How are young designers reshaping the rules of fashion?

Moderated by Serge Carreira, Head of the Emerging Brands Initiative at the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), “Reshaping the fashion rules: New Designers are emerging with innovation models” (Thursday 13 February, 12:00-13:00, Innovation, Hall 3) brought together a panel of young, up-and-coming designers to reflect on their unique career paths. Kevin Germanier, Spencer Phipps, Emily Bode and the design duo Lisi Herrebrugh and Rushemy Botter are each known for consistently shattering codes and reshaping the laws of fashion using innovative business models and creative solutions.

Each with their own very different styles, genres and concerns, the designers behind the young, successful brands Germanier, Phipps, Bode and Botter share a view of fashion as an instrument for understanding the times and actively contributing to changing them. Driven by a keen awareness of the consequences of textile waste and overproduction, each of these designers, in their own way and drawing on their personal background, decided to launch their own brand. Emily Bode arrived at the decision through her passion for craftsmanship, and a desire to safeguard know-hows and give a second life to fine quality products, while Spencer Phipps launched his brand out of the realisation that changes in the fashion world towards sustainability were slow or even non-existent. “Once you start taking a close look, you realise that sustainability is a dizzyingly huge field,” says Phipps. For him, the adoption of organic materials is just the first step in the development of a green chain that will eventually encompass the entire textile industry, from packaging to plastic-free approaches in the office.

Addressing whether sustainability limits creativity, Kevin Germanier pointed out that a designer must by definition find solutions based on what exists, and that, in design, “the more limitations you have, the more solutions there are.” This approach is rooted in the early stages of his career, when, as a young and fairly broke designer in London, he gathered the materials for his designs from second-hand markets and friends. “I don’t think sustainability is a trend, it’s actually the most obvious and natural way to create,” he noted.

Recycling and upcycling both similarly and deeply define the fashion culture of Emily Bode and the design duo Lisi Herrebrugh and Rushemy Botter. Bode spent her youth roaming flea markets, and, inspired by the high quality of vintage clothing, she builds collections featuring timeless pieces tinged with history. Herrebrugh and Botter grew up on the Caribbean coast, where conserving water and resources was an everyday necessity. Their provocative and playful collection focusing on ocean pollution won the 33rd Hyères International Fashion and Photography Festival in 2018 hands-down. “Telling a story while being honest and true to ourselves is a fundamental pillar of our research”, said Herrebrugh, and the duo’s work is now divided between Botter and Nina Ricci, where they are Creative Directors.

For all these designers, sustainability, far from being a mere marketing tool, is a guiding star, one they constantly strive to reach while remaining in steady communication with the public. “This is a magical moment, because consumers are also increasingly aware of the issue,” says Phipps, noting that each customer is different and it is thus impossible to establish a global geography of buying expectations.

The fact remains, nonetheless, that upcycling is perceived differently in different cultures, and is even somewhat suspect among Asians, who nevertheless tend to buy for predominantly aesthetic and style-related reasons. “Sustainability considerations enrich the history of the garment for most customers,” noted Herrebrugh, a view echoed by Germanier.

The public is looking for solutions combining quality, style and sustainability, and the industry is responding, as demonstrated by the boom in organic, recuperated and recycled materials seen at the latest runway shows. Yet some issues remain challenging – for example, production and distribution logistics. And there’s no lack of resistance to change, especially among older, established groups. “It’s a real revolution in methods, which has just become essential,” explain Phipps and Germanier, evoking a return to know-how, beautiful materials and a slower pace, both in production and in the timing of shows and collections.

The road ahead remains uncharted, and young designers, say Herrebrugh and Botter, have an inspiring role to play in finding practical solutions and raising awareness, both upstream and downstream in the textile industry. “The most important thing is staying true to yourself and not being afraid to say no sometimes,” is the advice Germanier gives to young designers, seconded by Botter, Herrebrugh and Emily Bode, for whom honesty, coherency and strong ideas are without a doubt the most worthwhile investments for a young brand.

“The system is broken, saturated, and now unsustainable both financially and ethically, but a new framework of thought is now emerging and things are about to change,” sums up Serge Carreira, who views this moment of rupture as both a turning point and an opportunity to be seized.

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