Briggate in Leeds becomes a catwalk this weekend with High Street names, independent designers and leading colleges all coming together to take part. Ahead of his visit to Leeds International Festival, fashion designer Christopher Raeburn tells Stephanie Smith what excites him about making statement designs from army surplus. Plus details of what’s on those catwalks.
He’s the designer who has made recycling something to shout about – bold, exciting and even luxurious. Christopher Raeburn has been described as “original and exceptional” by fashion doyenne Suzy Menkes, a designer with “a clear vision of clothes that protect man and the planet”.
Deconstructed military pieces, decommissioned parachutes, all are re-used in his Remade in England range for statement outerwear and other garments and accessories, all unignorable in their intriguing practicality.
Creative repurposing has been part of Raeburn’s life since growing up in a small village in the Kent countryside. “My upbringing focused on the outdoors and inventing,” he says. “From the age of 13 I joined the air cadets and learned to fly. I developed a fascination for military clothing and original functional fabrics.”
Raeburn studied at the Royal College of Art, graduating in 2006. “I started using recycled materials from the very beginning,” he says. “There was something very exciting about going out and finding original items, and then making them into something new. My fascination with military materials, utilitarian clothing and functionality led to the Remade in England philosophy organically.”
In 2010 he joined the Centre for Fashion Enterprise Venture programme, saw his Digital Rainbow collection shown at the Design Museum, and had his Inuit coat featured in US Vogue, photographed by Mario Testino. Still a relatively new fashion champion, he won Best Emerging Designer at the GQ Men of the Year Awards 2015, following a win the previous year for Menswear Brand of the Year in the Fashion & Textiles Awards.
There have been collaborations with Barbour, Clarks, knitwear pioneers Unmade, Fred Perry, Lavazza, Moncler, Disney, MCM and quite a few others. “It’s a great opportunity to bring a lot of what we’ve learned over the years to much bigger companies, and make a big difference on a global scale,” Raeburn adds. “These projects have also allowed us to reimagine existing designs and really develop our innovative and creative side.
“Of course, working with British brands that I grew up wearing in my youth brings a special kind of pride.”
On Tuesday, he will take part in the Leeds International Festival, talking about the growth of his brand through sustainability.
“I’m quite open that I didn’t set out to start a sustainable company at all,” he says. “Whilst our core values developed naturally over time, it was a happy accident in the first place. It’s about the reworking of surplus fabrics and their functionality above anything that led on to what we do now.
“There isn’t a single approach. I source materials through research, travel and the internet. There are warehouses with thousands of square feet of military surplus sitting around. As we’ve built good relationships, people contact us directly with options too, which is always nice. There’s something really exciting about taking this redundant object and completely reworking it and making it relevant.
“We’ve been working with decommissioned parachutes for a very long time. The benefit is that they’re water resistant and functional. For me, giving that a new lease of life is very interesting.”
Yorkshire always plays a part in his collections, he says. “Our partnerships with mills like Hainsworth in Pudsey are critical to the work we do. I’ve always taken a vested interested in the provenance of fabrics and so often my research leads me back to Yorkshire.”
Considered design and functionality are the greatest factors influencing fashion and design, he says. “We all have an obligation to do our bit. Using a considered design approach can really help develop a designer’s creative and innovative side through the sourcing of sustainable materials to working with responsible manufacturing partners. It’s a very rewarding approach.”
Each season, Raeburn creates an animal from offcuts, and now plans regular offcut animal workshops at his new Remade Studio in Hackney, north-east London, so budding creatives can make their own creatures, working alongside Raeburn and his team.
“Ultimately, the work I do is a kind of archeology – going out and finding incredible original items, deconstructing them and making them into something new, relevant and wearable. That provides my greatest influences and what’s great is the original items always change, so the results remain fresh.”
Christopher Raeburn takes part in the Leeds International Festival Fashion Programme on Tuesday April 25 at 2.30pm.
WHAT’S ON THE RUNWAY
The Leeds International Festival takes place from today, April 22, to April 29, and a highlight will be the The Fashion Space also starting today, when Briggate becomes a forum for fashion, with some of the city’s biggest High Street names showing alongside independent retailers and students.
Developed by Fashion In Leeds, the Fashion Space has been created from reused shipping containers, highlighting fashion’s relationship with sustainability. Both the shows and backstage preparations within will be visible from the outside.
Today, Saturday, kicks off at 10am with independent designers, Fabrication at 10.30, then shows from Yours, Bravissimo, Bonmarche, Primark, Next, M&S, John Lewis, House of Fraser, River Island, with Leeds College of Art on at 5pm, followed by Leeds Beckett and University of Leeds.
Tomorrow, Sunday, starts at 11am with independent designers, followed by Levi’s, Jack Wills, French Connection, Jigsaw, Hobbs, The White Company, Joules, Accent, Oliver Sweeney, Ghost/Hawes & Curtis, Charles Tyrwhitt; Ann Summers /Honey Birdette, Debenhams.
Hair looks will be created by Hob today, by Sassoon tomorrow, with make-up today by John Lewis’s Charlotte Tilbury team. Sally Hair and Beauty store will support throughout the weekend.
The fashion programme runs from April 24-29, and includes speakers Christopher Ræburn; Lulu Kennedy MBE; Katie Eary; Gary Aspden; James Brown; Claudia Croft. Admission to all events is free but tickets need to be booked for speakers. See LeedsInternationalFestival.com.