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Q&A June, 9 2011

Second Look | Christopher Raeburn talks ethically aware menswear and military fabrics

Functional, intelligent and meticulous, Christopher Raeburn is re-appropriating the notion of re-appropriation to create sustainable, ethical designs that consistently manage to push the envelope. We caught up with him to find out more about the label and also took some snaps of him and his studio.

Take a leap to have a read and a gander.

What is “ethically-aware menswear” and why is it so important in the fashion industry of the twenty-first century and how difficult is it to reconcile the duel raison d’etre of being a) being a top fashion designer and b) actively sustainable in a throw-away industry?

It’s being conscious of, how and where and why you produce clothing; for us it’s really about using materials in an intelligent way. As a concept it’s not impossible to reconcile, there are challenges but they need to be overcome. I think the basis for sustainable awareness is already present in menswear. Men actively look for information on a product and brand’s heritage before they buy into it, it would be great if they just expand that craft concern to include ethical considerations.

Why choose to re-appropriate military fabrics?

The technical and design challenge is really appealing, re-making something new and premium out of what others consider waste. Military fabrics are particularly fascinating because they are so functional – the texture, colour and qualities all have background and add depth to each piece. I have been collecting military garments for as long as I can remember and as my creative practice grew the two areas of interest inevitably bled into one another; it’s interesting to consider that really I think the concept has really grown fairly naturally.

So what specific fabrics can we find in the latest upcycled Raeburn pieces for AW11?

The collection is divided into three parts for AW11, each with a different fabric background: ‘Remade’ features fabrics from across Europe, including a deconstructed Danish military trousers and Swedish battledress jackets from the 1940s; we’ll deconstruct the original garments and then remake them into wearable, contemporary pieces – each will be limited edition. Secondly ‘Lightweight’ covers the printed parachute nylon pieces and a new recycled waterproof fabric we’re using called skylon. Lastly we have a new range made only from Hainsworth Melton wool, ‘British’, will become a regular feature each season, with a different fabric each time.

How do you go about sourcing your materials and what elements must it retain for it to stop you in your tracks and select it?

I source via every option available… I really enjoy touring British mills, and my work with Victorinox has opened up a lot of new channels. It’s tough to describe what catches my eye, but I’ve developed a knack for spotting potential. Where the original military garments are concerned it’s really important that we have enough to do our production run; this usually means physically checking original stock and making sure it’s a guaranteed supply. Over the years I’ve built up an interesting contact base of collectors, wholesalers and dealers; the great thing now is that because lots of people know what we sometimes get phone calls or suggestions that help to keep the sourcing process fresh.

What’s the story behind the forthcoming AW11 collection and how has it evolved from the SS11?

AW11 has really been inspired by our research into the original garments, their fabric technology and development. It differs from SS11 in that I’ve tried to pay tribute to each original item through its properties – warmth, camouflage, protection etc. AW11 is about injecting new life and functionality, inspired by the original garment it’s constructed from.

There are felts, wools and cottons this season – a departure from the parachute fabric of SS11. So why the sudden influx of multitudinous fabrics?

On a practical level I wanted to offer a strong range that was functional for Autumn / Winter. The new fabrics offer new qualities. On a personal level, I was intrigued to experiment with all the new fabrics; as the company evolves it’s going to be imperative that we’re open to new fabrics and it helps to keep the collections fresh.

Key pieces for the season (the green Melton-esque hooded jacket looks stunning)?

The Parallel Parka hasn’t left my side, it’s made from a tartan regimental wool and really special to me. I’ve added a few reversible pieces this season and that I think are key in terms of functionality.

Even the presentation of your forthcoming AW11 collection managed to re-appropriate the disused Aldwych Tube Station, so how much work goes into ensuring your garments are sold via ethical means and outlets?

I always look to partner with retailers or brands of a similar mission, but I am realistic about operating in a modern industry. Making sure others we work with share our aspirations and standards is an important consideration for me.

Words: Alex Jackson
Photography: Ross Trevail

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