Rip it up and start again

Why were designers so obsessed with ripping, restitching and deconstructing for FW20?
By Jake Hall | Fashion | 25 February 2020
This article is part of Eco Watch and also part of Fashion Week – London, Milan, Paris, NYC

Top image: Backstage at Marni FW20 / Photography Emily Malan

Take a look through fashion history, and you’ll see occasional periods of ‘anti-fashion’ reigning supreme. It happened in the early 1980s, when Rei Kawakubo brought Comme des Garçons’ all-black collection of destroyed, moth-eaten knitwear to bewildered – but soon to be enraptured – fashion editors in Paris. It happened again in the 1990s, when Belgian iconoclast Martin Margiela rallied against fashion’s logomania obsession by replacing his clothing labels with four discreet white stitches, and later creating an ‘Artisanal’ line of upcycled, patchworked couture.

From punk to postmodernism, deconstruction has largely defined these ‘anti-fashion’ moments. It’s an aesthetic that’s come and gone over the last few decades, but one that usually rears its head during periods of political turbulence. It’s interesting, then, that FW20 saw the look return in a big way: from Craig Green and Marine Serre to Louis Vuitton and Burberry, designers across the industry have been literally pulling apart and piecing together their collections.

Burberry FW20, Look 80

In many ways, the reasons still are political – but now, they’re most often tied to fashion’s huge carbon footprint. From independent designers championing a circular economy to luxury conglomerates like Kering pledging carbon-neutrality, progress has been made. But, undeniably, there’s still plenty of work to be done.

At Marni, creative director Francesco Risso has made it his mission to wake up the industry, staging SS20 in a wasteland of discarded plastic. For FW20, he seemingly followed the advice of Extinction Rebellion, who advocate for a return to the wartime ‘make do and mend’ mentality. This ties into the political push for a Green New Deal, modelled on President Franklin’s radical, post-war overhaul of the US. The reasoning is simple: we were in crisis then, we’re in crisis now – so why isn’t the government acting?

The complications are obvious: fashion is an industry built on luxury, gloss and newness, and for too long, sustainability has so rarely been seen as sexy. But Risso managed to change that this season, particularly at womenswear, which gave the most literal iteration of the ‘make do and mend’ aesthetic a (biodegradable) glitter-soaked overhaul.

Marni FW20, Look 5

Garments were collaged together from scraps of contrasting fabric, and dresses were sliced down the middle and fastened shut with strands of ribbon. The spliced-up cardigans first seen in menswear reappeared, reimagined in new colourways but decorated with the same exposed stitching.

Then there was Craig Green, whose avant-garde FW20 show ended with wearable sculptures pieced together from venetian blinds and transparent, colourful tents. It wasn’t necessarily a specific commentary on sustainability – Green has been innovating in this way for years – but it was an example of how far deconstruction can be pushed, in terms of both concept and execution.

Craig Green FW20, Look 44

Some collections nodded to deconstruction in more subtle ways. Charlotte Knowles – who uses upcycled fabrics, biodegradable packaging and advocates for fair pay in fashion – showed the occasional raw seam and slashed-off hemline in her unconventionally sexy FW20, whereas Marques’Almeida, which recently launched a resale site to encourage ‘pre-loved’ shopping, featured similarly DIY touches. Then there was Ancuta Sarca, whose stiletto-trainer hybrids – shown this season as part of Fashion East‘s first-ever co-ed presentation – have always been about repurposing the old into the new.

Upcycled lines have been around for years: and from Margiela’s Artisanal collections to brands like Sweden’s stellar Rave Review, this year nominated for the coveted LVMH Prize, their continued success is testament to the long-term appeal of this cut-and-paste practice.

The reuse of old fabrics is slowly becoming more common at Fashion Week, too: Armani recently launched R-EA, an entirely-recycled line, whereas Phoebe English showed Nothing New for FW20, creating a stripped-back, tailored collection made of deadstock (unused fabric, which would otherwise be discarded) sourced from studios across London. Eckhaus Latta took a step in the right direction too, teaming up with a resale site to source second-hand shoes for the FW20 show.

Backstage at Charlotte Knowles FW20, Photography Emily Malan

But this season also saw a series of high-profile creative directors deconstruct the codes of respected houses. Take Riccardo Tisci for example, whose FW20 take on the Burberry trench-coat was occasionally slashed at the chest and left to hang open. Elsewhere, he pieced together rugby shirts of contrasting coloured stripes and even stitched three shirts into a new, deconstructed hybrid.

Vetements’ latest collection – the first without Demna Gvasalia at the helm – took a similar approach, transforming suit jackets into skirts. Then there was Virgil Abloh, who followed up his declaration that streetwear would die by ripping apart business suits and oxford shirts at Louis Vuitton, resewing them into new jackets whose old, neatly-tied collars hung loosely from lapels.

Louis Vuitton FW20, Look 36

The collection was framed as a philosophical musing on time, which is a hot topic in fashion: climate crisis protestors are begging the industry to slow its relentless pace to a standstill, whereas Abloh last year sparked debate by speaking candidly about his burnout.

Incidentally, Marine Serre became the latest designer to work this cut-and-paste aesthetic into her collection just this morning. Like Craig Green, whose utilitarian designs are built to survive a climate crisis-induced apocalypse, Serre has long toyed with the idea of creating collections for a post-apocalyptic landscape, to the extent that her SS20 campaign – which took the form of a five-minute video, Marée Noire – featured AI models stalking a dystopian hellscape. In this context, it’s easy to argue that the resurgence of deconstruction is very much political.

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