NEW YORK — Last September, Dutch designer Paul Helbers showed his second collection for Fforme at a Chelsea gallery where the clothes hung from the ceiling, exuding a sense of luxury missing from most New York labels. There were no logos, no fussy details, nothing unnecessary.
What matters most for Helbers is the silhouette. “Fforme is about women who want to express themselves with shapes and architectural forms,” he says. “For me the two Fs mean foundation and fundamental change. It’s about going back to making clothes in a traditional, three-dimensional way that highlights the body by covering it, so there is a sensuality to it.”
Before the rise of the term “quiet luxury,” Fforme’s understated elegance used to be called minimalism. Its progenitor was Jil Sander, not that Helbers needs to lean on a legacy: his experience designing menswear for Martin Margiela, Louis Vuitton and The Row speaks for itself.
Now, Helbers is gearing up for Fforme’s runway debut at New York Fashion Week with a show set for Sunday at the DiMenna Center.
“We could have shown in Paris or Milan, but I feel like it would be a bit harder to draw attention there,” admits Helbers. “The brand originated in New York, but there is a European sense of refinement to it. I think New York is hungry for the level of quality we offer.”
His background in menswear has an unmistakable influence on the line. “In menswear, a lot of what you have to know about construction, cut and detail is close to the body, but it defines how the garment looks on the outside,” he says. “I brought that method to womens, and turned it into something unstructured but that retains the precision of tailoring.”
Fforme is backed by Helbers’ co-founder Nina Khosla and remains a relatively small business. It launched with a focus on direct-to-consumer distribution, but counts influential stores like Net-a-Porter, MyTheresa, 180 The Store and Andreas Murkudis among its 20 stockists and is expanding its wholesale footprint.
“Fforme very much fits within our vision, in fact, it sort of embodies it; a brand that is founded on details, quality, and timelessness,” says 180 The Store’s Denise Williamson. The label has also attracted approval from critics like Cathy Horyn and Rachel Tashjian.
It’s an auspicious start, but with no shortage of competition Fforme will need to convince clients that it offers a unique proposition, especially as its uncompromising pieces come at a high price: a felted wool-cashmere blend pullover retails for $1,400; a cropped down puffer jacket goes for $2,990.
What’s more, these are clothes that don’t translate well on social media. For all the talk about quiet luxury, Instagram and TikTok don’t favour the kind of luxe minimalism that underpins Fforme.
Fforme’s loose-fitting garments may be well positioned for a return-riddled e-commerce market, but Helbers wants a store: “I feel the emotion really comes when I see people try on the clothes.”