Intelligently outspoken, with sustainable fabrics and ethical production – Faustine Steinmetz is pushing against the fashion grain.
White cotton ribbing turtleneck top by FAUSTINE STEINMETZ
Taken from the Summer issue of Wonderland.
Faustine Steinmetz isn’t too happy with fashion. “I’ve seen Kim Kardashian on the front of too many magazines,” she sighs. “During Fashion Week my Instagram was entirely about her changing hair colour.” If you needed to single out the person least interested in what’s on top of Kim Kardashian’s head, I’d take a gamble it’s Faustine. As we sit in her studio in Seven Sisters surrounded by pieces of her trademark soft, woven denim it becomes clear that the kind of fashion funding ad-riddled magazines and self-loathing is not welcome here.
Growing up in Paris, Faustine was drawn to London by books about young designers like Ann-Sofie Back that she found in the Georges Pompidou library. “It felt like something really cool was happening there and France was completely the opposite, then Nu Rave happened and I was set on it,” she laughs. “We were following it on MySpace.” After finishing her BA she hopped over the Channel to Central Saint Martins, by which time Nu Rave was sadly a distant dream, but luckily she found herself surrounded by other fiercely driven young designers including Marques’Almeida, Phoebe English, Craig Green and Leutton Postle. I wonder if it was at this point, getting stuck in at Saint Martins, that Steinmetz felt as though she’d found her own community. She shakes her head. “Not really,” she laughs. “I’ve always been like that, I’ve never been one of the cool kids. I tried really hard when I was a teenager, but I need my time to be alone and to be with my books.” To say she’s a conscientious designer feels like an understatement: thanks to all those hours spent with her books, the amount of research and skill going into her work is immediately apparent. Later on in our conversation Steinmetz expresses a desire to create pieces that are less fashion and more like “objets d’art” – if she isn’t there yet, then she’s really not far off.
This season saw her experiment with tactile smears of paint, trompe l’oeil orange stitching and an almost pony skin-like print smattered upon white. The collection was inspired by artist Matthew Stone, who Steinmetz was particularly fascinated with this season. “He tries to replicate something ancient and classical with new means, that’s why I did the felted pieces and the smudges, it was all about painting,” she says. It was also all about fabric, as it consistently has been since Steinmetz discovered that – much like that age-old and wholly inappropriate adage – once you go hand-made you never go back. “I make the fabric no matter what,” she asserts, and from loom to rail a single piece of clothing can take upwards of a day and a half to create. Luckily, despite this fundamental emphasis on handicraft, there are plans to expand the line of production in wake of the success of the past few seasons. “We’ve decided to have five main pieces, my fun things I can be happy with, and then make the fabric for the samples in the show but translate it to be made by machines in the future,” explains Steinmetz, giving us all hope of one day (within our lifetime) wearing a piece ourselves.
Figuring out how to tread that fine line between precious and practically unsustainable is an issue plaguing several designers who are keen to move away from mass-produced, readily commercialised fashion, but Steinmetz doesn’t seem too worried. “I’m quite realistic about it, what’s important is just to have those main pieces that are made by hand, otherwise it’s not worth it for me.”
As well as her determination to maintain unique processes behind her collections, Steinmetz is refreshingly outspoken about the wider concerns over elements of production within the fashion industry, in which 99 percent of other designers would rather avert their eyes and talk about Kim Kardashian’s new hair. A steadfast decision to ban fur and leather (and unsustainable fabrics wherever possible) from her line makes her one of few people ready to engage with the less glamorous aspects of being a designer. “I don’t think I have an ethical brand and I don’t want to have an ‘ethical’ label,” Steinmetz explains. “But I want to be responsible as a person. When I started I did a few of my labels in leather because I thought, like a lot of people do, that the leather was from animals that we eat – that’s not true. 50 million animals a year are killed for clothes.” Flanked by her two (adorable) dogs, she goes on. “I’ve seen videos of Labradors being skinned, it doesn’t get worse than that. We all cried over 101 Dalmations when we were kids and now we’re all complicit.”
Long after leaving Steinmetz’s studio, her final sentiment stays with me. I still can’t quite shake it. Faustine Steinmetz is challenging absolutely everything about what it is to be a designer in 2015; she’s refusing to be complicit with an industry she’s “always loved, but at the same time always hated” and is instead re-imagining everything in her own way – from the fabric, to the production, to the rejection of mainstream fashion. Clearly, sometimes it’s the quietest people that have the loudest voices. So, Faustine Steinmetz might be a quiet one, but if you listen closely, she’s got more to say than most of the rest of us put together. She’s just not shouting about it. Yet.
White cotton ribbing turtleneck top, hand felted wool and cotton skirt, hand woven bag in cotton and copper and white shoes by JULIA THOMAS x FAUSTINE STEINMETZ
White cotton ribbing turtleneck top, hand painted silver hair clip and brooch by LARA JENSEN x FAUSTINE STEINMETZ, denim hand painted jeans and shoes by JULIA THOMAS x FAUSTINE STEINMETZ
Blue American cotton denim jeans, black vegan leather hand painted shoes by JULIA THOMAS x FAUSTINE STEINMETZ and bracelet and necklace hand painted on silver by LARA JENSEN x FAUSTINE STEINMETZ
Photographer: Anna Victoria Best
Fashion Editor: Lola Chatterton
Words: Bertie Brandes