Victoria Bartlett and Stella Ishii Work it Out: An Interview on the Launch of Neverbefore by Valerie McPhail


Shaded Viewers, exciting news has launched in the athleisure movement. Creating a sense of relief to those awaiting honest statements, and presentation in fashion, Victoria Bartlett relates the experience of her brand’s launch to “like a baby being born.” Stella Ishii explains, “It was everything coming together.” Their expressions describe a collaboration built on a vision for maximizing a minimal collection of clothing. Heralding as a joyous surprise by kicking off the first day of New York fashion week last month, Ishii and Bartlett introduced Neverbefore, a fashion label serving the fashion industry something it’s never seen, nor previously experienced.

But fashion is not that serious for either of them. Rather, through style, design and aesthetic they proclaim a natural expression. We sit among the collection at the open floor plan of the News Showroom they laugh over jokes made about their working relationship, which thrives more like a friendship, a bond Ishii allows to guide her business. The Row, Alexander Wang and the beloved Band of Outsiders are among the brands she’s fostered into blossoming careers. Currently, sales for Common Projects and Neverbefore co-exist. When it came to starting a brand for the News Showroom family, Ishii shares her vision “to do something else, which is our [News’] brand, and we could direct it the way this team feels it needs to be and not from the outside voices telling us what to do.” Unquestionably, Victoria Bartlett demonstrated the ideal candidate. An icon from her career as a fashion stylist, Bartlett carries a perspective on clothes unlike any other. With an eye for mixing prints, she went from editorial projects at Vogue Italia, GQ and ID Magazine, to coverage on American Vogue and WWD following her own brand, VPL (Visible Panty Line.) Approachable for it’s practicality, the themes of VPL were exactly what Ishii desired for the brand:“something casual, something with knitwear sort of based a lot around easy, when you look around, what are we all wearing.” Her vision came to life with Bartlett.

Jersey knit kimonos, with prints – digitally overlaid modernist art paintings on hooded jackets, leggings with rash guard tops and spacer knit pullovers: unisex pieces where fashion doesn’t exist separately as men’s and women’s styles. Bartlett has clear direction for fashion understood as clothing fluid in one’s lifestyle, rather than upholding the system of a rigid fashion industry.

A Spring/Summer 2018 Collection presented at the News Showroom introduced the brand. Track shorts in blush tones, oversized jersey dresses in color conversation with forest greens splashed on organic cotton tees and on a pullover warm up jacket. Singularly these pieces captivate with details: breaks in material fashioned as stripes and open knit backs on bomber jackets and basketball jerseys. Together, these pieces layer as an outfits more than ready for the gym.

Even with an obsession “over the body anatomy, dance, rotary and motion,” the thought of active wear in the fashion industry makes Bartlett’s skin crawl. For she has a strong vision for “things of a second shelf life.” These are the pieces that can function in more than one way, as opposed to compartmentalizing outfits for particular activities in life. Take for instance, the purpose of a legging. Insisting that the legging should function in more than just an item worn to the gym: “I think things should be interchangeable.” This principle of duel functionality is the best way to theoretically claim her philosophy on design. She shares, “It’s all about restyling and reconfiguring, and being clever on how you put it together. It’s bringing it back to the individual… learning how to wear things and learning how to be liberated and not feeling that you have to be told to wear a certain uniform for a certain activity… it’s kinda old-fashion [but] it’s been my passion.”

This passion invokes her talent and title to advance the influence fashion can have on life. She speaks in reference to cool, calming tones that color this Spring/Summer 2018 Collection. The reason for the forest greens, navy blues and pinky oranges is that Bartlett considers herself a colorist. Within the theory that explores the effect color has on human emotion and physicality, Bartlett is driven by “Things that can calm you, clothing that had a purpose…to be a fashion designer isn’t enough, you have to do things with integrity, with a second purpose.”

Styling details highlight Bartlett’s career as a stylist – slider sandals exposing mix match socks, layering pieces that create novel ways of wearing active wear in a fashionable way. However, do not call this an active wear label. You will be mistaken. With a vision for the fashion industry that comes from a lifetime in knowing what bears fruit for the industry, Ishii brings her business mind, and Bartlett, a philosophical style to the human experience of fashion. Both are genius in their respects. Despite their collaboration, Stella Ishii adamantly, and quite humbly insists, “this is Vicky’s collection.” Bartlett terms this collection as “work –it-out wear,” together they exercise a practical perspective on fashion.

Valerie McPhail

Valerie McPhail is a New York-based writer on things of style and artistic expression. She has a portfolio of writing for both fashion and art publications. Although she enjoys covering fashion news and supporting new designers, her favorite subject to explore is the experience of fashion and how life is communicated through clothing. She believes there is a lot to be said about this.