the whole silhouette, taking care to position details like trouser pockets in line with vents in an accompanying jacket or shirt. 'The shape of a comma provided the framework the silhouette. The finished look had a very narrow shoulder; there were elongated jackets with a big slit on the back so you can tie it and keep some volume.'
The benefit of reinvigorating an under-the-radar brand means Drira can design without the shackles of history or an extensive archive. 'It's not like working for a designer like Yves Saint Laurent,' he readily admits. But, he is quick to point out, original founder Jan Nehera was a visionary in his own right. 'If you look back into history, around Prague and Vienna, which Bratislava is very close to, everybody was obsessed by the future and its optimism. In the painting and the literature [of the time] you see that, and Jan Nehera introduced something that had not been seen before; that was ready to wear. This is very inspiring somehow because he jumped into the unknown and it was an adventure, it wasn't just a business.'
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Tilly is a British writer, editor and digital consultant based in New York, covering luxury fashion, jewellery, design, culture, art, travel, wellness and more. An alumna of Central Saint Martins, she is Contributing Editor for Wallpaper* and has interviewed a cross section of design legends including Sir David Adjaye, Samuel Ross, Pamela Shamshiri and Piet Oudolf for the magazine.
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