This Year’s 10 Hottest Breakthrough Designers

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

Call it our raison d’être. Or maybe it’s an obsession. But, since the dawn of R29, we’ve been on a serious hunt for the next Rodarte/Alex Wang/Prabal, sussing out each class of new designers for the Next Big Thing. Because nothing excites us more than the cycle of discovery: an incredible debut lookbook, the post-FW critical fawning, the first well-placed editorial, and then, the very fashionable frenzy.So, we went ahead and made our predictions for the class of 2012. Some of these names you’ve heard before, and some are just (as in, moments ago) entering into the American style consciousness, but all have had a breakthrough year. From truly head-turning Fashion Week presentations to becoming the It Girl uniform to scoring major style accolades, each of these ten designers is changing the game and entirely worthy of the Next Big Thing title. So, in the words of the late-great Biggie Smalls, “If you don’t know, now you know.”


Barbara Casasola
Why We Need To Know Now: This burgeoning Brazilian talent has plenty of youthful-luxe pedigree after working under Roberto Cavalli and Gabriele Griess for both Chloe and Lanvin. However, 2012 was the year when Casasola made her own name known, with giving her second solo collection a rave review. Just two seasons out, the designer nabbed noms for the internationally judged “Who Is On Next” award, Milano Unica’s On-Stage Project, and Milan’s Vogue Talents Corner — all in just one year. 
In Five Words: Evening gowns for all hours. 

Photos: Courtesy of Barbara Casasola


Clover Canyon
Why We Need To Know Now: Diehard R29 readers will have seen us waxing poetic about this Angeleno label before, but it was with the summer ’13 collection that CC quit being an emerging L.A. label and became a true American label on the rise. The On The Road-themed collection appeared in the tents at NYFW, stunning editors with its coherent vision, energetic approach to summer, and entirely covetable (seriously, everypiece ought to be ours) presentation. 
In Five Words: B52s-meet-Jack-Kerouac brilliance.

Photos: Courtesy of Linda Gaunt PR


Dion Lee
Why We Need To Know Now: In the last five years, Australian Fashion Week has ceased to be just a quirky collective of a handful of designers and has morphed into an event that the rest of the fashion world turns to for inspiration. At 3 years old, Dion Lee is one of the oldest labels featured here, but it used 2012 to make a serious mark outside of the land down under. Aside from a producing a lauded collection and scoring the coveted International Woolmark Prize, the Lee has also begun to attract the attention of high-profile stars (besides brand loyalist Miranda Kerr). Charlize Theron,Rooney Mara, and (just this month) a surprisingly more together Lindsay Lohan were just a few of the actresses to rock the label this year. 
In Five Words: Structured classicism goes science fiction. 

Photos: Courtesy of Dion Lee


Jonathan Simkhai 
Why We Need To Know Now: It would be impossible to mention new American talent on the major ascent without discussing New Yorker Jonathan Simkhai. Two years ago, we were awed by his initial collection, but in 2012, Simkhai went from “one to watch” to “um, how can we get a ticket to his show?” thanks to A-List heavy-hitters (K. Stew, Gwen Stefani), a buyer frenzy, and a hint at a men’s collection. Jonathan, when you are inducted into the CFDA, don’t forget us little guys! 
In Five Words: A piece for every occasion. 

Photos: Courtesy of Krupp Group


Ostwald Helgason
Why We Need To Know Now: True story: After accidentally catching Ostwald Helgason’s presentation as a part of a larger Milk event, one of our editors frantically emailed “WHO IS THIS GUY?” to the team. Ostwald Helgason isn’t a guy at all, but a German/Icelandic duo that chose 2012 to debut at NYFW — subsequently becoming one of the break-out stars of the week. Case in point: Just this November, Women’s Wear Daily put the emerging London-based brand on its cover, basically every young designer’s dream.
In Five Words: Genius silhouettes with cartooned critters. 

Photography by Sonny Vandevelde


Creatures Of The Wind
Why We Need To Know Now: This duo has long been a favorite of our Chicago channel, but something unusual happened this NYFW. When our EIC (who has sat through more fashion shows than many of the rest of us put together) returned from the presentation, sheimmediately penned a moving review. She sums up the collection, and what it heralds, as follows: “(Creatures Of The Wind’s) unique sensibility has been a refreshing arrival amid so many trend-obsessed designer drones… yesterday’s first runway show more than proved this is a collection — and point of view — that’s picking up speed…fast.” 
In Five Words: Sunny bohemia with menswear tailoring. 

Photography by Gunnar Larson


Sally Lapointe 
Why We Need To Know Now: At the beginning of 2011, Lady Gaga revamped her look to businesswoman chic as defined by Sally Lapointe — chatting up Oprah, Marissa Meyer, and Polaroid, all in Lapointe’s dramatic dresses. (And who could forget Gaga’s baroque “Judas”dress, also a Lapointe creation?) Yet, 2012 had Lapointe extending beyond her “Gaga designer” label when the 27-year-old showed two seriously mature and elegant collections (with Bergdorf buyers eagerly seated front-row). Though still meant for the downtown girl (just ask fans likeZoe Lister Jones and Neon Hitch, Lapointe let this year prove her staying power. 
In Five Words: Minimal/maximum interplay for NYC. 

Photos: Courtesy of CMMedia PR


Simone Rocha
Why We Need To Know Now: How’s this for a career starter? After just one season on London’s emerging platform, Fashion East, Rocha was tapped to do a Topshop collection — which turned into a quickly sold-out affair. When she landed on the official LFW program early for fall ’12, the buzz was palpable. But after her Perspex brogues trotted out this September (just as she was nominated for the British Fashion Award for Emerging Talent), the excitement became downright electric. At 26, stocked in Colette, Opening Ceremony, and appearing in “It mag” of the year, CR Fashion Book, Simone has definitely arrived.
In Five Words: A techno housewife goes lunching. 

Photos: Courtesy of Karla Otto


Tanya Taylor
Why We Need To Know Now: Though she’s one of the freshest faces on this list (she launched her label in ’12), Taylor quickly made her mark in New York by applying the lessons learned from her time at Elizabeth and James — and adding her own spin. Two seasons were all that it took to make us serious believers — and given the follow-up profiles from Vanity FairThe Cut, and WWD, it’s clear we weren’t the only ones. 
In Five Words: Mod Manhattanites on a holiday. 

Photos: Courtesy of Bradbury Lewis


Wes Gordon
Why We Need To Know Now: Another example of a designer R29 readers may have heard of before (we have fallen harder for Southern-gentleman Wes after each of his six collections), but in 2012, the world began to fall along with us. Starting off by winning Fashion Group International’s Rising Star Award, Gordon was nominated for the most visible of young designer awards — the Vogue Fashion Fund prize. Though he didn’t win, the attention gave him some serious red-carpet cred, with Rita Ora as his muse at the finalist soirée, and girl-of-the-moment Ashley Greene (mid-Twilight junket, no less) as his date to the awards. 
In Five Words: Whimsical offerings created fortoday

Photos: Courtesy of BPCM

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