In an age of look-at-me logos and eye-watering maximalism, you wouldn't necessarily spot a Caes design if you were scrolling through your Instagram feed. Pared-back, with a focus on elevated basics, the brand invokes the sort of clean-lined minimalism that was prevalent in the '90s and recently revived in the collections of contemporary designer brands, such as The Row. Yet, far from being another label jumping on the minimalist bandwagon, Caes has entered the market with a distinctive identity and fully-formed aesthetic.
Launched by Helen de Kluiver in 2019, longevity is at the heart of everything that Caes does. Yes, the brand's designs may fall under the "basics" category, but with its luxe fabrics and striking silhouettes, these pieces are more than deserving of the spotlight. We're talking oversized shirting, ribbed bodysuits, knitted dresses, tank tops and leather trousers.
The brand was picked up by Net-a-Porter soon after its launch (a signifier of future success if I ever saw one) and has subsequently been spotted on Instagram's arbiters of stripped-back style: Think Brittany Bathgate, Lindsay Holland and Alexis Foreman. I sat down with Helen, the brand's founder, to discuss everything from wardrobe heroes to the impact of the pandemic on small brands. Scroll on to read then shop the brand's hero buys.
What inspired you to set up the brand?
Before launching CAES I worked as a designer for many years on huge collections that had to fall within a strict framework of (seasonal) styles, budget and time. But for me, it didn't feel right anymore. I had a strong desire to focus on quality and designing items that would not be limited to one season only. To be able to really give my full attention to each piece, take my time and really love the end product. That was my dream. I envisioned smaller collections in "editions" rather than seasons, with qualities and colours that would remain timeless and wearable year-round. The first thing I did was look for the right suppliers who shared my vision. We ended up working with family-owned companies in Portugal so we can visit them often and closely follow the production process because everything is made in-house.
What has it been like operating as a small brand during a pandemic?
I started at the end of 2019, right before the pandemic hit. It was a huge challenge to ensure that there even was a collection, because many suppliers had shut down temporarily. Everything was very uncertain, with the retail projected to take a nosedive and it just being a hard time in general for a lot of people.
When you start a new brand, you want to really want to make a good first impression, but this was difficult due to all the limitations. On the other hand, being a small brand makes us more flexible and easier to manoeuvre, without a large overhead to consider. I took this time to actually meet a lot of new people, through Zoom, of course, and realised that this medium provides us with a lot of opportunities.
How do you think the world of minimalist style has changed in recent years?
I think because there is more awareness of slow fashion and producing better quality clothes, minimalism is preferred because it's not subject to trends. I think the focus now is on buying better but less. This will automatically steer you towards more minimalist, timeless pieces that will last you longer. I think it also fits in with the minimalist lifestyle many people prefer these days, which extends beyond just clothes but can also be found in interior and even food. I personally like to own less and focus on what is important.
What are the hero pieces in your latest collection?
The long white poplin dress, which is perfect for summer. It's so easy to wear during daytime with a sandal or with cool mules to create an effortless silhouette. And in the evening you can wear it with a strappy sandal to go out for a dinner.
Photo:Courtesy of Caes
What are your top tips for creating a stylish, pared-back outfit?
I think first you have to carefully examine your closet to make sure you have all the essentials; everything should match well together. Then I would add some oversized pieces, so you can mix and match with sleek and oversized silhouettes. I personally love to wear my boyfriend's T-shirts styled with something more fitted. Accessories such as beautiful earrings or outspoken shoes will keep your outfit interesting. To give even more depth to your wardrobe and add something special, I highly recommend looking for some beautiful vintage pieces.
Do you have any advice for consumers looking to shop sustainably, but are overwhelmed by the deluge of buzzwords and misinformation?
It can be challenging to know what is "right" in terms of sustainability, and as a brand we are also continuously looking to improve as the standard get higher (as they should). Thankfully, a lot of brands strive to be transparent about their business practices nowadays, and most information is easily accessible on their websites.
In my opinion, you can feel whether it's in the brand's DNA to be sustainable, or whether they just do one collection with a few organic pieces to cover the sustainability aspect. If you feel committed to making a difference yourself, there is a lot of information available on what certifications to look for if you want to check whether fabrics and suppliers uphold the highest standards in terms of sustainability and ethics. I would also suggest questioning the brand, get used to enquiring where and how your clothes are made. If the brand ignores this question or provides unsatisfactory answers it is not doing the right thing!
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