Form, function and timeless style: inside Émigré’s design philosophy

‘It’s about creating a well-thought-out collection of items that are unique, original and support our overall vision of travelling well’

The devil, they say, is in the detail. The sturdiness of the sole affixed to a Northampton-made boot, the hefty weight of a fountain pen between fingers and thumb, the way that a finely tailored shirt drapes gently – but not securely – over the contours of your torso. The feel, the minutiae, the seemingly imperceptible accents and features of things – they all separate the considered from the ill-conceived.

At Émigré – the label that dresses today’s travelling professional and was launched in 2022 by Ralph Thoma and a global team of experts in technical and tailored apparel – getting the details absolutely on the mark is what drives the company’s being.

The design approach here is founded on one fundamental ethos – style and function without compromise – and, from that base, the team has gone on to create a tightly edited capsule of bags, apparel and accessories that address key pain points for the modern-day worker on-the-go, whether that be the daily commuter or those on the long haul.

Aesthetically, the thread that weaves the entire portfolio together is a minimal, pared-down style that makes use of clean silhouettes and muted hues, the intention being that each piece can move seamlessly between multiple settings, from airport to meetings to the after-work bar. ‘Travel sharp, work smart,’ so goes the brand maxim. The semi-structured Four Season Wool Travel Blazer, for instance, comes in two universally appealing colours: Nordic Blue and Downtown Grey.

Émigré’s offerings are also underpinned by premium and sustainable materials, ones that are durable enough to withstand years of relentless movement, are sleek enough for professional environments, but also facilitate ease of use in order to enhance the travel experience. ‘You can be just as comfortable in a woven shirt, chino or blazer if it's made from the right materials,’ says Troy Tarantino, Émigré’s head of design for apparel.

Notably, the Thermal Travel Gilet incorporates Comfortemp® Fiberball insulation in order to lock in extra warmth while maintaining flexibility. The Garment Organiser, a product that acts as a single-item substitute for multiple packing cubes, is crafted from a durable twill fabric made of 100 per cent recycled nylon, and its internal TPU coating allows for moisture management and water resistance. Meanwhile, the signature Merino Crewneck is made of 100 per cent Italian-spun merino Cashwool® from Zegna Baruffa, which is feted for its ultra-soft feel and superlative temperature regulation.

Then, of course, there are the details – the specially engineered differentiators that can subtly elevate the experience to and from the office. ‘A little twist of originality, in terms of look and feel’, as Thanh Hung Trinh, head of design for bags, luggage and accessories, puts it. Across the range, one will find features that have been created to address travel- and work-specific issues. For example, all bags – which are made from 100 per cent recycled materials – are lightweight for an easy transit, with each being defined by its rectangular silhouette, a move that’s intended to accommodate the shape of the items that will be carted around, such as laptops, tablets and notebooks.

The Boston Bag, specifically, an accessory ideal for the short haul, has two large compartments to keep work items separate from personal ones. The Four Season Wool Travel Trouser, too, is rich in functionality: concealed zippered internal pockets ensure that valuables are secure throughout the journey, and a wrinkle-resistant construction makes it likely that you’ll arrive and depart with a pristine look. ‘We want to maintain a certain continuity and durability between each collection. Creating reliable products with a well-established identity over the long term is a key point for us,’ says Trinh.

Below, we talk to both Tarantino and Trinh about the issues they wanted to address in the market – ‘it's all about “comfort” at the expense of looking professional’ – whether Émigré is more hardwired to problem solving or creating original, unique pieces, and the methods behind bringing about their ‘products you can count on’.

GJ: Designers throughout history have always talked about function – it’s a word, nowadays, that gets banded about really frequently, perhaps to the point where it loses meaning. What, to you, does function really mean?

TT: To me, function has replaced ‘fashion’. Although fashion can be interpreted many different ways – and there are many designers that one can go to, in terms of achieving a specific aesthetic – what else are they trying to achieve? What functions are designers delivering to the consumer? My approach has always been that of a problem solver. Who is the consumer? What are they doing? Where are they going? Then, I start to conceptualise and create a collection that incorporates specific pieces that support the wearer’s intention.

THT: Indeed, the term functionality is used a lot when we talk about design. There are brands that push this aspect so far that it becomes a little ridiculous. I think, that in terms of functionality, there is a middle ground to be found, a balance. Too much and it gets confusing. Not enough and we can no longer organise as we would like to. In our case, we give our clients the freedom to organise their belongings without dictating exactly where they should put each item.

Does function dictate your design, or does design dictate the function? Or are both pillars balanced equally?

TT: It's always about the overall design and concept first – the initial idea and then making sure the functionality supports the design of each piece, whether it be the specific garment construction or fabric attributes that enhance the wearing experience.

THT: For me, function dictates the design. A straightforward example is why our bags and accessories are so square. Quite simply, it’s because professional objects, such as laptops, notebooks and sheets, have this shape. Adapting the shape of the bag according to the objects it must contain allows you to rationalise the space inside. The look is also important. It must be adapted to the environment in which it is intended to be used.

It’s a broad question, but what were the main pain points you wanted to address for today’s travelling professional? And what is it, specifically, that Émigré brings to the table?

TT: From what I have seen, it’s all about ‘comfort’ at the expense of looking professional. When I travel, I would prefer not to dress like I'm going to a slumber party. Comfort should not be an excuse to dress unprofessionally, and you can be just as comfortable in a woven shirt, chino or blazer if it's made from the right materials. It's about making sure each piece has attributes that enhance the wearing experience. Creating a structured knit in a blazer silhouette, or adding stretch to a woven piece for additional mobility, are just a few examples that increase the wearer's productivity while also adding comfort.

Karl Lagerfeld once said he tried not to look at his past collections for reference – do you take design inspiration from other designers, labels, or your own professional design history?

TT: Yes, but I'm mostly inspired by real life and how garments are worn by real non-industry-related individuals, as opposed to how other brands dictate their intent. I'm more inspired by someone without a background in – or adjacent to – fashion, who styles items in their own way with a fresh point of view.

THT: I think the world of fashion versus the world that we inhabit at Émigré are very different. Unlike Karl Lagerfeld, who had to constantly bring a new idea to each collection, we want to maintain a certain continuity and durability between each collection. Creating reliable products with a well-established identity over the long term is a key point for us.

Within the entire collection, which items are Émigré's standout products, and how are they distinguished from what else is out there?

TT: Obviously, our luggage and accessories are the foundation of the collection and the apparel should support and reflect that, and vice-versa. That stated, we have an ultra-lightweight, abrasion- and water-resistant nylon that we currently use for our luggage – it's a material I would like to incorporate more into the apparel collection as it continues to grow and develop. It's quite adaptable, especially for outerwear, and I think it would create a greater synergy between the two collections.

THT: The look and feel of our bags are very different from other brands in the business sector. The material mentioned has an elegant wrinkled look rather than the ballistic nylon found in the products of other well-known brands.

Are Émigré’s designs more about problem solving, or creating original, unique pieces? Or are they not mutually exclusive?

TT: The two are not mutually exclusive – it’s about creating a complete, well-thought-out collection of items that are unique, original and support our overall vision of ‘travelling well’.

THT: First, we put our efforts into problem solving. The products must then also have a little twist of originality in terms of look and feel – a kind of originality while remaining subtle.

What would you like Émigré products to be known for?

TT: Timeless modernity through classic designs that are durable and have longevity, while also still being easy to wear.

THT: That these are exemplary products in the field of business travel. Products you can count on, in terms of both functionality and durability. Something you can rely on.

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