the lfw show all about forming an emotional connection to the clothes we wear
René Scheibenbauer designed his new collection via a series of workshops, looking to create clothes rooted in empathy.
For “Empathy, Reconnection, Play”, presented last summer as a graduate show from Central Saint Martins, designer René Scheibenbauer first invited his friends and contemporaries to come together, swap items from their wardrobes, and think about the way they interact with them. In these art-therapy workshops, the blindfolded participants considered their physical and emotional sensations through through clothing. “I was interested in creating a link between abstract emotions and clothing,” he says. The workshops allowed René to step back from controlling every aspect of the final outcome of the collection he was designing, as well as raising questions in the process about why people wear certain clothes and how they experience wearing them in public spaces in the process.
The outcome was garments like the “Empathy jacket” -- a jacket designed to be worn by more than one person and the “Abstract-shaped scarf top” -- a garment that has no one single way of being put on – they invite for open instinctive and personal interaction, the way we see clothing is slowly unlearned.
“Phase II - Empathy, Reconnection, Play”, presented last week during London Fashion Week, developed this idea further and consolidated many more of its conclusions. In the design process, René re-invited the participants of his first community group, as well as welcoming some new people in. Each were asked to bring clothes which make them feel, on the one hand, comfortable with themselves and grounded, and on the other hand attractive and confident in being seen. The workshop considered why the different garments made them feel this way. “Before finishing the workshop, I asked which gestures and movements made people feel most comfortable and in touch with themselves, and how these movements relate to their clothes,” he says.
Phase I explored the body in an abstract, emotional way -- the clothes had no correct way of being worn and became fully interactive. Phase II is far more concrete. The abstract space has been given a physical shell, which is informed by the wearer's identity. In the "Love me dress" there is a zip on the back, from the dress hem upwards. When opening the performer needs to lean down or bend to reach. This creates a natural but performative movement of opening and closing. Design-wise, when the dress is open, the wearer becomes exposed or the garment worn underneath becomes more present in the outfit. In the "Abstract suit jacket", there is an invisible zip on the back. When opened, the garment can be explored as an abstract interactive shape, or can be worn as a skirt.
Collaborating with the choreographer Bakani Pick-Up in the workshops also allowed a space for improvisation. “I was interested in merging the design work and choreography as a fully interlinked whole body of work, which brings together the community.” Participants worked with movements and gestures that encourage self-care and connection-building. The choreography grew in parallel with the collection's design development, meaning components like the hidden zips and the elastic are rooted in movement.
The resulting collection brings together a mixture of practical elements. Workwear merged with tailored details, fine and smart evening clothing. The clothes emancipate the wearer from dress codes. Adjustable drawstrings give agency to the flexibility of the body. “The sunset also has a strong quality to it which feels kind of settling and leaves a feeling of awe,” he adds. “Experiencing awe has a very therapeutic quality to it; the emotional reminder of being part of something much greater than what we experience directly. Feeling small, and connected can be a very humbling feeling.”
Photography Ana Larruy