clothing as an autobiographical canvas: acclaimed artist sterling ruby turns fashion designer
S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. applies the practice of one of America’s most exciting artists to a post-apocalyptic wardrobe.
Courtesy Sterling Ruby
Whether it's with glossy and colour-saturated poured-polyurethane sculptures, dark drawings, collages, richly glazed ceramics, graffiti-inspired spray paintings or video works — throughout the twenty years of his multifaceted practice, Sterling Ruby has delighted in the duality between the fluid and the static, the minimalist and the expressionist, the pristine and the filthy.
Sterling has been described as “one of the most interesting artists to emerge in this century” by The New York Times’ art critic, Roberta Smith. After witnessing his pulsating debut catwalk show inside a 19th century-built hay manger, we'd say he might also be one of the most interesting fashion designers to emerge too.
However, Sterling has actually been privately exploring clothing as a medium for expression for close to a decade now. Of course, most people will cite his acclaimed collaborations with Belgian designer Raf Simons -- who attended the debut show, as did Virgil Abloh -- on numerous projects for Dior, Raf Simons and Calvin Klein. But throughout his personal practice, many of his works have integrated textile and quilted fabrics, further reflecting the artist’s sincere interest in material’s expressive potential.
“I have to say that I’ve almost reached a point where I only wear what I make,” Sterling explained to 032c in 2016, when his studio clothes experimentations were presented in Work Wear: Garment and Textile Archive 2008-2016 at Sprüth Magers’s London gallery space. Mutating out of, and self-cannibalised by, his sculptures and paintings, the bleached, torched, and enzyme-washed workwear appeared like next century’s post- apocalyptic craft. The collection Sterling revealed last night in Florence is a direct descendent of these workwear experiments.
Like his artwork, S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. probes the American dream (and nightmare). From the patchworked craft that echoes his upbringing in rural Pennsylvania to the signature splatter dropped denim workwear that invites us inside his studio, this is an opportunity to dress in Sterling’s hopes, dreams, fears and realities.
Two of the tunic dresses featured images shot by Sterling’s wife Melanie Schiff. A vinyl tabard showcased the cover work of Hex which hinted at his time in Pennsylvania. US flag decals appeared on denim. This powerful collage of Sterling’s past, present and future was amplified with the friends and family casting that included the actress Mackenzie Davis and her partner, the artist and former studio staff member Augustus Thompson, designer and curator Clemande Burgevin Blachman, SRS staff member Sonja Bartlett and Raf Simons's longstanding right-hand man, Pieter Mulier.
Harnessing the power of creating his own uniform, Sterling is keen to engage the wearer by impacting the way they think, feel, and move. “In many respects outside of the logistics of putting together the collection and the garments themselves, I don't see it as any different to making a sculpture or painting,” he explained post-show. “But it’s fun to think of something going out into the world, and moving, and being something for people to see.”
Reacting to fashion’s practical production demands, S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. is split into four collections: the main line; ED 50 which is a rotating selection of limited-edition pieces made in quantities of 50; SOTO which encompass garments made from fabric handworked by Ruby’s studio; and UNIQUE, one of a kind pieces designed by Ruby. The handworked denim crafted from specialised fabrics and activated by the elements, graphic T-shirts featuring limited edition heat transfer prints and one-of-a-kind collages created by Ruby and sewn in his Los Angeles studio that make up the main line are available to buy now, exclusively on SSENSE.
So will S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA play the fashion game and show again next season? “I think if you had asked me that 15 minutes ago I may not have been able to say yes or no, but now… yes! It might not be seasonal but I will do it again.”