Inside the Designer’s Studio: A Conversation with Christopher Raeburn
Posted on 12 May 2017
Photography by Ben Broomfield
The rise of Christopher Raeburn’s eponymous label within the industry has more than drawn the gaze of fashion’s leading critics, consumers and contemporaries. The British label has been widely heralded not only for the unmistakable quality of the products, but for the eco-friendly and sustainable manner in which they go about designing their collections.
The success of Christopher Raeburn’s brand has ultimately been built around his earliest interests; passions that have manifested from his early adventures and activities as a child. Captivated by original materials and their mechanics from a young age, the British designer quickly became fascinated with functionality and the various, unexplored ways in which materials could be utilised.
And it’s upon these core values that the foundation of the Christopher Raeburn brand have been built. The label is perhaps most revered for its ‘Remade in England’ moniker. Enforcing a particular focus on military surplus, Christopher Raeburn is celebrated for the manner in which he deconstructs and and re-imagines older garments and materials from the ground up. Garments which have been intricately crafted from decommissioned military parachutes and standard issue military fabrics are some of the thematic styles that have permeated Christopher Raeburn’s collections and continue to represent the label’s prevailing ethos.
ZOOFASHIONS.COM recently had the privilege of meeting with Christopher Raeburn in his East London studio (which is only a stone’s throw away from our own boutique), where we gained some fascinating insight into the early inspirations and future promises of this truly pioneering British fashion label.
"The process of deconstructing and remaking - I always find it so inspiring and so special simply because it always provides nice surprises. It provides something so authentic at the end of the journey."
- Christopher Raeburn
Q: What initially inspired you to enter the world of fashion?
My interest was always around functionality and I was specifically interested in the way that materials work, whether they were breathable/water-resistant etc. I had quite a strange introduction into fashion because for me it was almost like archeology - going and finding original materials from original garments. The company started almost as a happy accident It was a love of the materials, and a fascination that you couldn’t buy them on a roll even if you wanted to. This lead me into finding and making garments that were ultimately contemporary and wearable and had that story behind them.
Q: When starting out in the fashion industry, who did you look to for inspiration?
I did my work experience at an architect's when I was at school, but I never really looked at the bigger designers for inspiration. My earliest memory, certainly in my early teens, was of an amazing German sleeping bag, which had sleeves and a long hood. You could zip this thing off in the middle and walk around in it. I remember as a kid being fascinated that it had been designed and made for such a purpose. It definitely wasn’t fashion, but I remember just thinking, that’s super cool. In a roundabout way, it's really influenced my work later on in my career and it's always something I've held in the back of my head and resurfaces through my projects from time to time. Yet I never really grew up with a designer in mind or someone I wanted to follow. I’ve realised that I had a kind of geeky and slightly different route into the world of fashion.
Q: Was the ethical element of your work a feature that was developed organically?
The sustainable and ethical side of the work that we do is really a very happy accident. For me it was a love of fabric first. This idea of deconstructing and reworking lead me to realise that I wasn't the best at sewing, so I employed people that could sew a lot better than me. It also lead me to research the problems with fabric, quality and creating things that had a real value to them. And because I was employing local people and trying to do things close to home, I started an inherently sustainable company almost by accident; you take all those elements together and it just works. The really fortunate thing is that it resonated with customers and the press and we were very lucky to get a lot of support early on, which helped to propel the business.
Q: Why is the process of deconstruction and redesigning so special to you?
The process of deconstructing and remaking - I always find it so inspiring and so special simply because it always provides nice surprises. It provides something so authentic at the end of the journey. When you take something apart, when you really learn how it was made, you see all the inner workings of a garment. I love the fact that when we're working with military garments (they might be very oversized or designed for a really specific purpose) that you can take them apart, look at the core elements and remake them into something beautiful, contemporary and wearable. It's just layered with such a narrative and authenticity - you have something so special at the end.
Q: Do you approach fashion design with the same ‘always be prepared’ attitude that you embodied when you were younger?
There's always this element of being prepared in the work that I do. I'm always fascinated by the idea of layering or the way things are packable and a lot of that comes back to my upbringing. I grew up in the countryside and you just had to make your own fun. Often you just went out in the morning (I had two older brothers) and you'd have a backpack with whatever you needed for the day. I haven't really deviated too far from that. But the good thing is, in the world we work in now, working with guys like ZOOFASHIONS.COM, you're then bringing that luxury element to the work that we do. I think that's the exciting thing - how the two things work together. I like to cater to a customer thinking about what they need for the every day - whether it be crossing london, whether it be travelling etc. A lot of that transfers from all of those early ideas.
Q: What was it like to collaborate with Disney?
Working with disney was actually quite a logical step. We've always had these mascots - different animals in the collection that we made from our off cuts. We made everything from dogs to owls and now orangutans and even sharks. When researching Disney I was fascinated that they'd never made a leather Mickey or Minnie bag. Our mascots have been turned into bags and they've been one our most successful product lines. So the first conversations with Disney were quite proactive in saying ‘hey look, I really see a great opportunity’. I could see our shared values but it had to be done in our way. It's really important that we're working with the highest possible quality in terms of the product, materials and packaging. Actually, everything in the project underpins everything we [Christopher Raeburn] are doing as a brand but with one of the biggest brands out there [Disney]. So the leather is ethically sourced, the materials are recyclable and the packaging is flatpacked and also recyclable. It’s everything that we’re about as a company and I love the way that it's been received by the industry. It's a really surprising and fun project that I'm certainly very proud of.
Q: Which brand did you most enjoy collaborating with and why?
It’s really difficult to choose! We've always worked with companies that have shared our value and endorsed different parts of what we do as a company. So working with Moncler early on, obviously one of the best outerwear companies in the world, was such a good thing for our brand. So was working with Porter backpacks for the same reason. They've always brought different things and I've always been careful to make sure that we bring a lot to the brands that we've collaborated with as well. The funny thing is, I'm almost as proud of the things that I've said no to as I am of the archive of pieces that I have behind me. It's a tricky question but they're all close to the heart.
Q: If you could reappropriate anything in the world and design something else, what would it be?
I'm really interested in how the ‘Remade in England’ concept can transfer to the world well outside of fashion. I think there are so many opportunities for us to work with things like furniture or architecture. At the moment on the BBC there's an amazing program called The World's Most Extraordinary Homes. There's a lady in LA who bought the shell of a Boeing 747 for $50,000 and used the wings of the plane as the two roof structures for her house. I looked at it and thought it was so inspiring because it was a development of everything we're doing here. I'm always fascinated that before producing something new, there's such an opportunity to think of something already beautiful and how that can be reworked as well. I honestly look at everything from hot air balloons to automobiles and think, could that be reused and how. With the right collaborations and partnerships, you can really do things on a global scale to make a difference.
Q: What can we look forward to next from Christopher Raeburn?
Having moved to the Remade Studio in East London, we’re really excited about how we can continue to grow in the right way. We’re working on a lot of really fun collaborations and partnerships. We’re really excited to be working with Eastpak for Autumn/Winter, and to continue working with Clarks Footwear. the exciting thing for me is that strategically, step by step, we’re getting stronger. The products are really improving, so I’m really excited about how the journey is going to continue. We’re now 7 years into the world of Christopher Raeburn and I think we've barely even scratched the surface if I’m being honest. And certainly there's other opportunities outside of fashion, looking at other product areas, that are really inspiring. We're looking forward to the future!