Behind the Collection: Christopher Raeburn for Victorinox F/W 2011
Christopher Raeburn presented his eight-piece collection for Victorinox early—at ten in the morning—on February 10th, the first day of New York Fashion Week’s Fall 2011 season, at Eyebeam on 21st Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. The signage on the Chelsea gallery said the gallery was an “Art + Technology Center”, an appropriate venue for the designer’s carefully deconstructed work. The large industrial brick and iron art space is divided into two distinct, but related installations. At the very center of the dim warehouse is a display consisting of fourteen pieces (nine jackets, two scarves, one backpack, two hats), individually hung on wooden hangers emblazoned with the words “REMADE in Switzerland”, hovering in mid-air by pieces of taunt red string, and lit overhead by bright square spotlights. The clothes became sculptures suspended in a checkerboard of light and shadow.
Raeburn was commissioned by Victorinox—popularly known as the makers of the Swiss Army Knife—to create a limited edition capsule collection, consisting of eight pieces, with only one-hundred of each item available for purchase (fifty for men, fifty for women). Raeburn forged through the Victorinox factory and several military surplus stores in Switzerland (“Liq.” stores), and discovered a wide source of military fabrics and inspiration. Armed with a band of local artisans, tailors, and apprentices, Raeburn settled in Victorinox founder Karl Elsener’s workshop to make a Swiss LAB. There the designer took apart old sleeping bags, parachutes, blankets, uniforms, and tarps to piece together an exceptional, mostly outerwear, military-inspired collection for fall.
Upon close inspection of the hanging pieces, it was obvious that each jacket, accessory, and item was well crafted, thoughtfully designed, and highly desirable by city dweller and mountain climber alike. Take the Captain’s Coat, an olive drab wool coat that is outfitted with a detachable hood, or the Officer’s Parka, a long, slick forest green waterproof raincoat, and even the Parachute Hoodie, a windbreaker colored in a pairing of safety cone orange and white, which, as the name suggests, is made of a durable but supple lightweight parachute material. Raeburn appropriates the utility of these military materials to make functional, practical outerwear, even mixing canvas, leather, wool, and cotton from a variety of sources to create one large good-looking backpacking knapsack.
Every piece is exemplary in the thoughtful, deliberate detail work. The oatmeal-colored wool Sentry scarf, for instance, is both broad enough to be wrapped around as a hood and thick enough to include secret pockets at the ends. The sturdy warm wool, in its neutral tone, branded with the iconic red-and-white Swiss Army cross symbol, are all added marks of a kind of timeless quality. Raeburn manages to imbue the scarf, a commonplace and ordinary accessory especially for this particular viewing group of New Yorkers being hit in the face with a fifteen-degree wind-chill, with so many surprising and refreshing nuances in design.
The underside of the scarf is lined in a quirky red and black print, patterned with horseshoe nails. This horseshoe nail, for Raeburn, became the primary inspiration for the project. Upon discovering a box of these horseshoe nails in one of the Liq. Stores, the designers saw the object as representing the particular usefulness of the past and of found objects in creating new, unexpected, ethical designs. Thinking of ways in which to incorporate these nails in the creative process, Raeburn recommended that Victorinox melt down the metal to then be used recast in a special edition Swiss Army knife. The result is a wonderfully rustic wooden black knife, which sat proudly in the middle of the clothes installation, acting as the ever-important symbol of Raeburn’s research and thinking.
The graphic print shows up lining coats, jackets, and hats, acting as a cohesive thread adding whimsy and thoughtfulness to the design. It’s obvious that Raeburn brings a lot of care and deliberation to his garments, as necklines on coats fall gracefully and easily, materials and fabrics are mixed with a master eye for balancing textures and tones, and every parka, jacket, and coat has the right amount of zippers, pockets, notches, and buttons, without ever looking like overkill.
The towering London-based designer is dressed casually in a black nylon jacket, fitted dark blue jeans, and black high-tops. In between guiding groups of industry professionals through the show, and happily introducing himself to enthusiastic, smiling fashion fans, he breaks to chug down a bottle of orange juice behind the other installation in the presentation—an exhibition of six behind-the-scenes videos shown against white wooden planked walls. These films consisting of stop-motion photography and montage sequences, show how the clothes were made and how they are worn, all scored to the recorded tinkering sounds of the garments being constructed. The videos are a thoughtful tribute to the extreme workmanship involved in the project, touting the fact that Christopher Raeburn has created eight one-of-a-kind, handcrafted objects for Victorinox.