When the eight finalists of this year’s prestigious LVMH Prize were revealed in March, the name Vejas Kruszewski was little-known — even within fashion-industry circles. That's about to change. Kruszewski, the youngest ever LVMH Prize finalist, is a 19-year-old, self-taught fashion wunderkind. His fledgling label, Vejas, is less than two years old, but has already attracted retailers from Melbourne to Mexico City. Loosely unisex, the eminently wearable line upends classic streetwear staples with dynamic proportions and lush materials. Simply put: You’ll want to wear spring’s panelled sweatshirts, ribbed flight jeans, and grommet T-shirts immediately, and they’ll never really go out of style. Even though the small-batch designs are handmade in Toronto with deluxe fabrications, several styles still retail for less than £200.
Remarkably, Kruszewski launched his namesake label fresh out of high school and without any formal training. Instead of a pricey degree from Parsons or Central Saint Martins, the enterprising Montreal native learned to make clothes by reading Japanese lifestyle magazines with foldout patterns, inspecting and deconstructing Céline and Miu Miu sale finds, and working at a local cut-and-sew manufacturing business for one summer. “It’s mostly just been trial and error,” he admits when we meet at a coffee shop in Toronto near his studio. “There’s a lot of things, technically, that I have to continuously teach myself…but the advantage [of being self-taught] is that you can approach things from a different [perspective], rather than being shown how to do it a specific way.” An independently minded risk-taker, Kruszewski moved to Toronto in 2014 and was willing to stay with relatives and crash in a friend’s hallway until he could afford his own apartment in the city, even while investing in top-notch fabrics from Italian mills for his eponymous collection. “I decided to [come here] and launch the label, which in hindsight was very clueless because I had started it with really no money at all, and I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he recalls. “The first initial seasons didn’t work out.” Despite the rocky start, things turned around, and his first full collection, for fall 2015, was quickly picked up by Opening Ceremony and Japanese stockists Radd Lounge and Sister following its New York Fashion Week debut.
With three seasons now under their belt, Kruszewski and his business partner, Saam Emme, finally have a seamstress, an intern program, and a local manufacturer in place (and the collection isn’t entirely produced in their compact, fabric-strewn studio-slash-office space anymore!). These upgrades couldn't come fast enough: Kruszewski decided to show fall 2016 in Paris last month, and the buzzy young label almost tripled accounts with its Hari Nef-fronted collection of sculptural separates and minimalist accessories. Inspired by Noguchi lighting, Brâncuși heads, and objects by New Zealand artist Joe Sheehan, the new season’s highlights include the shaved goat fur jacket, a perfectly oversized tote, and sculptural knits aplenty. If Vejas wins the coveted LVMH award (a winner will be announced in Paris on June 16), the duo is eager to expand into new product categories, invest in better salaries, and improve infrastructure for the company with the 300,000 euro prize money. But even if it doesn’t, they have big plans for the coming months: “We have to present something new to the judges at the finals, and we’re getting our flights paid for again, so I’m going to do a resort collection,” Kruszewski reveals. “And afterwards, we’re going to do a sourcing trip to Italy and the North of France.” Circular knits (which are knitted in one piece and have no side seams) and footwear designs are also in the works, with aims to be introduced in June. Launching new product categories and embracing pre-collections are ambitious plans for any self-funded, emerging label, but if Vejas’ track record is any indication, we bet they'll find a way to make it happen — with or without LVMH.