THE UP-AND-COMING DESIGNER’S GENDERLESS CREATIONS PERFECTLY BLEND MASCULINE WITH FEMININE AND SIMPLICITY WITH UNEXPECTED DETAILS. NOW, HE HAS TAKEN ON WOMENSWEAR WITH A PAIR OF MODERN CAPSULE COLLECTIONS FOR 2019, AND THE LAUNCH OF A FULL LINE-UP FOR SPRING 2020.
by ANDREA KARR
WHEN TORONTO DESIGNER Andrew Coimbra launched his namesake label in 2015, there wasn’t a women’s garment in sight.
An organizer for Toronto Men’s Fashion Week (TOMFW) urged him to participate in an emerging designer competition, so Coimbra went ahead and produced a series of long shorts, asymmetrical tees, wide-lapel jackets and blue-toned abstract prints exclusively for men. TOMFW gave Coimbra the push he needed to bring his work to the public, but the young designer had always been fascinated by the challenge posed by men’s clothing. “Menswear is kind of boring, as an industry,” he says. “There are button-ups, jeans, blazers… I always thought, how can I work within those bounds and put my stamp on things?” The positive response he received with his first collection triggered him to move forward in the menswear space.
Soon after, Coimbra noticed a stylist pulling his garments and putting them onto female models, and he realized he didn’t need to confine his collections to a male customer. “It was refreshing to see that it doesn’t have to be strictly menswear,” he says. “It’s not like I didn’t know that already. I’ve worn girls’ jeans my whole life, and I wear different gender clothing just because I like the colours or whatever. So it wasn’t new to me. But it’s funny that it hadn’t struck me as a trajectory at first.”
Now, Coimbra markets his menswear as genderless on his website, andrewcoimbra.com, and uses both male and female models in his lookbooks. Though he still designs with menswear in mind, he likes the idea that people of any gender can wear and appreciate his pieces. “Leaving it genderless allows a female shopper, or someone who identifies as female, to look at clothing that they might otherwise skim over,” he says.
This unique approach to dressing feels natural for Coimbra, who has been sewing, hot-gluing and pinning his heart out ever since he saw his favourite celebrities wearing outlandish outfits in their music videos around age 13. “I’d think, ‘Oh cool. How can I make that?’” he remembers. The skills he’d picked up as a child came in handy. Coimbra learned how to sew from his immigrant grandmother, who would make him play clothes on “this mysterious machine,” and he had an affinity for sketching. “My mom still has a drawing of Simba from The Lion King that I did while I was watching the movie,” he says. “And it’s actually pretty good.”
Coimbra went on to study visual arts at OCAD University but soon transferred to fibre arts after working as a stylist. “Drawing and painting work for some people, but it’s kind of a shot in the dark – at least in terms of making art and selling it,” he says. “I wanted to start thinking more practically about my future, and I saw it in the realm of fashion design.” Coimbra then worked with Canadian labels including Pink Tartan and Philip Sparks. Next up was New York City to intern for Proenza Schouler.
By the time Coimbra returned to Toronto, he was stocked with all the tools he needed to launch his label. And since then, he’s developed a rhythm for designing each collection. He starts by reviewing his previous season and brainstorming ways that he can build from it. “My least favourite thing is when you switch to another season and have to change your whole wardrobe over,” he says. “That’s not realistic.”
Once he has that base, he develops core ideas for themes and colours that speak to him before he starts researching trends. “I still do trend research because it’s important to be part of the overall stream of thinking so buyers can see your stuff fitting in-store among other labels,” he notes, but he wants his collections to be based on instinct first and trends second.
Next, he sources fabric and hardware, all the while sketching his ideas as he goes. Whenever possible, Coimbra tries to find fabric before he becomes too set on a design, because often the materials will speak to him about how and where he should use them. From there, he takes all of his favourite sketches and their fabric swatches and puts them on a board to see how they read – a technique that he learned from Proenza Schouler. He then creates a schedule for the muslin forms and final samples so that he can complete everything before it’s time to shoot the lookbook.
Coimbra used this process to create his fall 2019 genderless collection, which is “all about dressing seriously, but not taking yourself seriously,” he says. It features more formal attire than his previous collections including slouchy suiting, collared shirts and polished coats, but each piece has a playful or unexpected twist. The fabrics, for example, have a sense of childhood nostalgia. He chose corduroy for a sleeveless belted coat and added white piping to a corduroy suit. A two-tone belted trench coat has a sporty tracksuit vibe. Plus, many of the pieces have unique details, like an elastic waistband or hem, a cropped leg or even mother-of-pearl buttons that are the wrong side out. These touches of flavour fit in with the overall purpose of his brand: “to take classic, identifiable pieces and give them a new life and a new context.”
Andrew Coimbra Autumn 2019 Capsule Collection. Photographer, Garrett Naccarato.
But while this genderless collection works for men or women, an androgynous look isn’t for everyone. So for fall 2019, Coimbra also made a women’s capsule (an idea that he first undertook for spring 2019) that seamlessly mixes with his genderless designs. The addition of feminine pieces like skirts and dresses makes it easier for stylists to pull for celebrities – which is a crucial way to get exposure, especially for new designers – and it offers one more way for Coimbra to flex his creative muscles. The women’s capsule for fall has “a lot of colour play and texture play,” notes Coimbra, pointing to two central fabrics: a black textured pebble crepe covered with uneven white ovals and a rich black velvet devoré with splashes of colour. His favourite piece uses the velvet devoré to form a long dress with billowing sleeves and a slit up one thigh.
Because these womenswear pieces have become so core to the brand, even though they make up such a small proportion, Coimbra decided to morph from a capsule to a full-blown women’s line for 2020. The looks feel modern and fresh and uses a simple colour palette of black, white, cream and blue. There’s one particularly breathtaking piece – a vibrant blue dress with an asymmetrical hem and a curved seam that runs over one breast and under the other – that looks destined to become a classic. Other designs become excellent layering pieces that easily mix and match the Coimbra’s fall 2019 pieces.
With their freedom from convention, Andrew Coimbra’s latest creations are not only compelling examples of what the young designer can do, but they also offer a glimpse at the future of fashion. It’s a world where customers readily purchase from a mix of men’s, women’s and genderless collections. They mix their spring clothes with their fall buys and blend dressed-up items with paired-back pieces to create a personal look that’s utterly unique. Whatever they do, “they establish and nurture their style and identity,” says Coimbra. So take note, and do fashion your way. Coimbra would approve.
Andrew Coimbra Women’s Collection Spring 2020. Photographer, Andrew Coimbra; model, Zayha; styling, Andrew Coimbra; hair and makeup, Taylor Chousky.