marine serre is a fashion force to be reckoned with
Not content with launching one of fashion’s most exciting labels, French designer Marine Serre is crafting a sustainability-focused soft power movement that demands the industry is more conscious of the world around it.
This article originally appeared in i-D's The Earthwise Issue, no. 353, Fall 2018.
Not only was Marine Serre the first French designer to walk away with the LVMH Prize, but she won it before she’d even staged her first standalone catwalk show, picking up the award for her La Cambre graduate collection, Radical Call for Love. When Rihanna presented Marine with the award last June, she was working under Demna Gvasalia at the Balenciaga atelier, but she spent the ten subsequent months – helped by the €300k prize money – focussed on building her own label.
Today, much of fashion feels like an ever-accelerating conveyor belt of label launches and product drops and rather than add one more name to the mix, Marine wanted to provide her own solutions to the problems she had encountered while interning, not forgetting the issues she herself faced as she went it alone. “As we’ve produced collections, working on every element from pattern cutting through to DHL deliveries, we’ve been able to see the industry problems that affect us for ourselves,” Marine explains as we meet at her studio in the heart of Paris’ 2nd arrondissement. It’s 9am, the morning after the Raf Simons x Undercover afterparty and Marine, alongside her 15-strong team are working away their hangovers. Throughout her career she’s asked herself one simple but powerful question: “Why does the world need another fashion brand?”
Her autumn/winter 18 collection, Manic Soul Machine, her first catwalk show, provided her answer and upcycling was at its heart. “Today, it’s not enough to dream,” Marine breathlessly explained backstage after the show. “You have to follow through with action, you have to question, you have to provide answers and it has to be real.” Presenting only her third collection, the young daydreamer became a doer, ready to create for the 21st century. “It’s about designing a new reality. One that doesn’t compromise but simply reacts to and works with the real needs, situations and fantasies of garments today.”
“Before I won the LVMH Prize, we were just two people working out of a very small studio,” she explains over coffee and croissants. Of course, the LVMH Prize changed her world in an instant, but even before the win Marine’s post-graduation rise had been a whirlwind. “I started being super busy from February last year, that was when Dover Street Market and Ssense bought the collection. Pepijn [van Eeden, Marine’s boyfriend and business partner] and I had to carry production of 1,500 garments by ourselves.” Almost overnight, the challenges of establishing an independent label, even with buyer support, industry buzz and thousands of Instagram likes, became very real. While some talents shirk from these challenges, Marine Serre thrived on them.
“Manic Soul Machine was about building something, two people suddenly becoming a team of 15,” she adds. “As a small brand, it’s not easy to find your own solutions. The cost of recycling and textile innovation can be prohibitive, and we wanted to think about creating unique pieces that respected the world around us. In fashion we overproduce by a huge amount, but why? Whether I make my collection from recycled, reclaimed materials, or completely new fabrics, the design of the finished garment will be exactly the same, so why wouldn’t I opt for sustainability?” Marine is part of a new wave of conscious designers intent on redefining what fashion can be, finding an ethical heart for the industry in the world.
“All designers should be thinking about the issues that affect them and respond to them in their own way. So, at the end of last year, I thought if I’m going to launch a fashion brand, I had to review the process. That’s what attracted me to upcycling, because I had greater control.” So, Marine and her team sourced over 1,500 vintage silk scarves for the show and continued the search to ensure that everything that was shown on the catwalk could go into production. “It’s not enough for me to show couture-like pieces made of upcycled pieces one day and then you can’t buy it the next,” she says. “Fashion is made to be worn and you have to answer both questions.” It’s unusual to hear any designer speak so passionately about the trials and tribulations of the garment making business.
“We worked on the process and briefed 20 people to select the right fabrics from a variety of markets,” she says. Each piece is truly unique, as used garments were repurposed for a radically new aesthetic. They were at their most powerful in the series of hybrid dresses made from secondhand silk scarves that created an ever-evolving kaleidoscopic foundation for Marine’s continued experimentation with shape, form and function. Beyond the silk scarves, Marine upcycled used shirts and wetsuit material into a huge flamenco-inspired white dress, while bags were made from gymnastic balls, cut, pasted and manipulated into shape. It was the kind of avant-garde approach to sustainability we’ve been crying out for. “For us, the ethics and social values are extremely important, while it also means no one can copy our designs.” Not only is Marine designing for a post-apocalyptic world, she’s designing for a post-Diet Prada one too. Not only is she asking the right questions, but she’s started answering them.
The collection unfolded in three acts – tweaked utilitarian wear and reimagined outerwear staples that offered wearable shelters for the future female, simpler everyday staples imbued with hints of athletic-wear and a wild clash of inspirations that will always remain at the core of her work. The result was a thought-provoking triptych that took us on a tour through the mind and motivations of Marine Serre. Throughout each, the crescent moon motif appeared on everything from earrings to bodysuits to pointed shoes – a collaboration with British luxury shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood. “It’s an official logo now,” she explained. While it has links to numerous cultures and religions – although it is most commonly associated with Islam – Marine continues to play with its multiplicity of meanings.
Its use has not been without criticism. In March, Marine faced calls of cultural appropriation head on with an interview for The Cut with fashion activist, writer and designer Celine Semaan who had been angered by the image of a white woman wearing a crescent moon covered hood. “It’s important to answer questions,” she explains when we discuss the exchange. “We all have a responsibility to communicate perspectives with one another and encourage understanding. The use of the crescent is not a socio-political statement, it comes out of a place of love, but I understand that people will see it differently. My conscience is clear but we are always learning.” Not many designers would engage in critical discussion, but Marine Serre is no ordinary designer.
While much of the industry continually debates definitions of luxury and streetwear, this refreshingly new and wonderfully vague term manages to encapsulate just how Marine Serre is designing for an uncertain future. “We were struggling to define what we do, and after opening it up to the team we all agreed on FutureWear.” Despite widespread socio-political turmoil and climate change becoming an inescapable reality, Marine is positive about the future and believes that with more power and influence, the next generation will save us all. “I was so fortunate to have this opportunity so young,” Marine says, “to bring this energy to the fashion world, but not everyone has this platform. I see so many young designers with talent and ideas that could change the industry for the better, but it’s difficult to realize them. If we want fashion to change a bit quicker, we need to support the next generation.”
Photography Letty Schmiterlow
Styling Julia Sarr-Jamois
Hair Soichi Inagaki at Art Partner. Make-up Lucy Burt at LGA using Apotheosis - Le Mat de CHANEL and CHANEL Le Lift. Photography assistance Andrew Moores and Heather Lawrence. Styling assistance Hannah Ryan and Josh Tuckley. Hair assistance Asahi Sano. Make-up assistance Emily Porter. Production Louise Mérat at Artistry London. Printed by Luke at Touch. Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinmann for DMCasting. Model Kris Grikaite at Premier.
Kris wears all clothing and accessories Marine Serre.