Little Black Dress – Shows True Color



Since 2009, the Swiss designers Eliane Diethelm and Joanna Skoczylas have been managing their own design label: Little Black Dress – or LBD for short. They're happiest selling their not-just-black dresses in their own little boutique on Josefstrasse in Zurich.

Though its exact provenance is unclear, the little black dress most definitely owes its breakthrough to no one less than Coco Chanel, who displayed a short, black Chanel dress in VOGUE in 1926 with the following caption: "This simple dress will become a type of uniform for all women of taste." Needless to say, time proved her right. The little black dress is a timeless, universal and versatile garment that can be found in almost every well-stocked closet in the Western world. The little dress’s versatility is why, when Eliane and Joanna joined forces, they chose it to be the flexible focus of their small fashion universe, dedicating themselves professionally to these most sought-after wisps of fabric. "The great thing is that you can design a wonderful little black dress for any woman, for all shapes and sizes," says Eliane. "It's much easier than trousers, which – between you and me – don't really suit every figure." Key to the little black dress is not so much the color, but the idea of the dress as such. "The little black dress is such a classic, it doesn't even have to be black anymore," Eliane says with a smile. And Joanna adds, "We create dresses that are elegant, simple and subtly sexy, making the wearer feel attractive and desirable." Neither is interested in integrating as many trends as possible in their collections; instead their creations are always reduced to the essence, allowing this to shine through.

It's like spaghetti or pizza: the simplest things are often the best.

Yet, avoiding trends is not entirely realistic, especially as the two designers have so many other interests besides fashion: cinema, photography, art, psychology. As they enumerate their varied interests, we have time to admire both women’s stunning eyes. It is almost impossible to guess the origin of the dark, almond-shaped eyes that, as it turns out, stretches from India and Nepal, to South Africa and Portugal, on to Switzerland. Eliane only learned to appreciate her visible otherness during puberty when she realized that being "individual and distinctive is a strong point, and not something to be ashamed of." Before, she viewed her being different more as a reason to avoid contact with others. "Which is how my first collections came into being. First I worked with paper until I learned to sew, and then I designed for my dolls and me," Eliane recollects. Joanna’s radiant blue eyes first saw the light of day in Warsaw, where she lived until she was ten. "My background certainly has had a strong influence on my work and my professional style," she says. "Be it food, clothes or furniture – back in Poland everything was beige or gray, there wasn't a real choice. So, if you wanted something different, you had to be inventive and creative." Another influence that made its mark on her understanding of fashion: "In Poland we were taught that making yourself chic for an occasion was a sign of respect."

By taking my good clothes out of the closet and dressing up for an occasion, I show respect toward another person – the host who invites me to dinner, or the musician who gives a concert.

Despite the numerous influences and ideas surrounding them – "everyday occurrences, current events, our own stories, changes in general – it’s not like we live on an alp somewhere" – the creators of Little Black Dress prefer to avoid frills. Eliane explains, "We don't want to overload the dresses and run the risk of effectively hiding the women inside them."

Black goes white

With her endorsement of the color black in the 1920s, Coco Chanel triggered a minor revolution. Prior to the appearance of the little black cocktail dress in VOGUE, the color black had been reserved for servants and mourners. Suddenly, it became fashionable for young, unmarried women to wear black – and to flash a lot of leg in the process. Joanna and Eliane are similarly revolutionary, especially with regard to colorful variations of their core product. In 2012, they released their first collection in white: wedding dresses for women who want a traditional wedding, but choose to avoid masses of tulle and organza, ruffles and rosebuds. "We're noticing that a lot of women feel that getting married in white is not very emancipated," Joanna tells us with an amused look. "So they come to us because they want a colored dress for their wedding. "Then – and why not, after all – they try on a little white dress – just briefly. And end up leaving the store with the white dress, carrying their heads as high as a queen.
Both Joanna and Eliane are fascinated by the psychological aspect of fashion. "It's always exciting to observe, how people perceive themselves, before and after," Joanna finds. "For us, the best feeling is when somebody leaves our shop in a happy, confident frame of mind, leaving their insecurities behind them." Generally, both designers agree that the direct and positive feedback of their clients in the store is their main driving force. Which is why their atelier is located directed next to the boutique: they are always on the premises.
Production takes place mainly in Switzerland. Geographic proximity, ease of distribution and quality control as well as short communication paths are just some of the reasons cited. All the same, they have enlarged their production capacity by a second location in Bosnia. "A friend of ours started rebuilding the family production site after the war there and offered us a cooperation," Eliane recounts. "As we have similar values, especially with a view to fair working conditions and quality demands, we decided to take him up on his offer." Looking toward the future, Joanna says, "I hope we'll be able to remain true to our brand and never have to make too many compromises." Eliane adds, "Which is why we focus on what makes us strong: sustainability, fair trade and good quality." Joanna nods, "There's no rush. Long-term and sustainability require time." And, Eliane rounds off with a saucy wink, "People who prefer short-lived and unfair can go to the retail chains with their sweatshop merchandise.

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