A 21st century equivalent to couture – but in a completely fucked up way!
She is the French born, London based designer who is bringing notions like one-of-a-kind and savoir-faire back into fashion. And she is doing it through jeans. On looms. Via Youtube – but without a cellphone. Make it last meets Faustine Steinmetz, the designer who is taking sustainable fashion literally into her own hands – and to the next level.
When we meet Faustine Steinmetz, she is in the midst of packing up her entire studio. Actually, she is packing up and moving her entire home – all of it – and with that, her boyfriend and two dogs as well. Her huge studio in east London has been her combined working space and home since 2011, when she took her masters degree from Central Saint Martins under Professor Louise Wilson.
When entering the studio the first thing you notice (except for Buzz and Lily, the two equally wary and overexcited dogs) are the looms. The traditional weaving machines. They are just as sturdy as they are huge, and not the usual sight at a young London designer’s head quarters. But they are the main work tool when Faustine Steinmetz creates her intricate fashion designs.
When we meet, Faustine is stressed out but happy: she has just presented her spring/summer 2015 collection in London under the New Gen sponsorship – to great reviews.
– I do not ever want to show ”properly”, I always want to do these kind of presentations. It became like an exhibition of the clothes. I want that: I want people to be able to walk trough my brain. If that makes sense!
Faustine Steinmetz’s presentation during London fashion week left you with the feeling that she just outwitted fashion – twice. Not only does she create unique fashion through her techniques – techniques she mostly invents herself – she also makes a pun at conventional, super-brand fashion.
The jeans-and-denim based looks of the spring collection are created out of a fabric which Faustine has made herself in the studio. The material? Old denim jeans found at thrift stores. She has unravelled the old jeans into threads – just to weaved them back into new fabric. New jeans.
– We took the yarn out of old pairs, then we unpicked them, and refelted them into new fabric that became these new jeans.
Normally, it takes between three days and a month to make a pair of Faustine Steinmetz jeans. These took over a month to do, per piece.
– Yes, it took quite long to make them. But this is what I want to do – I want this freedom to go towards these types of pieces, which take a long time to do. They are somehow a 21st century equivalent to what a couture house would do – but in a completely fucked up way! Excuse the language.
– For the first time I also used some fabric which I did not make myself. I bought some recycled polyester fabric which I have pleated using these old Japanese pleating techniques.
The setting of the presentation made you think of super-brands and old French houses. The brands that, by their name, can sell you really expensive stuff and make you believe you are getting the highest quality. But what are you actually buying?
– It was thinking about how it’s never about the product at all, when we buy luxury fashion. The product can be made in this huge factory in China, and I don’t think people even care. As long as it is Chanel, or any brand like that, and it is presented in a really fancy way.
Faustine Steinmetz’s presentation was a riff on just that: how high fashion brands present their make up, perfumes, bags and clothes. Along with her collection, she presented some random merch that she put her name on: candies became Faustine Steinmetz le bon bon, pens were made into Faustine Steinmetz le stylo, and even a designer swimsuit, Faustine Steinmetz le maillot, as put on a podium.
And by giving us jeans that took hundreds of hours to make – out of old jeans – Faustine Steinmetz challenges the very notion of branding, quality and labour intensive work.
– All models were standing on turning tables, and turning as if they were objects. It is all about exploring how big brands work. What does it mean to be a brand and show at fashion week? It was my first time to show on models, so I was inspired of the whole thing, being a designer in London. I put my name on everything from the clothes to bags to pencils and water bottles – I wanted to know what it was like being a brand.
Faustine grew up in Paris, the city were haute couture was born and the city which still holds the crown as the capital of handicraft in fashion. But Faustine learned how to excel in those crafts through somewhere else.
– I looked at videos on Youtube, she explains. I learned everything there was on Youtube, then I hoarded books. I’m totally self-taught, which I think gives me this freedom to experiment.
Not bad for someone who does not even have a phone.
– No, I don’t! It broke a year ago and I just didn’t buy a new one. It is so liberating! I’m still on Facebook, so my friends can get hold of me. But it’s easier for me to connect with myself and with others if I can fully decide when and how.
You have specialized in creating new fabrics out of old ones. Would you call Faustine Steinmetz a sustainable brand?
– I am not thinking that I am doing a sustainable brand. I just think I am taking my responsibilities as a company, that creates things, not to pollute this world and not to bring things down further. As a young designer, as a human, I think it is my job to not add to all the crap that is going on, don’t you think? I want to try to build my brand in a more clever way.
Why walk down the same road as everyone else, sort of?
– Exactly. I think Stella McCartney is the only one who has done things her own way, like no one else. She decided not to use any leather or PVC – and she doesn’t. And it works.
Do you work with leather?
– People often talk to me about being sustainable. Which is funny because, I’m not even that kind of person. I’m not vegan or even vegetarian – I wish I was, but I’m not. But when it comes to leather I am. I would never use it now that I know where it comes from.
– I am very concerned with thinking that some poor animal got tortured just because I want to wear some expensive pair of shoes. I just think it’s…fucked up. It’s so barbaric when you think about it, no? And I think there’s no way that in a thousand years humans will still do that. The same thing with eating animals, really? There’s no way people are still doing that years from now. I don’t see that happening. In the future, they will look at us like we were totally mad in the 21st century! And also, you know, the leather industry is completely different from the meat industry, You can see it all for yourself on Youtube, how it’s made, it’s all there… it’s horrible. And, obviously, it’s not sustainable.
Do you feel like, since you produce your clothes in a completely different way compared to other fashion companies, that you open up people’s minds to what is possible? That there actually is an alternative way of doing things?
– Hm, no, that isn’t how I really feel. I only feel like it is my responsibility as a fashion designer to give the people whom I make clothes for something that is cruelty free and sustainable. Why? Just because…why shouldn’t I? People can’t make that choice for themselves if there is nothing to choose from. It’s impossible for anyone to know where my wool comes from. So it is my responsibility to know exactly that. It is my responsibility to make sure that my choices are ok. It is actually really hard, but, I don’t think there is any alternative.
Do you also feel like you are preserving old artforms through your work, in how it is based totally on handicraft?
– Yes. I am French, I was brought up in Paris where you have all of these couture houses, with all this savoir-faire, knowledge. You have these women being the last to know how to do a certain crochet or stitch, and I love that. And I really hope that I am mixing that old knowledge with the new – making new types of clothes and inventing my own techniques.
Even though Faustine Steinmetz does clothes that we all have in our wardrobes, like jeans, the feeling of wearing one of her pieces is completely different.
– I’m sure it feels like… wearing a pair of jeans that your grandmother knitted for you. When I started with jeans, aside from me just loving jeans, it was definitely a reaction to all of those jeans being made on a chain in a factory where you have one girl sitting all day doing only the same seam over and over, and you have the next girl doing only the next seam. Here, I make the jeans from scratch, and you have the same person doing the entire jean.
Right now Faustine Steinmetz is working on developing a made to order system through her website and through the shops, like Opening Ceremony, that carry her designs.
– I want to fill this gap in the market that is not about me. It’s not a specific gap actually – people are not just going around waiting for me and my designs. There has to be more than that. When I went around the shops recently, looking at the designer clothes, I realized how expensive they actually are. People are spending a lot of money on designer pieces, pieces that are not that crafty or couture-like at all. For a very long time I actually thought so myself: that the Balmain piece that costs four grand would be really high in quality, a quality you could not find anywhere else. Of course that is not the case. It was very naive of me to think so, but I was kind of disappointed to realize it.
So what is it that you’re going to do?
– I want to create something very special, I think that is what people want: to have something very special rather than that super-expensive but kind of simply made cocktail dress. So I am launching made to order where you can order a pair of jeans from us, cut for your body, and we will send you pictures of how the piece is coming together. You will actually have photos of your jeans being made. You will know who made it, and when, and why… If I would spend a lot of money on a pair of trousers – that is what I would want. Something that makes me feel special.
Words by Agnes Grefberg Braunerhielm
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