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Conquering London with intelligent design

(Roger Keller)

The up-and-coming Swiss designer Saro showcases his first collection of women's evening wear this weekend during London Fashion Week.

He talks to swissinfo about fluid fabrics, turning his Swiss roots on their head and the mix of talent and hard graft needed to get his debut show ready on time.

Sandro Schwyzer started designing his clothes two years ago, but it was only in September that Saro - as he now prefers to be known - decided to focus on his first collection.

Although only 26, he has already attended fashion school in Paris, worked as an intern to Sue Stemp in New York and most recently joined a small team of designers at Vivienne Westwood in London.

Now tucked away in his studio in the northwest London attic of his mentor and business partner, Murray Blewett, Saro has been working round the clock to put the finishing touches to his catwalk debut.

swissinfo: What makes your style and the Saro label unique?

Saro: I think it's my technique of cutting pieces. Designers usually begin making a garment from a pretty drawing, but for me that's really difficult. So I start by drawing directly on patterns, or I drape fabrics around a mannequin and take the measurements from that.

I always aim to make my pieces very minimal and understated, so I might take a traditional pattern of a jacket or skirt and try to remove everything that's unnecessary. I'll lay the pattern on the table and work out how I can change it into a geometric form that works for me and how I can make the finished article look more interesting to wear. I may get rid of side seams and I'll also remove side zips.

swissinfo: Have you been influenced or inspired by any designers in particular?

Saro: When I first started looking at fashion magazines Issey Miyake was my favourite designer. I like the way he treats fabrics and his designs were exactly what I thought was the right thing to do. He also begins his process by wrapping squares of fabric around the body.

There's also an interesting link to Vivienne Westwood who I've been working for these past few years. When I came to London, I didn't know too much about Vivienne because her style hardly features in fashion schools in France. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover how similar our approach to fashion is. Then I found out that Issey Miyake had been very much influenced by Vivienne, or at least they have a big admiration for each other. So it's been particularly good for me to be in London because it's helped me solidify my technique as a designer.

swissinfo: Are the Swiss highly regarded in the fashion world as designers?

Saro: Not really. There is of course the Akris label. They work with Swiss fabrics and silks. That's where Switzerland has a really strong influence in fashion. We really do make the most exclusive fabrics.

swissinfo: When did you start developing this passion for design and fashion?

Saro: When I was younger it was snowboarding and windsurfing that most interested me. I didn't really become aware of fashion until I was in my mid- to late teens and spending a lot of time in Zurich. As my friends and I were short of cash, we started to customise our T-shirts and jackets. We obviously couldn't afford to buy expensive designer clothes, but we still wanted to push our looks.

I got really obsessed with this DIY design, as I got a real buzz out of looking different and possibly more interesting than the other young people hanging out in Zurich. It was a crazy time, because people kept admiring my clothes and suggesting I become a fashion designer. But for me a fashion designer was somebody like John Galliano or Karl Lagerfeld. I knew they were big influential names in the fashion world, but I had no idea what they actually did. I was very naïve about the profession.

It is strange though because even before I went to Paris, I sensed I would have my own fashion label one day. Also, my logo was designed by a good friend from those early days in Zurich.

swissinfo: What do you think has helped you get to where you are today?

Saro: I've had a lot of luck in my life. I always followed my dream and was quite determined once I knew what I wanted. I've always had the guts to do different things or to step forward and say 'I can do that' and then have the willpower to turn it into reality.

It's been incredibly hard work though, especially during these weeks running up to the fashion show. I can have four or five meetings every day: checking with the milliner who is making my couture hats; meeting the bag manufacturer; discussing with the production team details for the show and of course, the post-show party. Fabrics have to be ordered and then I always try to be back in the studio to help the pattern cutter. Although I'm surrounded by an amazing support network, it's still me alone who is left to run about trying to keep track of the business on a daily basis.

And then of course there's the spring/summer collection 2010 that has to be developed. I've been building up this current collection over the past couple of years, but for the next collection all designs, fabrics and colour schemes have to be ready within three months.

swissinfo-interview: Andrew Littlejohn in London

In brief

London Fashion Week is one of Britain's highest profile events. This year it runs from February 20-25.

Each season, designers unveil their collections to a professional audience of press and international buyers. Designers and exhibitors are housed at the specially constructed tents at the Natural History Museum and at other inspiring venues across London.

Organised by the British Fashion Council and funded by sponsors, London Fashion Week is worth £20 million (SFr33.8 million) to the London economy in terms of direct spend and generates orders in the region of £100 million.

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