Dear Shaded Viewers,
I guess fashion is often described as being cyclical and this new decade is no exception. As we are going through another economic recession, ideas of luxury and desirability change. It's a pivotal moment for many. Christopher Raeburn has seized the Zeitgeist with his remade outerwear pieces, which are beautifully constructed and utterly unique. Sourcing vintage military fabrics across Britain, the 27-year-old, London-based, English designer puts craft and sustainability back on the fashion map.
I couldn't help but think of the 1990s when I first saw his work. I remembered my initial shock looking at Martin Margiela's recomposed sheepskin coats and colourful tops made out of assembled vintage scarves. That kind of lived-in, intimate emotion is back in fashion, as well as the excitement of owning something that has history, depth and substance. I tried one of Christopher's jackets on and it felt great. It was distinctive, without being in your face and I guess the piece spoke for itself. I could make it my own.
Raeburn's work has already been snapped up by some of the world's major retailers and his last collection is currently showing at London Fashion Week. He will also be in Paris during Fashion Week. I loved talking to him. Christopher knows his stuff and believes in what he does, without having to preach. I was instantly converted anyway.
What are the key principles behind your clothes and aesthetics?
I think it's important that people understand we're not just using new fabrics and that the brand explains itself in a way. My garments always have a label with the original composition. Everything is traceable. For instance, the leather I used on some of my outerwear pieces came from these big, oversized Italian military motorbike jackets.
Where do you source your fabrics?
All over, really. There are various warehouses in and around England where I spend a lot of time, looking for all kinds of different things. As the brand got bigger and more known, people started approaching me with their materials, too.
Where are you based?
I have a studio in East London where we do all our research and design. We set it up about two years ago and it's been quite quick. I started with the womenswear and the first collection was bought by Browns Focus. Then the menswear was bought by Liberty. These were my first two stockists in London. We started getting more clients in our second season, like Isetan and smaller boutiques in Italy. This winter season has been really good for us.
You've got some limited edition pieces in that collection, which are numbered and produced in very small quantities. How long can you spend on them?
We have some coats that take up to 25 hours to make. It's quite an intricate process. We work with patterns for sizing and the actual deconstruction takes a really long time. The important thing for me is that each piece stays unique. Recently, we've had to make two identical jackets for an actress shooting a big movie in America. One was for her and the other for her stunt double. That was quite demanding.
Which film was it?
I can't tell you, but it'll come out next year. It's quite a big production though.
How did that happen? Did it have anything to do with Barneys stocking your pieces?
Well, we got a feature in the last August issue of US Vogue and Blake Lively wore one of my jackets, shot by Mario Testino. Since then, things have got busier and Barneys actually reordered the key pieces they had bought.
You've recently won the New Gen awards for both menswear and womenswear. What does that bring you in terms of creativity and business?
It brings you support for growth and New Gen also gives you a space during London Fashion Week to show your work. The British Fashion Council gives you guidance when you are in Paris and that's really useful.
What's your background? Did you study fashion design?
Yes, I studied womenswear at London's RCA. I graduated four years ago.
Where are you from originally?
I'm from Kent. I'm very English.
When did you move to London?
I moved there when I started my BA. That was nine years ago.
Do you think there's a British tradition that has to do with the military and reinterpreting such garments? I'm thinking of Maharishi and Burberry for instance.
For me, it's really about loving the fabrics and the fact that you cannot buy them on a roll. There's something quite nice about taking something redundant and giving it a completely new life. It's a different way to approach fashion.
Is it difficult for you to find fabrics sometimes?
It can be. Some of the fabrics we used recently were from 1953 and they were pretty hard to trace.
That's amazing. It's almost like owning a piece of history.
Yes, it is.
Do you do accessories, too?
We have bags that we show each season and also make these fun dogs. They were originally meant for key buyers and press during Fashion Week, but then it got crazy and people really wanted them. It's a fun thing for us, but also a way to minimize waste when it comes to fabrics. We're actually making a rabbit for Spring/Summer. It's so important for us to do things that have a sense of humour.
It's funny, because I keep on meeting young, upcoming designers who really value craftsmanship. I guess it's a backlash against these over-marketed, so-called "luxury" products. It reminds me a bit of Martin Margiela's work in the early 1990s, using recycled garments and making them fashionable.
I saw his exhibition at Somerset House recently and it was fantastic. It was refreshing how there was so much depth to it. Sometimes you go to exhibitions and they feel quite superficial. Here you knew they had really made an effort. It's funny you mention him, because it takes me back to my first months at University and seeing that white glove bodice at the V&A. That's when I realized how respected he was as a designer.
I think this whole idea of vintage becoming so expensive and exclusive is not something that truly existed before Margiela. He also made Replicas, which were exact copies of old clothes, while everyone else ripped them off pretending their work was "new".
It's interesting. The real key for me is going to be the next step. That is going to be the trick. It's not been easy, but relatively accessible to get to this point. Now we have to develop and improve. We're doing the jackets at the moment, but I cannot wait to broaden the range for next winter.