Representing the creative future

Anne Isabella: Growing A Brand Outside the System

The Berlin-based designer talks about her FW22 collection, Paris Fashion Week debut, and style evolution

Roughly a year after our last interview, we are catching up again with Anne Isabella. The designer has been continuously working on growing her namesake brand for three years in Germany’s capital. Still set in a “studio flat situation”, the label has hit some milestones this year. From gaining more retail exposure to a collection showing at Paris Fashion Week in March 2022, Anne Isabella is truly an example of how well going your own way can work out.

In this interview, we chat with the designer, addressing all the changes of the year that went by. Whether that be in terms of maturing along with her designs, tackling new challenges such as planning the brand’s first in-person fashion show or leading an existence outside the London system. Read all about that and more here.

It has been roughly a year since our last interview. So, to start this off, how have you been? Have there been any major changes to your brand?

Quite frankly, it feels longer than a year. I’ve done so many things, so time just flew by. On the one hand, time goes by so fast, but on the other hand, so much has happened. The last time I spoke to you, I had just done my second collection. We were in the early stages of the brand, and everything was shown digitally. All in all, a very different set-up. For Fall/Winter 2022, we presented at Paris Fashion Week, which was a very different way of launching a collection. A completely new dimension for us. It still happened really quickly, since we were still working in a ‘Covid environment’ which affects production, planning, etc. Meaning, that back in January we did not even know if it will be physical or digital. Therefore, the general situation of the world would be the biggest change.

“Many challenges arise just from being a small brand, so we just learnt to deal with them.” – Anne Isabella

What has been the hardest part of running your own brand after university and especially during Covid? What has your reality been like?

I started quite soon after university, but I also had one year of industry experience, so I had the chance to see what that looks like. I was working at Courréges, which is a big brand but still intimate, and that was great in terms of seeing how a brand operates. Starting my label during Covid was obviously difficult, but we also haven’t ever known anything else. Many other challenges arise just from being a small brand, so we just learnt to deal with them. You need many different skills and there is so much to learn, and, needless to say, freshly starting out after university, you do not have all of that sorted out yet. So, you learn along the way, but that also makes it exciting.

I would love to talk about your latest collection ‘Fragments‘. What inspired it? 

I was keen on making this collection tactile. A lot of the seams are very similar to the ones I’ve used before. I am always interested in working with archetype garments and rethinking them a little bit. Also, optical illusions. What was different, however, with this collection is that there is a lot of 3D and embroidery happening. Plus, we had knitwear for the first time, which was very new for us. Our signature print got worked into denim using a laser. New textures for everything. In the end, it worked perfectly since we got to show the pieces in a live show, where textures can be picked up amazingly. Maybe I worked towards that subconsciously.


There are asymmetry, deconstruction and frayed seams in FW22. Compared to your previous collections, this feels a little ‘rougher‘ and more daring. What, do you think, brought about this stylistic change?

Those elements are definitely there. You always find a focus point in every collection. In this case, I really wanted it to be that way. Where that idea originated from exactly, I cannot really say. Again, it all comes down to this notion of texture and for everything to have ‘a little more soul’, so to speak. Simply put, keeping everything less flat. Bringing more to the garment.

“One of the really great aspects of working on your own project is seeing progress in yourself and your designs.” – Anne Isabella

‘Fragments‘ showed during PFW in March. Congratulations, this must have been a great moment. Could you share what the whole fashion week experience was like?

Thank you, it was very exciting and really special. We are grateful to have been part of it. In January we knew we’d take part in PFW, but it wasn’t clear how. There was a constant back and forth with the federation, deciding what kind of presentation it would be and which rules for gatherings would apply. It all happened quickly in the end. We prepared the presentation within a month, which was also our first time preparing a physical event, so that was one challenge added to already not having much time. Even though being part of this came as a surprise to me, and the way you prepare the collection is different, it was one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most so far. I worked with set designer Mathilde Vallantin Dulac. We understood each other’s visions quite quickly. She really vibed off the collection, especially with the rougher edges we were going for. In terms of the set, one of the things I wanted to get across was the same approach that I use with my clothes. We created a floor that was moving around a bench and really materialising the same ideas that I work into my designs – placing buttons, details, etc. Taking something mundane and heightening it a bit. It was super fun to create this 3D space and meet people we’ve been working with for a long time, but weren’t able to before. It ended up being a three-hour presentation, so we got to show the set four times. Quite a long day for a first time, but definitely something I want to do again.

You’ve launched your brand two years ago, back in 2020. While you maintained some signature details – prints, tailoring, vintage references – looking through your collections, there’s a development towards maturity. Would you say that your designs mature along with you?

With every season, you learn so much. You’re constantly building on what you’ve learned in the past. Ideally, it goes in that direction. When I think of working on a collection, there is always a focus on one item that I want to improve. Same for the following one. One of the really great aspects of working on your own project is seeing progress in yourself and your designs.

AIFW22 Lookbook by Teresa Ciocia

FW22 especially felt like it could be worn by a various age groups as compared to your earlier collections, which might have been more suitable for younger generations. 

When I am designing, I always have a broader spectrum in mind. It’s definitely something I am conscious about. My mum wears my clothes a lot, I wear them too. Personally, I like to keep this gap quite open. Obviously, some pieces resonate with certain generations more than others, but I enjoy having this range and that idea of everyone being able to just tap into my world and be part of the collections.

“Being at Central Saint Martins, the feeling of competition is part of the experience. What I observed about myself is that the more I work on my projects, the less I feel this way.” – Anne Isabella

You graduated in a year that many of your classmates also started pursuing their own brands, and you all seem supportive of each other. Do you ever get competitive? 

Being at Central Saint Martins, the feeling of competition is part of the experience. What I observed about myself is that the more I work on my projects, the less I feel this way. It’s a combination of getting increasingly more comfortable in my own universe and being in this tight-knit community with my classmates. We call each other, ask for advice – how are you dealing with his production problem? How’s your experience in XYZ situation? It’s very helpful to have someone to talk to because it can be a lonely journey sometimes. We all understand each other, we get what everyone is going through since we are all experiencing similar things. It’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone. I feel like the further we’re all going in life, the better and stronger the bond gets. When it comes to competition, I don’t think it’s bad between us, since we are all very different in the ways we design. Plus, we all have different markets and customers.

A substantial part of keeping one’s brand alive is retail opportunities. Thinking of both on- and offline, where is your brand available at the moment?

At the moment, the main market is the US. Spring/Summer 2022 is available on SSENSE, Notre in Chicago, DESOLE in Istanbul, and Maimoun in New York and LA. And then we have a few more stores coming next season, all still very US-oriented. That was definitely not something I expected. I mean, I did not really know what to expect in general, but that interest in the States is somewhat surprising. Europe is probably my slowest market. For the next season, we have a store in Berlin, but other than that Europe seems to be slightly more conservative. Maybe less willing to take risks. The US market might be more open to new brands? I don’t know. Regarding the Asian market, it’s been a little harder since travel hadn’t been possible for a long time.

AIFW22 Paris Fashion Week by Priscillia Saada

You’ve come out with a Fanzine for FW21. In times when digitalization is omnipresent and inevitable, what made you want to release something so physical, such as a print zine? 

It’s an exciting project and a different kind of product. The zine was something I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time. It’s based on 60s fashion illustrations that I’m interested in. I was constantly looking for someone to collaborate with on creating visuals that are similar to that. Lena Besse was open to that. Her style is not 60s, I’d say, but she brought in that psychedelic feel which turned it into something more modern. She also printed all the zines herself and used risography. I just love objects that are physical like that. It’s so nice for a brand to release other elements that are also part of its universe. Also, it’s like a cool collector’s item that is less seasonal, in a different price range and something that will remain available.

“London has many great platforms that offer support to young talent. When I started my brand here in Berlin, I had no idea who or where to turn to.” – Anne Isabella

Sustainability is at the core of Anne Isabella. Responsible practices are very important to you, so have you come across new factories, suppliers or techniques for your brand’s production?

Sustainability is a super-challenging element of running a brand. I think the biggest difference from the last time we spoke is that I work a lot with deadstock now. Not much of it is my own leftovers since I am pretty good at using everything up. I work with some companies that are sourcing fabrics, and you can go through their stock and choose whatever you need. Sometimes you don’t get exactly what you have envisioned, so you have to adapt, but for small businesses, it’s a smart way to work. It’s something that many emerging designers do, and, to me, it’s such a great thing. You’re using up what’s there already. Plus, it applies well to brands that are like my style. Compared to when I started the label, there are more choices of responsible practices now. It’s still tough, especially navigating certain certifications.  For example, some products came with 20 stamps, and you’re trying to understand what each is referring to. But, that can be handled with some research.

“I don’t feel the pressure to be a part of the London community as such since I know a lot of designers there, and we are well-connected. ” – Anne Isabella

It seems like you are following your own way of running a brand, not getting consumed by the “London emerging designer system” and its pressures. Is this true? If yes, is it harder or easier to follow your way?

I don’t think it’s an issue at all. London has many great platforms that offer support to young talent. When I started my brand here in Berlin, I had no idea who or where to turn to. I look to Paris these days. Actually, I have always worked around Paris’ schedule, so that is where I decided to look for guidance if you will. You get the biggest international exposure there, which is why I put my focus there. I don’t feel the pressure to be a part of the London community as such since I know a lot of designers there, and we are well-connected. The city shaped me as a designer, no question about that. Central Saint Martins made me into what I am today. I learned a lot from it, but I don’t see not being there as a problem. Actually, many of my friends are working in smaller cities and it’s all working out. You just got to pick your spot.

What are Anne Isabella’s plans for the remaining half of 2022?

I am constantly working on new collections and production. These two things are always happening simultaneously at any given time. I’m very much in the middle of it right now. Meaning, that I am working on production for FW22 and the collection for SS23. At the moment, my head is looking to September. After that, there is just a big gap. It’s always like – what’s going on the next four months? So, I am in this wheel of constant work, which is part, I think, of having a small label.