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LiveStudio: Faustine Steinmetz

published on 12 October 2016

Watch fashion designer Faustine Steinmetz in action as she crafts her bespoke denim and speaks in depth about her creative process and inspirations.

Watch fashion designer Faustine Steinmetz in action as she crafts her bespoke denim and speaks in depth about her creative process and inspirations.

Q&A

4 JUN 2015. 16:28

Q. Do you think the catwalk is becoming obsolete?
A. People are really attached to their catwalk. I grew up in Paris and wanted to do fashion so I would go and ask the guards at the shows to let me in. Even if it’s a small show, I would get the same goosebumps. It’s very special, it’s part of the history of how collections have been shown, but it’s not for me. I hope it continues but I know that I will keep a distance from it. I want to do things my own way.

4 JUN 2015. 16:10

Q. Why do you chose presentations rather than catwalk shows?
A. I’ve realised how much more Instagram-able and social media friendly a presentation is than a catwalk. Presentations are something more special and relevant. When Karl Lagerfeld did the supermarket installation, he took this idea further and opened a new era of fashion shows, telling the whole story and I found that inspiring. It's a new way of story telling.

4 JUN 2015. 16:05

Q. You obviously think carefully about how your designs are communicated on screen. How do you approach shoots like the one tomorrow with Nick Knight? Do you have an idea about how you hope to see garments in photography and film?
A. I do. I’m doing this project because I’m interested in moulding the piece on the girl like a sculpture. So, in that way, yes, I have an idea of what we are going to do. But I’ve never worked with anyone like Nick Knight before. I actually spend a lot of time making these pieces, and the process is so rigorous - like when I said before about colour, I use colour in a very controlled way, but once the piece is finished, I have to let it go. When I work with Lola (Chatterton), my stylist, sometimes I don’t look at what she is doing until the last minute. I pick these people because I trust what they do. I think it’s good that someone comes and messes up the rigorousness. It’s good to let go sometimes.

4 JUN 2015. 15:52

Q. Your work is so intricate and very experimental so I imagine things can go wrong or don’t work sometimes. How do you approach failure? Is failure important to the design process?
A. There’s two sides to failure. I’m very, very clumsy. My boyfriend laughs every time I make a bobbin, I've been making them for years but I am still very clumsy. I just don’t have that relationship between my hands and brain. I make a lot of mistakes, like I drop ink on fabric and then I’m like ‘that’s nice’ or ‘that’s interesting.’ Something happens that you wouldn’t think. Failure has always been an important part of my process even when I was at school. But when you become a company, it becomes more difficult. Because it’s so experimental, some ideas just won’t work but you have to find a resolution without compromising on quality. At one point, I heard a saying, it was 'luck is where opportunity meets preparation' and that changed my life. Now I try to prepare everything in advance and plan ahead.

4 JUN 2015. 15:03

Q. How does colour function within your collections?
A. I always want colours to make sense within the collections. Obviously blue features heavily because denim is blue, if I use a green, it will be because it is from a plant or something. I discard a lot of colours because they are not part of the story. I have to be quite strict, unless it fits in with the concept for the collection, I won't want to include it.

4 JUN 2015. 14:10

Q. Would you ever consider a high street collaboration?
A. Yes, the one I'm talking about is with a high street label. At the beginning, I said I would not do it but I realised this was a stupid way to think. Actually, it's a great way to raise awareness. I'm very happy about it.

4 JUN 2015. 14:05

Q. How do you feel about collaborations? Do you seek them out or just take opportunities as they arise?
A. I have collaborated with other designers since I started doing shows, because I didn't only want to have clothes, I wanted to have jewellery and shoes as well. I did the tags with Niomo, a small London jewellery label. I reached out to them because it isn't so attractive for me to do these things with a really big label. I'd rather just go to really talented designers who are at the same level as me. For A/W 15, I have done shoes with Julia Thomas. I met her at the New Gen interview and I fell in love with the shoes and I knew that I wanted to work with her. I also made the paint pieces with Lara Jensen; she makes hats but she doesn't sell them, she just works on commission for Vogue or Beyonce or people like this. I think her creativity with my commercial point of view worked really well together. I have a big collaboration coming up in January that I can't speak about yet. It's very different and interesting. It's funny because big labels can have the same worries as you about sustainability or animals, and I'm doing a collaboration with a big group who are very focused on ethical production, so it is very exciting for me. .

4 JUN 2015. 12:17

Q. Your focus is on womenswear, what do you feel about unisex and menswear?
A. I think all my pieces are unisex as they are made from men's patterns - the jacket on the wall is a small men's jacket. To me, the pieces have almost always been unisex, but I haven't marketed it this way as I have tried to focus on finding a way to do what I'm doing on a bigger scale, and how to do it right. We almost already do menswear as so many of our private clients are men. It is coming in the future - we will launch an online shop soon that has men's and women's clothing. For me, I'm not interested in doing womenswear and menswear- unisex is much more attractive.

4 JUN 2015. 12:02

Q. Buying and using ethical and sustainable materials seems important to you. How does this fit in with the overarching ethos of the Faustine Steinmetz label?
A. When I was thinking about going solo, I did some research because I really wanted an ethical and sustainable label - but I found it to be near impossible! The only way to make fashion sustainable is to not create products, just stop producing. For me, I don't want the focus of the label to be about being sustainable or ethical - but I do want to ensure that I'm doing my best and making sure things are done the right way. It's more about making beautiful things and making them the right way - having a personal responsibility. The challenges come as we begin to produce more. We have 18 stockists for next season, so we are starting to go to factories for fabrics. With these, I ensure that the hand woven fabric is hand woven in the UK, I make sure they recycle their water and pay attention to the chemicals they put on their fabrics. The most important thing is that the people are treated correctly, as this is the most immediate impact your label can have. I'm also not really against going to a third world country in the future. It's wrong to say if something is made in Pakistan then it's terrible. If you go to a country and do it the right way, it can be a very beautiful thing and a great thing. Keep a balance. I don't like these preconceived ideas. Fair trade is very important.

4 JUN 2015. 11:49

Q. Do you feel pressure to meet every season? Do you think you could survive if you weren't to meet the industry standard demands?
A. I think so. Yesterday I went to visit the Oxford Circus Lush shop and I thought wow, this is the same thing. In their first year they said everything would be hand made, no chemicals, no animal testing and they must have been told the same things as me- that it is not profitable and it wouldn't survive. But now they are expanding so fast, they have these fantastic stores, they are responsible and they know what they are doing. I think you can survive, it just requires more creativity on the business side of things. I'm not very interested in just creating a fashion label. It's not just the clothes for me. I want to know how can I make this work? How can I provide hand woven products for a lot of people and make it sustainable, for myself and for my customer?

4 JUN 2015. 10:29

Q. Do you think the fashion system is biased towards big luxury brands?
A. Yes, I think so. I'm quite young and this is the first time I've done a label but I feel real pressure. Even though we are tiny and we have basically no budget whatsoever, I have to be a competitor in terms of selling. My website has to be crisp, I have to have a logo, I have to have a visual identity, I have to keep up with all of this. It is a side of the label that really does interest me - it's not just the clothing, it's about creating a whole brand around your name. It's exciting but at the same time it's difficult. Budget wise especially!

4 JUN 2015. 10:25

Q. How do you feel about seasonal fashion? You said yesterday that you'd like the label to be continually experimenting with materials and finding new ways of working. Do the seasonal shows encourage you to continue to innovate, or does the fact that they are so frequent make it difficult for you to achieve what you want to?
A. For me, it is too fast. Maybe it's naive of me, but I was very surprised when big luxury labels started to follow the high street path in making so many collections. I didn't think they would do that, I thought they would go the other way. To me, it's too quick. If you are a young label, I think the most important thing is that each piece you put into a store has a soul. I work hard on each piece and each one has something to say. I couldn't do that in 4 or 5 collections a year.

3 JUN 2015. 20:45

Q. What is the best piece of professional advice you have been given to date?
A. You hear many different things at each stage in your career. It's funny because there are a lot of sentences that you don't understand at the time, and you just have to remember them and try to figure them out. There was one thing that Louise Wilson said in her SHOWstudio In Fashion interview. She said that you have to have not worked in fashion too much to be a young designer, you have to be kind of stupid and not know how it works, otherwise you would not do it. I didn't understand that a year ago, but I do now!

The other thing was also from a SHOWstudio interview with Yohji Yamamoto. He is the interview master, each one is so rich in making you think differently about fashion. Alexander Fury asked him what he would say to young designers. He said that it's really important to hate fashion. Because if you don't hate it, you can't go against it and you cannot create anything new. But then I started teaching first years at HEAD in Geneva, and the students are really good but they deny fashion too much, they hate fashion too much. I had to forbid them from using latex or plastic because they would not use fabric. They would come up with amazing stuff, but it was always made with their bathroom carpet or something. They are inspired by everything except their wardrobe! I think it is good to have a balance.
From my experience, we are at a time when there is so much competition and so many young designers that you need a unique selling point. In the end, it's business and you have to have that thing that you sell but the others don't. For me, I make high end luxury denim - there is luxury denim on the market, but it is still denim. I think having a luxury fabric that is made just for you but is an everyday piece is my USP. I would encourage people to try to establish that.

3 JUN 2015. 20:34

Q. What is the most difficult material you have had to work with?
A. This one, to be honest, is really quite hard. There are only a few of us in the studio who are able to do this. The copper makes you weave quite stiffly, so you have to be careful not to go too tight, otherwise you have to stop beating, cut everything and go back to the start. There is a yarn that I really love that is like a hand made crepe. The Egyptians would use it for pleated pieces from a type of twisted yarn. Nothing has come out of that research yet because it is very mathematical. You have to calculate exactly how much you spin your yarn in order to predict what the pleats will be. Maybe if I could work with a mathematician or a physicist then I could do that. 

3 JUN 2015. 19:41

Q. Do you look to different cultures or time periods for inspiration?
A. I don't look at other cultures and I don't really look at history books. When I was younger and I was thinking about going into fashion, I read everything I could about fashion in the three different Parisian libraries, and then I felt I needed to get some distance from that. When you look at designers like Christian Lacroix or Jean Paul Gaultier, they would have looked very closely at different cultures and periods of time so I feel like I can see to much of their path when I look at those books. I look at a lot of contemporary art and design instead. I love Daniel Arsham. I look a lot at fibre artists. 

3 JUN 2015. 19:37

Q. What is the longest you have ever spent making a piece and what was that piece?
A. We made one piece that was entirely needlepoint tapestry. There were about ten of us working on it for about a month and a half. That was the longest. We were drawing each part with the yarn, and I was dyeing each strand to create the shadows and the light. We also created each of the threads for the top stitching. I'm not ready to go back to that! It was a picture of a jean on a jean.

3 JUN 2015. 15:50

Q. There is an element of humour in your work, in creating garments that might be considered utilitarian - white t-shirt and jeans using such involved and artisanal craft or the security tag brooches or the swatches of paint for hair clips. Is this playfulness intentional?
A. You don't really see it in the final product, because I really control what I do, but usually the theme of the show starts off as a joke. When we design, we always begin with something funny. Imagine if you could make a bag for £1,000 and it's entirely hand-woven and you can mould it with your hands, but it's the colours of a plastic bag! That's the kind of thing that would make me laugh. There is always humour in what I do, I have always worked that way. Even in my MA, I was making large-scale paintings with old ladies carrying Chanel bags on them. I then digitally printed them and made them into dresses. It stops things being so serious and it's important not to be too serious with something like fashion. Otherwise, you are too much in your head as you make things, thinking of these deep significations which are not really real because, at the end of the day, it's just a pair of jeans. 

3 JUN 2015. 15:35

Q. You use paint in different ways in your work- from painting individual threads to these broad strokes that appear on top of the denim or in the hair clips that you collaborated with Lara Jensen on. Why is paint so integral to your work? What to you like about it?
A. It was really last season's inspiration. I was looking at the work of Matthew Stone because I really like his way of working. He makes pieces that look like classical painting, but they are all made in new ways. It's the opposite of what I was doing. I was inspired by his use of impasto painting and I went ahead with that. I think the collection made quite a nice play on the idea that fashion is disposable, but paintings are not. A good friend of mine is a French fashion journalist and she has this idea that art has became obsolete, and the art of the 21st century is in the advertisements. She feels much more touched by applied art these days, so it was also a reflection on this. I agree with her. With fashion you can touch more people than you can with art. So why not make a painting on a pair of jeans?

3 JUN 2015. 15:20

Q. There is one example where you have woven felt into the denim, and in photographs it looks as though it is in movement, there is a blurred effect. Do you think about how the artisanal pieces look on screen when you are designing them?
A. I always consider how they look on screen, as well as their wearability. I have a similar wall to the one here in my own studio. All the components that I need to add are in one place and I have to figure each out in relation to another. I have the price point to consider, I have the designs that would work in pictures but are less wearable to think about and it's like a puzzle that you have to put together.

3 JUN 2015. 14:46

Q. Do you ever get 'designers block'? If so, how do you reinvigorate your creativity?
A. It's interesting because I feel like this at the moment. I have had the strangest month in my life because I am used to being in the studio and weaving quite calmly. I make my samples and work and I am outside of the fashion world. Then this month I had the LVMH prize nomination, I'm teaching in Switzerland, I was invited to be in the Parsons School; I have had all of these different things going on. Now I'm back in my studio and everything is slightly different. I think I need to be weaving and on my loom. I think you just have to take some yarns and actually do stuff! And then it wil come itself. When you touch the materials, the real ideas come. I think you get more creative ideas when you have direct contact with your materials.

3 JUN 2015. 12:16

Q. Your work teeters between art and fashion- is this divide something you think about? Is it important to define something as art or as fashion? Or is categorisation irrelevant?
A. I feel like people focus too much on trying to define what fashion is or what art is. Even the notion of talent- this idea that talent is given by God- I don't believe in it at all. I believe in working hard and being involved in figuring out what looks crap and what looks good and solving everything in between. There is the same thing with art. I go to a lot of galleries and I really think that, in general, you see a lot of art that is crap. When I was at school, I had teachers in the applied arts who would not let you get away with that kind of work. There is something superior about art and it really annoys me and I don't believe in it. I believe in being at the frontier, I really admire brands like Bless who negotiate that divide. They are doing their own thing, they are creating fashion their own way, creating jewellery their own way, and then they have a product in shops that touches people. I think that is really good. I want to have a balance between my concept and outcome. In my sketch book, the first ten pages will be only words, and then drawings come later. I think about what the collection is going to be about, and I do ten different scenarios and then I choose one to go with. I think it is really important that once you get the concept down, you have to think about how the product looks. It's important to me that you do not deny fashion, I love fashion. It's two steps that work together.

3 JUN 2015. 12:01

Q. What are the joys and negatives of working with denim?
A. One of the problems with working in denim is that you need to work to educate your customer somehow. Even though it looks like it, I do not make pairs of jeans- this is not denim. I hand wove a pair of jogging trousers but, of course, they were not really jogging trousers- they were very delicate and hand woven. A customer bought them and really wore them- she had paint on them, she walked the dogs in them, did the school run. They really had been used like jogging trousers but they were not made to survive that kind of use! I also get a lot of calls from journalists who want to talk about the denim trend and that scares me. My first experiments when I was young were in denim, my BA collection was just denim and I am still working in denim. But I don't want denim to become too much of a trend because then it can lose its traction and I would be really sad if I couldn't work with it any more. I have always worked with it because it is outside of trends. Everyone wears it no matter what their age or where they are from. On the plus side, denim gives me a theme to play around and experiment with. I like to think of the label like a work in progress. If it survives for 10 years and then at the end, you look back over it and it reads like a sketch book with lots of research, I would be really happy. It gives me a repertoire to work around, but allows me to add new elements all the time.

3 JUN 2015. 11:53

Q. Many emerging designers may think that handicraft techniques could mean you commercial success is limited as the RRP is driven up by the cost of materials and length of time a piece takes to create. What are your thoughts on this?
A. When this all started, it was just me and my little loom in my kitchen and I wasn't sure if it could work. It really helped me when I got New Gen and I started showing. I think I was very lucky because I had to show the New Gen panel and Sarah Mower that this was not just an artistic project for me and that I wanted to go forward and figure it out and become my own company. But it is difficult, obviously these pieces are very luxury and very expensive- you have one person making one garment for a week just for you. I come from a family where we would not able to afford anything like this, so I am also very interested in creating products that are not necessarily entirely made by hand and therefore are more affordable. This season we had some tops that just had little details that were made by hand. These were much easier for us to produce and much more affordable for the customer. We want to figure out our own way to do things. If fabrics are not hand woven, I am very conscious about chosing sustainable options and avoid fabrics that are treated with chemicals. We want to be able to find ways to offer lines that are more affordable without compromising on our core ideas.

3 JUN 2015. 11:42

Q. Your process might be said to be the very antithesis of mass produced fashion, each piece takes a long time to complete and you are involved with every stage of production. Are you commenting on fast fashion by putting such a heavy emphasis on hand - made laborious construction?
A. I don't want the label to be too hardcore or too outspoken about these things. But I am French, and I disagree with most things! Our culture of buying is something that I really disagree with. When I was younger, I used to go to H&M and buy throwaway pieces but I came to realise that I didn't really like any of these things. Maybe sometimes I wouldn't even wear them, I'd just eventually throw them away. And I began to think why don't we save up and buy something really special? I bought some Margiela shoes about a year ago but I have known about them since I was 14. I constantly see them in books and now they are in my room, out of their box, and look like a piece of art. It took me a lot longer to save for them than for a pair of normal shoes but they are very special and I intend to keep them all my life. That is is how I feel about fashion. I want to collect pieces and build a nice wardrobe that is curated and is not just about buying stuff and throwing it away.

3 JUN 2015. 11:31

Q. The rhythm and repetition of working a loom inevitably eventually draws on bodily intelligence, it side steps a kind of literal thinking. Is this something you can relate to? Do you get to a stage where it seems like your hands have a kind of muscular memory for the work?
A. When I began the label, I had people come and help me with production, and I had to show them how to weave. I found it shocking that you can teach someone how to pass the shuttle in only ten minutes, but for someone to work at a decent rate, it takes continual work for a month or two. Even though it is a simple craft, it is all about practice. In a way, it's not your head that has to remember what to do, it is your hands that are doing the work.

3 JUN 2015. 11:24

Q. At what point do you know how a finished garment will look? Do you have a solid idea of what you want and design a fabric around that? Or is it an organic process where the design is informed by the construction of a material?
A. I will have a design in mind, because the fabric will always come from the idea of what you want to say with this design.

3 JUN 2015. 10:39

Q. Why do you have such a strong affiliation with denim? Why do you find denim pieces inspiring?
A. I have always worked with denim. Like every designer, I started by cutting up my own clothes as a child. I remember cutting up all my denim pieces and I would make little things; terrible, really bad things! But I would make stuff. My parents got mad at me because I think I had cut up my present for graduating school, saying that these things cost a lot of money. They stopped buying me denim so I started to cut up my other clothes, but I found that boring because there was nothing to work with. With denim, there are so many reproducible elements that are immediately recognisable, it's like you have a chart of codes that you have to work around. I have been obsessed from a young age by a work of art by Joseph Kosuth called One and Three Chairs. That piece is what really got me into fashion, art, anything creative. I found a book about it- I think I found it in the street- and it was a catalogue of one of his exhibitions and I was really fascinated. To me, this is what my work has always been about- reproducing the same thing, but interpreting it and thinking about what that does. 

3 JUN 2015. 10:36

Q. Why did you chose to make weaving central to what you do and how long did it take to master it?
A. It came quite naturally and organically. I didn't really choose to start weaving at first. This was my first loom (hanging on the wall). I saw it in a weaving shop and it was quite cheap so I thought I would give it a go. I studied for an MA in Fashion at Central Saint Martins where I specialised in prints, but I graduated at a time when everyone was doing digital print. Any shop you went into sold digital prints so I thought that there was really no place in the market to do that, especially when you had people like Mary Katrantzou doing it very well. So when I saw this machine, I bought it for fun. I wasn't even planning to do my own label, I just wanted to do some portfolio samples so I could send them off to some companies and try and get hired. But when I started weaving, I found that even the simplest of weaves is very deep, compared to anything you find in the shops, where the weave is very close-woven and very flat. I thought this was much more special and there could be room for a product like this. That's when I started to think about making industrial pieces. It was fun to think that they are normally made in a factory thousands of miles from here, yet we make them entirely from scratch. But you can really recognise this as the jacket that everyone has in their wardrobes and I think that takes the weaving process further. 

3 JUN 2015. 10:23

Q. How long does one piece take to make?
A. It would take about a week to create the fabric for this jacket. Here, I will be doing it in three days so I will continue to work at night and in the morning. My assistant Ann will be here to help me sew and cut the pattern. That will take about a day. As it is a hand-made fabric, you have to be very careful with it. There is a special method of cutting it to ensure it doesn't fray as soon as you cut it. 

3 JUN 2015. 10:12

Q. How does the loom work?
A. I warped the loom before I came. You have to calculate how many metres you need and then you can create that on the warping mill. You have to pass the warp through each single slot that you see on the loom. Then you start to weave. I make bobbins with a bobbin winder and then I put it in the shuttle. I will be showing that later. The shuttle is a really handy way of passing the yarn through, passing it through one side and then the other. I open the loom in a certain way and pass the yarn and then I open it another way and pass the yarn. That is how you make the fabric. 

3 JUN 2015. 10:00

Q. What item of clothing are you going to make?
A. I want to reproduce the archetype of the denim jacket, except I will hand weave it from scratch. I am weaving it with copper so that when it is finished, you can mould and sculpt it. Nick Knight will shoot it at the end of the residency (Friday 5 June) and we will be able to mould the piece around the model's body. It doesn't have a metallic sheen- it will look flat. I like that because it's really functional and the copper doesn't show through at all. 

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