LONDON, United Kingdom — The recent factory collapse tragedy in Bangladesh has served as a loud and clear wake-up call to both consumers and creators of fashion: we need to collectively take bigger responsibility across the entire supply chain, from the sourcing of fibres to the finished garment. And whether it's because of a growing backlash against 'fast fashion' or a rejection of outsourced production that puts many variables beyond their control, I'm seeing more and more young fashion designers who prefer to produce locally, right from the get-go. One such designer is Paris-born, London-based Faustine Steinmetz.
Steinmetz' work has long questioned the traditional ideals of luxury that dominate fashion. Whilst admiring the technically-focused, "petits mains" teachings of her Parisian fashion BA course, she found herself eager to subvert traditional French savoir-faire by applying it to less restrictive designs. Internships at labels like Andrea Crews, Jeremy Scott and Henrik Vibskov cemented her leanings towards fashion's left field, and Steinmetz went on to complete her MA in fashion print at Central Saint Martins, where she explored the idea of poking fun at traditional "rich women's clothing" with fur coats made out of plasticine painted with acrylic paint and Chanel-esque rucksacks in cheap fabrics.
"I've been bored by luxury," explains Steinmetz. "I would love to work with little hands and ateliers like they have at Chanel, but to do something more fun and different."
After a short break, she took matters into her own hands. Quite literally. She bought herself a hand loom off the Internet, taught herself to weave and started hand-weaving textiles, replicating iconic garments, piece by piece. "Last summer, I made a pair of jeans and a t-shirt," says Steinmetz. "I did a little photo shoot. And it just grew from there. I started taking on interns and it began to be more serious. We're like a little petite maison here."
Inspired by the 1995 Matthew Kassovitz film La Haine, about kids growing up in suburban Paris, Steinmetz became obsessed with re-interpreting garments which are ubiquitous. "I've always loved tromp l'oeil. I'm interested in the sociology and how that wardrobe gives you an identity."
Therefore, iconic pieces like a pair of Levi's 501 jeans and a denim jacket are reinterpreted in a tactile, hand-woven mohair wool and hand-dyed in indigo. A stark tracksuit top and bottoms are hand-woven in heavy wool, adding surreal weight to what is normally a lightweight "throwaway" garment. Chain jewellery and watches in titanium are covered in a matte grey flock.
All materials are sourced in England. And the finished garments are, currently, being produced painstakingly, piece by piece, in Steinmetz's Shoreditch petite maison with her four hand looms and the help of a few interns. "I love that we're able to create everything on a small scale here and try different things. I'm not really interested in fashion and trends, but I'm really into the craftsmanship," says Steinmetz.
There has already been a positive reception to Steinmetz's inaugural collection, which will be exclusively stocked at East London boutique Hostem, when the store launches their womenswear arm this summer. "It's rare to find a young designer applying artisanal techniques to contemporary garment making," says Christie Fels, womenswear buyer at Hostem. "Steinmetz has re-invented some of the most iconic shapes of our time, challenging peoples perceptions of fabric and construction through her attention to process."
That process will undoubtedly need to shift should Steinmetz secure more stockists, but for now, she's excited about the scope of freedom that her slow-yet-steady way of working allows her. "It's the way I think that's interesting — it's the idea. If I don't have the idea, then there's nothing. I don't want to have to design by brief."