Basic Instinct

If there’s beauty in simplicity, the fashion world has become an ugly place. Designs pass through so many an opinion, sketchpad, patternmaker, and factory that there’s not much left of an original vision.

Designer Alex Koutny wanted to get back to basics. His elegant, black pieces result from cutting away all the fluff, rather than “adding layers and layers,” a tendency he’s noticed designers fall into when they are “insecure about what they want.” Sizing up Koutny’s sleek tailoring, it’s clear the designer is anything but unsure. His clothes are currently on display at a Lower East Side space for a month-long pop-up he’s organized called Faction, a name connoting his dissenting attitude and the shift he’d like to see.

At first glance, the garments don’t look particularly rebellious—the clothes are mostly silk essentials like sweeping skirts, dresses, and t-shirts. But Koutny points out that it’s difficult to find basics which aren’t cheaply mass-produced. He is fully involved with making a garment, from devising the pattern, to hand-selecting fabric and overseeing its production. “Not too much, not too little,” is his ideal. “It’s a finely tuned sense,” he explains. Seen up close, the precision is unmistakable.

It’s been a long journey to achieve such effortless-seeming designs. Koutny started out with his own collection in South Africa. Wanting to branch out, Koutny moved to London, briefly working under Marjan Pejoski of Bjork’s swan dress fame. He went on to get his MA from Central St. Martins before moving to New York. Over two decades as a patternmaker and consultant to design houses made him realize that fashion production and aesthetics could use a bit of streamlining.

Faction sees Koutny’s work next to two designers with similar hands-on philosophies: Eleen Halvorsen and jeweler Tara Elwin of Tara 4779. Side by side, Halvorsen’s dark, intricate designs are by themselves compelling as much as they highlight Koutny’s restrained aesthetic; Elwin’s sharp, silver pieces beautifully compliment both.

In the near future Koutny hopes to open a store in the Lower East Side and introduce a new staple in downtown’s wardrobe—”like a favorite pair of jeans, but a silk dress.” A rough idea, it is not.