American multimedia artist Sterling Ruby has never fully forayed into fashion as a designer himself, but his influence on the industry has been impactful, mostly through his work with Raf Simons over the past five years.
Pieces from his Americana-inspired Spring/Summer 2014 collection designed with Raf Simons, for the Belgian designer’s namesake line, are considered to be among the most grailed-worthy men’s show pieces of the past decade. His canvasses turned into wearable art for Raf Simons’ debut Fall/Winter 2012 couture collection for the house of Christian Dior, single handedly transformed the way fashion and art come together on the runway.
A solo show consisting of bleached workwear and garments bags followed at London’s Spruth Magers gallery in March 2016, as did impressive set designs for Calvin Klein’s runway shows for Raf Simons after he joined the American mega brand.
Now with the launch of his own label S.R. STUDIO. LA CA., named after his studio and geographical location, it’s his own turn.
“In a weird way I find it even more rewarding. Not that I mind that somebody has a painting or an object of mine, but it’s really fun to think of something being worn in the world that other people can see,” Ruby tells Highsnobiety after his outstanding debut collection held in Florence during Pitti Uomo. Acclaimed fashion journalist Suzy Menkes said it “was the best new-person collection I’ve ever seen.” And many agreed.
What made it such a standout was the extent to which the line was thought out. Being an autobiographical show, Sterling had a plethora of personal artworks he could pull references from, giving him a unique design aesthetic when it came to his fashion debut from the get-go — something that often takes designers years to develop.
Also, the way avant-garde and more commercial pieces were balanced democratically particularly stood out. No wonder the collection comprised of and will be sold as four different lines. S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA, the main line; ED. 50, a rotating edition of limited pieces produced in quantities of 50; SOTO, garments constructed with fabric handworked by Sterling Ruby Studio; and UNIQUE, one-of-a-kind pieces designed and realized by Ruby himself.
The range of product was wide. From renditions of Ruby’s famous bleached patchwork collages transformed into ponchos and distressed baggy trousers to the silk and cotton garments displaying graphic images like candles, weeds and flowers shot by Ruby’s photographer wife Melanie Schiff, and the many dyed two-piece denim workwear suits, dresses and totes in bright pink, green and blue (one suit was sported by Raf Simons’ right-hand man Pieter Mulier who walked the runway), press, buyers and other show attendees including Raf Simons, Virgil Abloh and Michel Gaubert had plenty to feast their eyes on.
“In many respects, outside of the logistics of putting together the collection and the garment, I don’t see it as any different to making a sculpture or painting,” says Ruby.
The pieces will be distributed over the next year through different activations. A small capsule has already gone live on SSENSE and his own e-commerce website this morning. Despite the steep price points — an entry-level logo tee puts you back $350 — which are sure to exclude a wide range of consumers, some items have already sold out.
But there was so much more. Knitted graphic and lycra sport leggings, exaggerated knitwear, different styles of footwear ranging from clown-like sneakers to Timberland-like hiking boots, pool slides, and logo socks. The tiniest details like buttons, zippers and shoe soles all had the company branding on it.
Every single element was thought out. The show was steeped in historic American iconography and idiosyncrasies. So there were references to heavy metal and punk album covers, Amish and Mennonit prairie dresses, and Ruby’s own geographical journey across the USA, from his rural upbringing in Pennsylvania to Los Angeles. It was about American folk traditions of crafting and quilting.
As a result models held silver shovels, baskets and rakes, fitting with the show’s setting at Le Pagliere, formerly used to house hay for livestock and rooted in utilitarianism.
The artist and designer has a bright future ahead of himself if he continues, but is there even that ambition?
“If you would have asked me 15 minutes ago, I don’t think I would have been able to say yes or no. But yes, I really enjoyed it and I like working with all of these people. It might not be seasonal but it was good.”