There’s a quiet insurgency at the heart of fashion, a tranquil rebellion against the churning machine of the industry that began not with a shot in the night, but a whisper. The idea that’s turning fashion inside out is simple: Clothing should be easy to wear. And at a time when it seems like there are more trends than people to wear them, putting on a tailored white shirt and casual trousers without a second thought is the ultimate act of subversion.
Nehera is a Czechoslovakian brand with a history of shaking things up. Originated by businessman Jan Nehera, the brand made waves in the world of ready-to-wear with over 130 retailers across Europe, Africa, and North America, but closed its doors during World War II. After lying dormant for decades, the company was purchased by Ladislav Zdut in the late 1990s and re-emerged in 2014 with Samuel Drira as its first creative director. With his guidance, Nehera has quickly grown to become a staple at Paris Fashion Week and has earned a devoted following.
Drira has an approachability and warmth that’s all too rare in fashion, especially as someone who’s consulted for major houses like Hugo Boss, Hermès, and The Row. In reflecting back, he makes it clear that nothing Nehera does is accidental.
“In the beginning, everything had to be perfect,” he says. “We really had to show what we could do, and do well, in a short period of time.” Nehera is at the forefront of a new guard of fashion lines that promote a seasonless collection—that is, one that transitions easily across the calendar year and does not follow trends. With no prescribed template or brand legacy to adhere to, Drira was free to develop the language of Nehera anew. He began with the most fundamental element: a white shirt. “We spent two months working on the white shirt because it is a classic staple of the wardrobe,” he asserts. “In doing that, we knew what the basis would be for the whole collection.”
This shirt is in soft white cotton, pleated at the cuff with a loose tapered sleeve. It falls across the body with a smooth resilient shape, while understated details like the twin tucks in the back and hidden buttons accentuate its austere beauty. “When you begin a collection, you need to have a framework,” Drira notes. “To me, all of the technical things—the pattern, cut, and weight—are not boring at all. They are part of the process. And so nothing we do is an accident—it’s a decision. The first collection was all about building that framework for the future, and establishing a balance between formula and experimentation.”
From this description, Nehera’s aesthetic might be considered monastic, but it is not without romance. The Fall 2016 collection, entitled Faded Forms, draws inspiration from the mysterious nature of fog—a phenomenon that both reveals and obscures shapes in its ephemera. “I like very much when you have no idea about what you’re seeing,” he says. “You have a feeling that you don’t have all the information. This collection was about blurred forms.”
The collection achieves this effect through the benefit of Drira’s styling expertise. “We started working with two elements that are almost opposite. You have layered pieces underneath, fluid fabric with one seam, and on top you have a structured, solid element. The effect is blurred because there is just one color palette, so perhaps you have the impression of someone carrying a heavy object on their shoulders.” The colors in the collection range from light pink to endive in a scale that encourages combination, while the varying volumes and textures of the pieces do the heavy lifting.
“No matter how you style a piece, it works,” Drira says. “That way you don’t have to think about what you’re wearing.” It’s an ease that is most welcome in our hectic day-to-day lives, and one less thing for the fashionable women of the world to worry about.
The collection is conceived in materials that lend themselves to comfort and androgyny—the softness of Japanese wool, the starch of cotton, the smooth structure of rich leather and lamb shearling. Nehera’s love affair with menswear is no mere tryst. As a student at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Drira enriched his love of fashion with the study of philosophy. In reading Marcel Proust, he discovered the connection between fashion and identity. “I realized that fashion wasn’t frivolous at all, because it says something about who you are in society, and who you want to become.”
In 2002 he and Sybille Walter co-founded the Parisian biannual magazine Encens because they felt there was something missing from the cultural dialogue. “At the time, we were referring to fashion as ‘comfort chic,’ and everything had started to look the same. So I started this project, dressing women in men’s clothing. I never expected the magazine to last for more than a couple of issues—sometimes I would even look forward to the day that it would be perfectly complete. And yet every time it comes out, I think there is something to improve or something else we have to say.”
With the revival of Nehera, Drira has created an entirely new playground for his ideas and philosophies to mingle. Oversized cashmere sweaters ooze from inside double-breasted coats, while voluminous jackets cloak delicate underpinnings. Drira’s collections are a master class in the art of balance.
“I realized that fashion wasn’t frivolous at all,
because it says something about who you are in society,
and who you want to become.”
— SAMUEL DRIRA
He draws inspiration from the trajectory of other great designers, and names seminal figures like Issey Miyake and Giorgio Armani as two of his major influences. “The way they deal with the body, and their vision—society was not ready for that. They had to find a way to make their vision appealing. That, for me, is very interesting, because it’s not just about the making but the questioning. If we do clothes, we have to know why we are making them.”
This clarity of purpose is often missing in our world of instant fashion, where clothes are born and die within the season. The cycle is thrilling in all its speed, but it also robs fashion of its meaning. We tend to forget that behind that shearling jacket is an idea, a designer, a history, and craft.
However, Drira notes that there is also a balance between the art of fashion and the necessity of trade: “The thing about fashion is, you deal with a deadline. If your show is on the 23rd, the collection has to be ready then. You can’t say you’re not ready now. But fashion is related to someone’s vision, so it is somehow an art form. It’s related to creativity—and with certain designers, it’s not just about making clothes for dressing, it is an expression of vision. But you need to have a little more information before clothing can have meaning on that level. When it has meaning, fashion becomes a dialogue rather than a statement.”
There’s been a lot of dialogue lately about the current state of the fashion industry. Depending on your source, some will tell you that the industry is on the brink of collapse, while others will essentially say, “If it’s too hot, get out of the kitchen.” Nehera might be the gold standard in avant-minimalism, but Drira takes the rumors of industry burnout with a grain of salt. “You have to know that it was never perfect to begin with. Fashion is a world where everything is changing all the time. You could never point at a time or place [in history] and say, ‘That’s the ideal world.’ It’s true that people don’t take time anymore to continue the work or tradition that is behind these clothes. When everything moves so quickly, there is no time for incubation, no time for mistakes. But at the end of the day, you have to laugh and move on, because it’s only fashion.”