Rent the Runway is heralding a summer wardrobe of unfettered exuberance: bold color, big prints, skin-baring cut-outs, and event-ready elegance. The luxury rental service’s Design Collective is back, this time featuring exclusive collections from four designers known for their electric, eye-catching pieces: Esteban Cortazar, Jonathan Saunders, Busayo Olupona, and jewelry designer Pamela Love.
Since its inception in 2018, the Design Collective has featured some of the biggest up-and-coming names in fashion, including Prabal Gurung, Jason Wu, Thakoon Panichgul, Derek Lam, Marissa Webb, and more. According to RTR CEO and co-founder Jenn Hyman, the Design Collective’s pieces are “consistently among the most highly demanded and hearted on site,” but this season’s selections, in particular, “really represent fashion’s new guard.”
Case in point: Cortazar’s collection, which drops today, features an array of playful dresses in warm hues, inventive cuts, and sumptuous textures. A mini tank dress, for instance, is elevated by the bold choice of clementine-colored knit material and a ruffled asymmetrical hem. Other flamenco dresses in the collection play with the same hem motif, while a crocheted midi dress in magenta and yellow colorways weaves in teeny cut-outs for an accessible (yet sexy) resort-ready look. Finally, a linen-blend dress in a cheerful pink embodies what Cortazar refers to as the “sense of freedom” he feels as a designer, two decades after he debuted his first collection at New York Fashion Week—then the youngest designer in history to do so.
“We looked through my archives as a collaboration with RTR’s team, and I proposed a color story based on my adoration for sunsets and sunrises, which is something that is somehow always present in my work,” Cortazar says.
Although the remaining designer collections will land on Rent the Runway separately over the course of the summer (Saunders’s is set for June 7; Love’s for June 16; and Olupona’s for June 26), shoppers can get a taste of what’s to come simply by understanding their design ethos.
Scottish designer Saunders is known for unorthodox plays on traditional prints; his RTR collection will feature inventive florals paired with indulgent, silky materials. Love’s capsule will feel familiar to her fans, featuring her famously chunky, symbolic gold jewelry made with recycled materials and ethically sourced stones. Finally, Brooklyn-based Nigerian designer Olupona’s work is “inspired by Yoruba culture and tradition and telling a dynamic color story,” she tells ELLE.com. Her RTR designs will expand upon the hand-dyed patterns that have made her garments in high demand at retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.
As a whole, the collective’s creations are energetic, even flamboyant, but with a relaxed, accessible approach in tune with RTR’s mission: Shoppers want to “wear the fashion they’ve always dreamed of but that doesn’t make rational sense to own,” Hyman says. “It’s a perfect marriage.”
Of course, the company isn’t taking such a heavy swing without the data to back up its investment. Says Hyman, RTR subscribers are selecting so-called “business formal” pieces (think: your basic black blazer and matching pants) almost half as often as they were just three years ago, in pre-pandemic times. That doesn’t mean renters don’t want blazers; they just don’t want boring blazers. Demand for blazers in patterns such as plaid or pastel, or materials including leather, is up 150 percent year over year, Hyman says. And customers are shopping for options that will make them feel dressed up and put-together whether working from home or the office.
Says Hyman, “This group very much embodies the joyful, optimistic attitude we’re seeing our customers crave during this moment in time when they’re returning not only to fashion, but to living their lives in a more holistic way than they have in years.” She adds, “There is absolutely nothing subtle about [their designs], in the best way possible.”
And given that 98 percent of RTR subscribers discover new brands through the site’s rental service, according to Hyman, the likelihood of the Design Collective earning new, ardent fans is extremely high. Naturally, she’s one of them: Her favorites among this summer’s crop include Cortazar’s crocheted mini dress, Olupona’s one-shoulder green-and-purple gown, and a floral wrap dress from Saunders.
For those eager to take the Design Collective on a test run, Rent the Runway offers multiple rental plans, including a fur-item plan for $94 per month ($69 during the first month); an eight-item plan for $144 per month ($94 for the first two months); and a 16-item plan for $235 per month ($149 for the first two months). Customers can also buy items directly from the site.
Says Saunders, the rental model is one he and his fellow designers find encouraging as the fashion industry reckons with its waste problem. “I like the concept that fashion can be attainable while still maintaining quality, and I think having the ability to rent clothes encourages creative choices,” he says. “It challenges the traditional cycle of fashion, and I feel like it is aligned with where many of us are at in terms of attitudes toward consumption.”
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