It has been said that, just as roaring 20s preceded the years of the Spanish flu in 1918, once pandemics end, often there is a period in which people seek out comfort in vivaciousness and vitality. Before lockdown, there was a time when subdued colourways and understated textural tones were leitmotifs of the global fashion landscape, but 2021 is looking an altogether different story, with designers ‘putting on the ritz’ with graphic patterns, eye-popping palettes and a dazzle of pizzaz.
Step forward Sarah-Louise, the Algarve-based, French fashion designer conjuring a maximalist rebellion with high-octane designs that evoke flashes of Studio 54 glamour. Forget what you thought you wanted to wear this year (stretch waist linen trousers after months of lounging on the sofa, and baggy cotton shirts), Sarah- Louise wants to empower women to be as bold as the clothes they wear.
Taking the plunge
Sarah-Louise grew up in France, in a small town in the region of Alsace, surrounded by quiet vineyards located in the east of the country close to the German and Swiss border. At 18, she made a move as daring as her now designs, leaving her family behind to relocate to London to undertake a foundation year in Art and Design. Inspired by British fashion history, and the creative communities at famous UK fashion schools like Central Saint Martins, she decided to make it permanent, swapping croissants full time for ice-cream cones in the UK’s capital of colour, Brighton.
Enrolling on the BA (Hons) Fashion Design course, she graduated last year, when many students were still in lockdown and the traditional ceremonies weren’t able to take place.
“It was a tough time where many of us were forced to make life-changing decisions” she said of the moment in June 2020. And yet, as is often the case, from darkness came light. “I had always wanted to start my own business and this gave me the push I needed to create my own job instead of looking for someone to give me one.”
Of course, being 22 and living in the UK while starting a business comes with its own challenges. “I realised that I could not afford to live in Brighton so I decided to move back in with my parents here in Praia da Luz. It was a hard decision to make as I was leaving my friends and the life that I had made in the UK behind, but it is the best decision I have ever made,” she says.
When asked if she found it difficult being away from the ‘buzz’ of the UK’s cities, Sarah-Louise incites the power of technology – a power we have all become used to over the past 12 months – remote working, zoom calls with friends, family and colleagues alike. Today you can work from pretty much anywhere in the world and Sarah’s ‘anywhere’ is here, in our beautiful Algarve where she founded SLK Designs, a label that focuses on clothes that “make the wearer feel empowered, confident and special”. Her elevator pitch? “SLK explores conceptual and architectural silhouettes, an avant-garde take on classic Haute Couture. I use innovative fabrics and craftsmanship features. I see my dresses as wearable art.”
A sparkling talent
And wearable art they are indeed. So much so that Swarovski – the world’s leading name in crystals and notorious for its support of young and talented designers, commissioned Sarah-Louise to create pieces for the launch of their sparkling new brand identity.
The new Swarovski Wonderlab is described as a place where science and magic meet, and extra and elegance collide. With her focus on garment engineering, vibrant textures, metallic sculptures, and innovative materials, she describes the moment when she first saw her dresses in the global campaign that graced the windows of stores from LA to Lisbon. “I was flying to Lisbon when the campaign launched and landed at 5am to see it splashed all over the airport. I thought I was dreaming, and then I remembered. It was an incredible feeling”.
But of course, such gleeful and rewarding moments do not come without hard work and ardour behind the scenes “It’s hard to set up your own business when you are fresh out of university,” Sarah-Louise recalls. “There are so many things that you have to just learn on the spot like how to cost your items, how to create an invoice, how to source manufactures and fabrics. It’s hard to keep trying to learn as you go along while trying to sound professional.”
But having to navigatie that labyrinth of formalities and business necessities hasn’t stopped her; she believes that the consumer demand shift a more conscious and considered mentality is a blissful gift.
“I think that living in Portugal has taught me to slow down and enjoy some downtime. The fashion industry is so quick to move and change direction and I’ve decided I will not be one of those designers who produces four or six collections a year. I will be focusing on making a single, thought-through collection a year of one-off pieces made to be timeless and constructed for durability. I don’t believe in mass production and all the items on my shop are made to order.”
Sarah-Louise has built a framework in the Algarve of like-minded individuals open to collaborate. “I’ve met lots of creatives through photoshoots I’ve done at Palacio Estoi – the beautiful rococo-style definitely fulfilled my dreams of shooting at Versailles – and Casa Fuzetta in Olhao.”
And how does Portugal relate to London or Brighton when it comes to taking inspiration? “I find inspiration everywhere, and in everything, but I found that being able to go to the beach to sit and watch the waves has really given me some brain space. And Portugal has such an exuberant architectural heritage and that is so inspiring.”
Of course, as a designer seeing inspiration transform into tangible pieces is one thing, but having real women wear your clothes is all together another, and Sarah-Louise wants to communicate to women who might wear her collections that fashion is not about dressing to please others but for their own joy. “You only live once, after all, and fashion is a way for us to imagine, to create characters for ourselves, and quietly (or not so quietly!) reveal more about who we are as people”. Of course, every designer has a muse, for Sarah it is no different: “I would love to see my dresses reach the entertainment industry, to see a woman like Lady Gaga wearing my clothes would be a huge moment”.
While dreams continue, for now, she is working hard on a new collection for September. “This will be a high end runway collection,” she says. So, fellow Algarve fashionistas, it looks like we’ll all be swapping swimming cossies for couture this summer…
See more, and shop, at slksarah-louisedesigns.com
Words: Emma Campus