An important sartorial milestone in any woman’s life is when she’s confronted with picking a “going-out top.” In some cases it’s barely a covering and more like a naked offering, but for all intents and purposes, a going-out top is a shirt you wear when you want to feel sexy at a bar. It can be cropped, sheer and heavy on the cleavage; it can also be bedazzled, ripped and hang off the shoulders.
We often associate these garments with college, but their plunging necklines follow us into adulthood, forcing us to continually question whether we’ve outgrown the lace cut-outs. However, at its core, the intent behind a going-out top remains the same: We want to feel sexy and desired at any age. As we get older, though, we add comfort and sophistication into the mix — which is where things get tricky in the market.
Here to solve this dressing conundrum is Gauge81, an Amsterdam-based brand founded by designer Monika Silva last September. It hits all the right notes when it comes to marrying sensuality with modern-day femininity — the result of Silva’s fascination with proportion play and versatile knitwear. At accessible eveningwear price points (think $200 to $500), Gauge81 elevates and cleans up clothes that you’d want to wear for a night on the town: Any exposed shoulder is done tastefully, for example, and any ultra-mini hem is offset by more coverage up top.
Silva says her initial vision for the label was to bring “sexy into daytime.” She accomplished this right off the bat with a small, tightly-focused collection of minimalist pieces dressed up with glamorous finishes (example: a ribbed stretch-jersey cardigan dress embellished with Swarovski crystal buttons). Her designs are a fitting uniform for the growing — and now almost ubiquitous, thanks to global stay-at-home orders — desire to look preternaturally chic in basics.
The undone sexiness at the core of Gauge81 stems from Silva’s Colombian upbringing mixed with the laid-back nature of Amsterdam, she explains over the phone. She describes growing up in Bogotá, where people loved to dress up, and then experiencing a bit of culture shock when she landed in Amsterdam and wore heels to a dinner party when everyone else had tennis shoes on. (The reason for the move? A Dutch man, whom she is now married to and has a child with.)
Before moving to Europe, Silva worked in advertising in New York. She then returned to Colombia, to learn the ins and outs of knitwear. Once in Amsterdam, Silva had a serendipitous encounter with Bart Ramakers of Parrot, the Netherlands-based fashion agency behind Bernadette and Wandler. Together, they formed a collective of creatives — including Vogue Netherlands contributor Gijsje Ribbens and knitwear designer Fira Rietveld — to launch Gauge81.
The brand’s inaugural offerings were shown during market in March 2019 and were immediately picked up by Net-a-Porter, Shopbop and Ssense. These retailers sold the label’s debut collection in September. Since then, Gauge81 has been picked up by Bergdorf Goodman, Browns, Intermix and Moda Operandi.
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Gauge81’s textiles are sourced from Italy and produced in various European factories. Silva says she feels that being based in Amsterdam puts her at a geographical advantage, because it’s so centrally located.
“It’s been very easy to oversee production,” Silva explains. “Of course, right now we’ve been checking in on Zoom. We follow what they are doing very closely and make sure they are taking the necessary precautions.”
Like almost every business in the world, the brand has had to rethink upcoming projects due to the coronavirus pandemic. For Gauge81, this meant postponing a dress capsule originally slated to drop this summer to later in the year. Silva says the discussions with retail partners convinced her that it was a better move to release it in October and gear it towards the holidays. The label plans on releasing Pre-Fall in June and is working everyday to “be as a flexible” as possible.
Part of this flexibility, from a design perspective, comes from striking a balance between the loungewear options people are currently craving and staying true to the brand’s mission of delivering effortless glam. The answer Silva has come up with, for the time being, is comfortable suiting, featuring easy-to-wear separates, like spandex pants. Then, from a production standpoint, Gauge81 is trying to come up with a more efficient and eco-friendly sampling process. (Silva says she’s experimenting with 3D virtual sampling, which can minimize waste and the amount of packages they send back and forth; she’s also working on digital pattern-making and working to meet other more longterm sustainable goals, such as making smarter fabric choices.
“This is a weird moment, but we’re really starting to understand what say sells best for us and what people want,” says Silva. “I have a lot of plans, but being such a young brand and with everything that’s happening, our first priority is to really create a connection with our consumer and find mechanisms to build that in return for brand loyalty.”
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