Fashion designer

The dark art of upcycling by fashion designer Marine Serre

It is a vision of the end of the world. It’s not healthy and climate-friendly, but apocalyptically avant-garde.

At first, I wrote about fashion hacktivism for a brand called Andrea Crews. Conceived by French artist/designer Maroussia Rebecq, Andrea Crews’ activist hack then and now consisted of two elements: salvaging used or super-cheap clothes and manipulating their iconic design details into something new and quirky. A discarded polo shirt reworked by Andrea Crews, for example, might see its traditional three-button placket and cotton pique knit collar relocated to sit on his shoulder rather than above the sternum: the new shirt is, at once, recognizably Lacoste but Frankensteined in Andrea Crews. What Rebecq told me she couldn’t figure out, however, was how to increase production enough to make money. Taking each unique dress, coat, or trouser apart, re-cutting them and then putting them together differently was not something that lent itself to mass production.

Marine Tight, Hard disk2022 (installation views, Lafayette Anticipations, Paris).
Courtesy of the artist

Recently, I went to see an exhibition called Hard disk, worn by fashion designer Marine Serre at Lafayette Anticipations, Paris. Serre makes half of her collections from unsold and used clothing, and has done so since she founded her brand in 2017. Like Rebecq, Serre had to find a way to transform a high-intensity recycling and redesign operation. labor intensive into something that could produce larger quantities of clothing. Serre is trying to crack that nut, and the manufacturing process she’s devised so far is the centerpiece of the two-day show. Upstairs are pieces from this season’s collection, placed among caravans in what looks like an encampment. Downstairs is a reconstructed workshop, much like the Andrea Crews DIY upcycling workshop held at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in 2002, and several times since.

Marine Serre’s Hard Drive collection for Paris Fashion Week FW22. Courtesy of the artist

The Serre show factory is divided into separate stations manned by staff in white coats. While the sewing, pressing and finishing work is much the same as in a regular factory, the sorting of bales of discarded garments and the cutting of the fabric deviate from the usual practices, especially the latter. For conventional garments, cutters roll out yards of blank fabric and quickly cut out pattern pieces, often using visualization software and a laser; for Serre creations, they must peel off the seams and doodle around the spots and holes to lay out the pattern pieces before cutting them out. The rhythm of the slug gives a yield that is not too far from that of haute couture: a team can cut the pieces of 15 Marine Serre pants in one day; for conventional brands, 300.

Marine Serre’s Hard Drive collection for Paris Fashion Week FW22. Courtesy of the artist

Working with a small Portuguese manufacturer called Dcloset, Serre took just over four years to design and refine the recycling process. In interviews, she has said that designing from existing clothes is a reverse process. Instead of drawing everything out of your head and having fabric made to make it, she tells the sorters what to look for, then reverse-engineers what’s brought to her, reconciling the ideas in her head with the materials provided to him. . The constraints are many, and by patching old sweaters and t-shirts into new creations, Serre has come up with new tricks with old togs. She learned, for example, that it is easier to work around defects by retrieving long, narrow pieces. And it has expanded beyond used clothing, to incorporate household textiles like bedspreads, tea towels, tablecloths and rugs into its collections.

Marine Tight, Hard disk2022 (installation views, Lafayette Anticipations, Paris).
Courtesy of the artist

What is conspicuously absent from the explanatory texts and voice-overs of the exhibition video is eco-vocabulary as “sustainable” or “resilient”. It’s as if eco-responsibility was so obvious that it was no longer worth highlighting. The extremely near future in which survivalist durability must be the norm, Serre already inhabits it. It is a vision of the end of the world. It’s not wholesome and climate-friendly, but dark and apocalyptically avant-garde. Serre has toned this down lately in the fashion shows, and the exhibit instead makes a case for her forward-thinking business acumen. With so many events destroying supply chains, companies are moving from distant lands to relocate back home. This is where Marine Serre is already, surrounded by the abundance of everything we’ve thrown away.

Excerpt from the April 2022 issue of ArtReview

Opinion