PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARIANNA SANVITO
EDITOR BY ELIZABETH CABRAL
Paris-based designer Marine Serre, wholeheartedly embraced the query of what is sustainable luxury today as a creative challenge and in two short years, her unwavering commitment and uncompromised design has propelled her to the front lines of style, winning the coveted LVMH award and critical acclaim, all before the age of twenty-seven.
“I started a green line simply because I wanted to feel good with what I was doing,” says Serre. With that underlying altruism, there is also tradition. Serre was introduced to the culture of reusability through her grandfather who sold antiques and she herself collecting and selling clothes in her youth. Serre’s process comes full circle with a correlation in her experience at some of the world’s most established, traditional fashion houses. “My experience at Margiela, Dior, even McQueen was close to what I’m doing now—it was about ‘collectioning’ things”. I started a brand around the culture of vintage garments and repairing garments. When it came to building my own brand, I was not only the artistic director of a house but I was also there to give a vision and for me, vision means ‘how do you work with people and garments?’ I saw this as something holistic.”
Tackling progressive sustainability in fashion is daunting to even behemoth corporations, but Serre, an independent and progres- sive thinker, was emboldened with the realization that this was her opportunity to do things on her terms and that meant com- mitting to a brand she was invested in—her own. “The ‘green’ was in my two previous master collections. With the first titled Manic Soul Machine, the idea of recycling was there in vintage scarves, but it took time to define what upcycling means, and that’s why we created this green line. It was from an inherent feeling of ‘What is fashion today? What is consuming today? What do you want to buy? What makes sense for you? What is luxury? Is luxury about shine, or is luxury about time?’ It grew from there, and of course, it’s an unfinished process because it’s difficult to control production and create a garment with upcycling. At the same time, it’s passionate and interesting. We are encountering many questions that have not been asked before, so it’s a lot of work.”
For Serre, sustainability is not just creating a single item but rather a sustainable livelihood. She sees opportunity when others see a roadblock. “I don’t like to reduce it to only an ‘ethical’ pose, because it’s not. It’s a way to live, to work, to be involved in the world today, and to pose questions.”
If a fashion label can be a direct manifestation of one’s personal convictions and ethos, then Marine Serre the woman and Marine Serre the brand are an intimately interconnected realization.
“Imagine in ten years that we cannot create any new production of tissue because we don’t have enough water. You will then call me and I will design a great dress with the leftover of what’s already there. I’m seeing that more as an apocalyptic stage that is bringing me a lot of creative sense and do more in to what is fashion today.”
And what is fashion today? Is it simply beautiful garments, or should our clothes represent our values in a time when standing for something means every- thing? While upcycling was always part of the brands DNA, Serre was adamant
the message be solely about the design, consciously choosing not to broadcast what has now become an equally compelling factor: sustainability. In the two years that her label has grown, so has the gravity of our consumerist choices, but will this drive customers to Marine Serre? “I don’t believe people will buy for that, it’s an added value and it’s great. More so, I think it is important to take a step back and know what you want, because people today don’t have time to choose, so they just buy. I try to restore the idea of taking the time to choose what you really want, and keeping a piece for ten years instead of one, and not throw it away.”
The prevalent notion of disposability needs to be expunged and fashion is an obvious starting point. But has our perspective changed enough to initiate the dramatic revolution needed today? “It’s a way to answer to the time, because we are clearly in a big crisis in fashion. We have reached a point of no return. If five years ago Margiela did upcycling, no one would call it that, because that was not the time for it. When I started my first collection I knew that this was what I wanted to do, maybe it’s not what people want to see, but I’m going to make it anyway. Of course, I hope people like it, but I can never be sure. The press and buyers like it, and when both are aligned, the clients are buying and enjoying it. That’s the best gift I can get in return, people dressing in it and living their own life in it.”
There is no nostalgia in Serre’s prose, the tactile materials come from the past but the inspiration lies in unfolding future problems. Her current collection, titled Futurewear, was born from the questions “how do we define a Marine Serre garment. Is it workwear, is it knitwear?” It’s a ‘wear’ for sure, but then what is it to wear? It [Futurewear] really means something—the garment of the future is linking everything we are doing at the brand.
“…should our clothes represent our values in a time when standing for something means everything?”
We are talking about upcycling, but also the practicality of a garment around the shape of a woman today. What is it to be a woman today? How do we dress? Do you need a bag? Do you need to have humor? Futurewear is answering the question of what is the future garment we need? And to some- times be quite pragmatic about it.”
Creating pieces with longevity is the only way around disposability, but how do you create timeless fashion? “It’s very intuitive, but I think being a woman, designing for women is logic sometimes. When talking about practicality, the way the pattern is made, it can start from a simple question, a way to make your life easier every day. It’s shape, elegance and silhouette. That side of my work is instinctive in and of itself. It’s questioning the garment.” To Serre it can sometimes be as simple as changing the placement of a pocket to ensure there is room for everyday items like a phone.
Serre and her team tirelessly search ware- houses for material riches to upcycle, and while she sets out with a design vision, she purposely leaves room for sponta- neous inspiration. “Everything starts from he design itself, because it should never contradict what we want to do in the design, but also really amazing surprises can happen by letting yourself go there.
It’s a nice way to work, it’s really free.” Production is dictated by supply of the upcycled material and ongoing conversa- tions ensue surrounding the vintage piece, the design and the development resulting in each piece being unique.
For a forward thinker what does the future of fashion look like? “Something is happening with other young designers, the energy and the vibe. From the people I interview for the brand, to the press I meet, to the commercial development of the production, I sense that everyone is aligned on wanting to do something they like, to enjoy their lives and have fun, even in their work. We are clearly there, not even in the future, but right now. That’s very import- ant because people are searching for what drives them and it’s not always so simple to know what you want in the world right now. I think that’s why so many new designers are coming up today. If I talk about the future, I think this is going to explode into something quite interesting and refreshing, bringing new ideas, questioning what is a garment, questioning how to process, and how to dress every day. It’s also a different way to be today—as I propose in the collection—even someone that dresses in couture needs clothes to jog on Sunday. It’s this ultra-luxury, extravagant life we all have in a way, but at the same time we are all grounded. I like this idea and freedom.”
“…people are searching for what drives them and it’s not always so simple to know what you want in the world right now”