Alex Kramer prepares for her fall collection in her Manhattan atelier

Like any designer origin myth worth its salt, Alex Kramer’s began with a quest—in this case, the hunt for the perfect tank top to wear with a pair of YSL pants. “I was always looking for a basic, beautiful, quality tank I could wear with nice tailored pants, and I just couldn’t find it,” Kramer laments. So the intrepid New Yorker did what any city girl would do: She decided to make one herself. She found a silk rib knit “that felt like butter,” whipped up a prototype, and the seeds for her future fashion brand were sown.

Then Amanda Brooks, vice president and women’s fashion director at Barneys New York, admired an outfit Kramer designed and wore to a party, and snapped up the first collection, spring 2012, on an exclusive basis. Some of the first pieces Kramer sold were to Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey. “Her stylist saw the collection and wanted me to make something for her,” says Kramer. “I thought, I’m starting with Oprah—that’s cool!”

Kramer, a fixture on the Manhattan social scene, grew up dividing her time between her native New York and Europe (her mother is Yugoslavian), all while being surrounded by fashion legends like Diane von Furstenberg and Bianca Jagger, whose daughters, Tatiana von Furstenberg and Jade Jagger, were her schoolmates and good friends. She would have sleepovers with Jade, who lived at the Halstons’ residence for a while with her mother.

Her good fortune aside, Kramer’s ethos is more about old-fashioned hard work than working connections. She laid low during the fall New York readyto- wear shows, eschewing both the front row and any kind of presentation of the collection, which she created with codesigner and partner Brian Stanziale, a former fashion editor and fellow vintage fanatic who met Kramer at his former Soho boutique, Sloane. Instead, she introduced the newly minted label with little fanfare to a handful of editors. “I’m trying to distance myself from the socialite designer moniker,” says Kramer, a willowy blonde with a coolly patrician poise. “I really believe you should earn your way to a runway. I knew I loved designing and wanted to do it for myself, and in that regard it was an easy choice to make. But believe me, none of the rest of it is easy.”

For a fledgling fashion designer with no formal training apart from heading up a secondary collection for Brazilian designer Carlos Miele and working on his main line several years ago, Alex Kramer’s namesake collection is remarkably assured. The pieces—soigné cigarette pants with leather yokes, reversible floor-length two-tone silk jersey dresses, and of course, that perfect tank top in rich, complementary shades of ivory, onyx, mustard, indigo, and brick—have all the sexiness of Azzedine Alaïa meshed with the pared-down sophistication of Narciso Rodriguez. A sneak peak at the fall collection, which Kramer describes variously as “back to the future” and “urban warrior,” reveals showstopping fur-trimmed coats and divine details like a crocodile-skin print on a silk charmeuse T-shirt.

The pieces are all constructed with luxurious fabrics such as Italian ponte, 100 percent silk jersey, and lashings of butter-soft leather. “When I design I’m always thinking about how women actually wear clothes,” she says. “I try to think about how they will feel on. There are clothes for women in their early 20s and also for women in their 50s. Not everyone is 17 with a flat chest and perfect body.” (Kramer mentions that a buyer at that first Barneys meeting described the collection as containing “sexy workwear,” a phrase that slots perfectly into the category of “wonderful things you didn’t even realize you needed.”)

When asked whose style she finds inspiring, Kramer praises Nan Kempner, Audrey Hepburn, and Katharine Hepburn. “These fashion icons appeared timeless, effortless, and chic. They favored classic silhouettes, didn’t fall prey to trend-driven clothing, and most of all, they epitomized luxury,” she says. “I like that European mix. Style versus being a good dresser—they are two different things.” She would also love to dress actresses Cate Blanchett and Gwyneth Paltrow someday. “Women who like clean lines and have their own style that shines through.”

Kramer’s primary goal, however, is a humbler one: “To have a collection that I can wear from morning to night and not have to think about. I love the concept of a uniform.” Urban warrior women, take note. Barneys New York, 660 Madison Ave., 212-826-8900

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