This piece appears as part of “BERLIN, BERLIN” — a weekend-long virtual celebration of the city. Head here to see the full series.
A woman (played by performance artist Elza Ozolite) walks into a room and sits on a beige leather couch. She tests it for comfort, touches it, lies across it. Her fingers drape across the veined surface. The gesture’s tactility is undeniably erotic: skin on skin. Then, with a knife, she starts to cut into the skin along the seams, breaking staples, ripping it open to expose the inner stuffing. The process is visibly laborious. Sweating, the woman cuts off sheets of leather and slings it over her shoulders, stripping the couch like a carcass. It sounds strange to say it, but you feel embarrassed for the couch. Then, like a meat slab in a Francis Bacon painting, the couch is hooked and hung from the ceiling with fringes of yellow sponging wafting away from the couch’s wooden frame. As a closing remark, the woman gives it a spin.
It’s truly a sight to watch: the video documentation of the performance SKIN ME TONIGHT by the London-based fashion collective Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE, staged at Voo Store for last year’s Berlin Gallery Weekend. Visually, the video evokes some kind of BDSM ritual or rope suspension, with Ozolite playing the dominatrix. Except for Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE, this video is also in part exposition — documenting the actual process of skinning an animal for leather.
The performance is intended to bring awareness to the brutality of the leather industry, but it also highlights how the collective make their clothes. As staunch environmentalists, Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE makes clothes out of 100 percent deadstock and upcycled materials. “We don't work at all with mills. No one is producing anything for us other than the print,” Karl Felix, one of the collective's creative directors, tells us. For the brand’s leather line, they hunt the streets of London and Berlin for discarded furniture, stripping leather couches and chairs to repurpose into luxury clothes. In fact, the leather from this performance was turned into a jacket, currently selling at Voo Store. And because each of the members remains so hands-on, the process engenders a tactile and almost ritual respect for the materials they use, an acknowledgment of the histories — and trauma — each piece of leather carries with it.
Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE is made up of three members: Karl Felix, Alexandra Vincent, and Zarina Bekerova; with the label’s name derived from the countries they hail from — Germany, French Canada, and Russia, respectively. Their international aesthetic draws from the visual culture that emerges from places away from overexposed fashion capitals, like Paris or New York.
The label’s clothes are often stretched and gathered with unexpected seams that live close to the body. The kind of clothes that make you want to touch them. The brand often thinks about “sexiness,” which has as much to do with the feel of fabric on one’s body as it does with one’s environment: the attention one gets, or the expectations of the setting. While most luxury fashion likes to believe life is one never-ending party, Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE pays attention to the in-between spaces, the overlooked spaces, like the office or the airport. “We are always playing with this officey, sexy vibe” Karl Felix tells us.
The brand often discusses the “dusty and dry office situations” as sites where fashion — and even more unexpectedly, sexiness — can exist and thrive. For instance, for the brand's debut collection, they studied the posture of bodies while sitting, and added creases in areas like the upper torso, thighs, and back of the crotch, which are usually stressed when sitting long hours at work.
Officewear is, of course, heavily restricted and monitored. There are only so many silhouettes permitted by office dress codes, which gives the brand shapes and traditions to subvert from within. Recent collections show blouses that are ruffled, stretched blazers, knitted vests ruched at the waist, trousers with seams vined around the legs. For instance, the suit — which they note “gives a lot of security” — appears, in their hands, stretchy and sensual, simultaneously powerful and relaxed.
Comfort is a core value of the brand. Sexiness is so often associated with discomfort and restrictions, and Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE wants to create clothes that feel at ease with, and not against, the body. It’s a radical concept, considering luxury’s fetish with tailoring; not to mention, gendered physiques. While two of the members studied menswear in university, traditional gendered silhouettes are precisely what they wanted to deconstruct with the brand. As a core tenet, the brand’s clothes behave fluidly across gendered lines. Clothes, removed from the regulatory power they have over gendered bodies, drape and wrap generously around whatever body you have, as is. Their clothes might even be seen as “safe spaces” for bodies to be free to be themselves. In these clothes, feeling free is feeling desirable. Intimacy is about comfort and safety.
Currently, the collective is at work on their next collection, which will be presented at the end of February. On what to expect, Karl Felix teases: “It's going to be exciting. That's all I can say.”