Display Copy captures the upcycled masterpieces of creative director and design wonder Sebastian A. De Ruffray as he explores his definition of couture and how he creates through deconstruction.
PHOTOGRAPHy_ ANTHONY SEKLAOUI
STYLIST_ ALLY MACRAE
MODEL_ IRIS delcourt (VIVa)
My work is strongly based on deconstruction, a concept that has influenced my perception of things. I have a “deconstructed” idea of couture. In contrast to the classical understanding of it, couture for me is more about a particular moment in which a strong feeling is expressed through fashion—when fashion speaks on its own.
I’m looking to give an extra value to upcycling and techniques that sometimes go underappreciated. Discarded garments and haute couture are concepts that do not normally go together, but I find that duality very inspiring. I came to the idea of “upcycled couture” as a way to transmit my intention of pushing the boundaries of upcycling to a higher level. It’s not couture from the traditional point of view.
YOU SAY THAT YOU NEVER LOVED THE IDEA OF UNAPPROACHABLE OR EXCLUSIVE FASHION, BUT IN THE CLASSIC SENSE, COUTURE REALLY IS THE EPITOME OF UNAPPROACHABLE AND EXCLUSIVE. HOW DO YOU RECONCILE THAT?
I think the time has come to re-evaluate the meaning of couture. I believe it is a concept that evolves, and it needs to stay current. Couture is also the most experimental side of fashion, where everything is put into question. Proportions are put into question, materials are put into question. Maybe it’s time to put the word itself into question? We live in such uncertain times that I think it is more important than ever for people to take risks. Designers should put themselves and the industry in question. I like to believe there are no rules or limits in creation.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE ARTISANAL (COUTURE) TECHNIQUES YOU’RE BRINGING TO UPCYCLING? UNAPPROACHABLE AND EXCLUSIVE. HOW DO YOU RECONCILE THAT?
Most of our pieces are draped in the stand. We almost have no patterns in the atelier. Selected garments are unpicked and placed on the mannequin, pieces are mixed, overlapped. There is a lot of hand stitching, hand dyeing, and hand painting. We either repair embroideries or embellish them with sustainable beads. As we work with vintage clothes, sometimes the material presents color irregularities or stains that are not possible to remove. We embroider on top of these stains, covering them with thread. The techniques are adapted to suit the material.
YOU’VE SAID THAT EACH MATERIAL YOU CREATE COMES WITH AN INHERENT MOOD OR ENERGY, AND THAT YOU’RE SHIFTING THE FREQUENCY OF THAT ENERGY WHEN YOU UPCYCLE. CAN YOU SHARE AN EXAMPLE OF A FINISHED PIECE AND HOW THE ENERGY OF THAT PIECE SHIFTED OR CHANGED THROUGHOUT YOUR PROCESS?
Our upcycled puffer coats are a very good example. We rescued some abandoned flower-printed mattresses found on the streets of Paris. Even though the original object was not a garment, it shared the same feeling of comfort with our coat. Is fun to see people wearing it and say, "It’s so comfortable I could fall asleep!” In this case the original energy didn’t shift, but it was highlighted and elevated.
YOU’VE REMARKED THAT THERE’S NO TECHNIQUE THAT MORE ACCURATELY DESCRIBES THE TIMES WE LIVE IN THAN UPCYCLING. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
Upcycling is directly responding to an urgent need. The fashion industry has reached a critical point. It needs to find more sustainable ways of developing products and managing the incredible amount of waste it produces. Upcycling appeared as an effective option for battling these current challenges. However, it is just one of the constantly growing creative options to do so.
I like to think about the industry as a collective — I think it is important to realize the power of collectiveness. The role of the couturier doesn’t differ much from any other member of the fashion system. We should all aim for a more sustainable future, and we all have the responsibility to put things in question, to fight for gender and race equality, and to keep fashion aligned with what is going on in the world. Particularly the couturier and fashion designers should speak through their designs, creating collections with a clear and relevant message. Fashion should be a reflection of society and work for the progress of it.
I would say the question is, can anything really be enough? It is important to understand that it will never be enough, but we should all do something nevertheless. Art, through its universal language, has the ability to encourage others to find their own answers and solutions for sustainability. I find that very powerful.