Young artisan: Faustine Steinmetz & handmade couture denim
French designer Faustine Steinmetz was named in February the latest recipient of a Cotton USA sponsorship for excellence in the use of the natural fiber. From her East London studio, Steinmetz weaves, spins and dyes all her own fabrics - rebuking mass-production and the boredom of regular clothing. Named by the NewGen Panel as the “One To Watch” for AW14, Le Souk takes a detailed look at the Parisian naturalist and her ability to bring couture techniques into denim.
Faustine Steinmetz seems like your typical overnight success. But she’s not. Taking the long, hard road to label glory, the French designer completed a Bachelor of Arts at the Atelier Chardon Savard in Paris first, before moving to London for a Masters of Art at Central Saint Martins. Faustine then interned with Jeremy Scott and Henrik Vibskov, before dabbling into graphic design. But her thoughts returned to opening her own label and so she reset her design course to textiles - namely, denim.
The Steinmetz Technique
The Faustine Steinmetz philosophy is to make nothing new but simply to reproduce iconic pieces. “The kind everyone has or has had in their wardrobe at one stage, except make them all by hand,” says the designer on her website.
Steinmetz spins, dyes and weaves all her own fabrics, an idea construed after shopping and feeling bored by the flat, cheap cloth used in most collections today.
“Weaving came about as I wanted to offer something where the price reflected the amount of time that someone had spent making that piece,” says Steinmetz. “I chose weaving specifically because I felt at the time that when you walked around a store everything was flat, it lacked texture.”
From her East London studio, each fabric is woven (by her alone) using one of several traditional handlooms in the atelier. Garments are meticulously made by hand, with some pieces taking more than a week to weave.
“I’ve always loved working with my hands. My vision of luxury is someone spending time making something just for me. That’s why we make all our jeans by hand, in the studio,” explains Steinetz.
“When something is made entirely by hand, the exact same way a haute couture dress is made, you create something completely unique and special. This is how we do it.”
Taking staple pieces, such as the denim jacket or a pair of jeans, Steinmetz presents each piece’s simplicity in a different way to her fans, without sacrificing the garment’s original intention to be wearable.
“By playing around I feel like I am saying something. I think that’s why I just started taking iconic pieces and reimagining them in my own way,” explains Steinmetz.
Her skill repertoire as a couturier is plentiful. In a video on the designer’s website, Steinmetz dyes, shreds, embroiders and knots individual strands of cotton before sewing the lines of fabric into garments by hand. She cuts a square of leather, stamps it with an ink stamp template and then fills in the blanks with garment information - a collection tag is born. The garment is complete when she again laboriously hand stitches the hide patch onto the garment hem. It's now ready to be bought.
Steinmetz relishes in her specialist approach to denim. “What we try to do with Faustine Steinmetz is our own version of couture, we propose a more contemporary way of doing couture,” she says.
Clients who buy pieces made to order, either directly or from the label’s stockists (Opening Ceremony and LN-CC), can receive regular updates during the production process – informing the buyer how it’s being made and by whom. Each piece has a unique number, which can be entered on the brand’s website to see images of the piece being made and other details. It emphasizes the craftsmanship behind the product – a concept linked closely with French culture and Steinmetz’s Parisian heritage. But she still choses to show her collections in her new home, London.
Flaustine Steinmetz Collections
Steninmetz’s SS15 show in September last year was essentially a denim exhibition inspired by Issey Miyake pleats and garment shaping. “I worked around making pieces that you can pleat and mould any way you want as they are hand woven with hints of copper,” Steinmetz said of her collection.
Each piece illustrated the complexity of the cotton fiber in two, unique lights. The first showcased the chaos of denim featuring rips, falling yarns and washed out fabrics strewn into skinny jeans silhouettes. The second part boasted amore couture approach with unblemished denim featuring skin-tight stitching and detail.
It allowed for denim to be a canvas in which things could be added or taken away.
“ All the yarns are made from recycled denim,” she told reporters of her process. “We unraveled the old denim and used traditional pleating and hand stitching techniques.”
AW13, Steinmetz's first collection, saw the designer handcraft British-sourced mohair jackets, filled and line with cream shearling.
Steinmetz explained the process to WGSN: "It took me about a hundred hours to create one pair of jeans. But my work is always loaded with intensive labor, as I think it is always very rewarding. When you spend more than 40 hours on a piece, it really gives it a special aura. We are not too used to those kind of artisanal objects in our everyday lives. I try to use British material anywhere possible. It is very important for me to stay local as much as I can."
A sigh of relief for those tired of wearing each other’s clothing, Flaustine Steinmetz's couture pieces are a passive protest against mass-production. As garments continue to be pumped out by fast-fashion retailers at a destructive rate, Steinmetz’s label provides an alternative course for designers to follow, particularly when it comes to cotton.
Promoting US cotton fiber and manufactured cotton products around the globe, Steinmetz has deservedly gained sponsorship from Cotton USA for her skill displayed with cotton textiles in past collections.
"It is hugely important for me to know where my materials come from and to know that they have been responsibly produced,” Steinmetz says. “That's why it has been great to work with Cotton USA, as I know they share my beliefs and their support has been absolutely amazing so far."
An added benefit of the deal is the sure-fire boost Cotton USA will give to the young French designer who hopes to propel her artisanal garments onto the North American fashion platform.