USE THE TOOL AS A TOOL AGAINST ITSELF

Designer Saskia Leanarts explores the inherent function of a tool, in order to achieve results very much contrary to its intended purpose. A concept rooted in ingenuity and the ability to think outside traditional boundaries, Leanarts latest collection employs decommissioned military garb to subvert typical associations.

PHOTOGRAPHY_ JASON THOMAS GEERING

STYLING_ BRYNN HEMINWAY

USE THE TOOL AS A TOOL AGAINST ITSELF

NYAYOP WEARS_ ‘VANGUARD ANORAK’_ UPCYCLED FROM DEADSTOCK NYLON_ SASKIA LENAERTS_ THE ‘DISARMED’ COLLECTION / ‘GUNSLINGER KNIT’_ UPCYCLED FROM BRITISH ARMY WOOL REMNANTS_ SASKIA LENAERTS_ THE ‘DISARMED’ COLLECTION / ‘OUT-VERTED CARGO TROUSERS’_ UPCYCLED FROM U.S. MILITARY RIPSTOP NYLON COMBAT CARGO PANTS_ SASKIA LENAERTS_ THE ‘DISARMED’ COLLECTION / BOOTS_ MODEL’S OWN

Featured Designer_ Saskia Lenaerts

Age_ 27

Where did you study_ The Royal Fashion Academy, Antwerp / Central Saint Martin, London. 

What year did you graduate from Central Saint Martin_ February 2020

What materials do you use in your work_ Decommissioned military garments and materials. It's a dichotomy — I hate what the military represents but I'm quite drawn to the aesthetic of it. In the world right now, the archaic view of masculinity is being challenged. Living with my father, I had a lot of extremely strong, powerful, imposing men around me, but it was never a negative thing. I feel somehow that in fashion and menswear, masculinity is a bit underrepresented. People want to stay far away from anything that looks too big, too powerful. And whenever you do explore those concepts, people challenge — Why Saskia? It’s another dichotomy. Masculinity is just the outer layer. You can have intimate things going on underneath. I use imposing silhouettes from military origins as my way of imposing my vision for what I’m trying to achieve.  

What inspired you to start upcycling garments_

I am very interested in the semiotics of clothes and what they represent and how people use them. For example, the Herera tribe in Namibia, Africa. In the 19th century the colonizers and missionaries taught the women how to make petticoats as a way of imposing their culture on the people. The women started giving their own symbolism to the garments. They started making these massive dresses out of local African fabrics, so the silhouettes look completely, mid 19th century Western but in vibrant African fabrics. The men also took military garments of the wars that were going on at the time between Germany and what was the South African army and they appropriated all these costumes to create their own rank of military within themselves. They have celebrations and processions to symbolically suppress their oppressor. In a way saying, by wearing what you wear, we’re the same. You cannot be more powerful than me. I am really fascinated by how people apply their own belief system or symbolism to existing garments, entirely changing their meaning. We always speak of appropriation as something so negative, as when fashion designers appropriate things from other cultures, and here it was like a survival strategy. 

Where do you find your materials_ 

It isn’t like, ‘I have my concept and now I look for just sustainable material’. No, the materials were intertwined in what I was trying to represent. I found that with the military concept, I could kind of use it as a tool against itself. I tried to decommission and disarm military clothes for an opposite purpose — not to represent what the military does or what the nation state does but break down the barriers.

How does the process of upcycling inform your work_

There's an artist I love, Richard Moss. He is an Irish cinematographer, fine artist, and documentary filmmaker. He sometimes uses military cameras or tools to subvert the viewer’s perception. He uses the tool as a tool against itself. He did a big project or film also on the migrant crisis in Europe. And he used long range cameras that the military uses to detect people like on border crossings, etcetera. And the camera only senses heat. And therefore you can't really see who's the intruder and who's not. You know, who's the Arab or who's the Westerner, you can’t detect skin color, you can’t see that. The process of upcycling is similar. You use the tool as a tool against itself.

What about in the future? How do you see the craft evolving_

There is so much surplus, running out of material will be no issue. And maybe upcycling will encourage more garment recycling. 

What is the role of the designer in these times_

To educate and to inspire. I think designers really need to be in touch with the world more than ever. I don't think it's good enough anymore to just represent some fantasy or something. I think we're living in such a political and polarized world, I think what we do needs to have more grounding or more meaning. 

If you could change one thing about the fashion industry, what would it be_

Respect and kindness. Throughout the whole supply chain of all the beautiful things that we create in this industry there are processes along the way that are disrespectful and even ethical. And I think it's a complete contradiction that respect is missing in the process of creating something that’s really beautiful or considered luxury. So yea I would just be kind to each other.

What advice would you give other young designers_

To be as optimistic and encouraging and believe in yourself. I think it's more important to be happy than to have some crazy career.  I have ambition, I have an ego, I like that my name is on something but it's something I’m proud of. And it doesn't have to be some massive brand in five years. If I can have a few stockists, have a nice webshop and I can live, have a nice life, do what I like doing. I think that is a big enough achievement. 

What’s next for you_

I’m looking at potentially expanding my studio in London or getting a studio with someone else. Now I kind of have a space at home but I would like to be more in a community. I miss having the critical exchange I had at university. 

I have a kind of big creative idea which I think is quite unprecedented but I’m not ready to talk about yet.

— Saskia Lenaerts is a transnational designer who lives and works in London. / @world_saskia

“In order to educate and inspire, designers really need to be in touch with the world more than ever. It's no longer good enough to represent some fantasy. We're living in such a political and polarized world that what we do needs to be more grounded and needs to have more meaning.” — Saskia Lenaerts

NYAYOP WEARS_ ‘VANGUARD ANORAK’_ UPCYCLED FROM DEADSTOCK NYLON_ SASKIA LENAERTS_ THE ‘DISARMED’ COLLECTION / ‘GUNSLINGER KNIT’_ UPCYCLED FROM BRITISH ARMY WOOL REMNANTS_ SASKIA LENAERTS_ THE ‘DISARMED’ COLLECTION / ‘OUT-VERTED CARGO TROUSERS’_ UPCYCLED FROM U.S. MILITARY RIPSTOP NYLON COMBAT CARGO PANTS_ SASKIA LENAERTS_ THE ‘DISARMED’ COLLECTION / BOOTS_ MODEL’S OWN

MAYA WEARS_ ‘BUFFER PUFFER’_ UPCYCLED FROM DEADSTOCK NYLON, TAFFETA AND REPURPOSED DUCK DOWN FROM VINTAGE ARCTIC MILITARY SLEEPING BAGS_ SASKIA LENAERTS_ THE ‘DISARMED’ COLLECTION / ‘DECOMMISSIONED KNIT’_ UPCYCLED FROM BRITISH WOOL AIRFORCE SWEATERS_ SASKIA LENAERTS_ THE ‘DISARMED’ COLLECTION / BOOTS AND SOCKS_ MODEL’S OWN

MODELS_ NYAYOP TOANG / MAYA WILLENER

HAIR_ ADAM MARKARIAN

CASTING_ STUDIO AT LARGE

STYLING ASSISTANT_ EMILY STONE

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