From Balmain’s seemingly ubiquitous jacket of 2009, to the camouflage prints that invariably make an appearance on catwalks every few seasons, military has long been a source of inspiration for fashion designers. But for British designer Christopher Raeburn, the inspiration was not merely aesthetic. Inspired by the challenge of creating ethically aware fashion pieces, Christopher launched his namesake label in 2008. In the years since, he has propelled himself into the spotlight by using re-appropriated military fabrics to create functional, intelligent and meticulously crafted garments.
Cast your eyes over Christopher Raeburn’s latest collection, BLAST, and you’ll likely be overcome with an overwhelming yearning for the outdoors. The London-based designer’s rugged yet discerningly tailored take on urban outerwear is undeniably infused with a sense of adventure, and an appreciation for the unpredictability of nature. From anoraks constructed from ebullient graphic-laden parachute silk, to a duffle coat artfully brought to life from a combination of vintage Danish military trousers and German naval jackets, there’s a distinct feeling that the garments’ creator lives an existence that is somewhat intrepid. “I always grew up with a spirit of adventure,” Christopher remarks of his childhood. “I enjoyed building things from an early age and, as a result, I think most of my childhood dreams were an extension of that.”
While at school, Christopher’s fondness for construction and creation made him toy with the idea of becoming an architect, while he also entertained dreams of photography and product design. But while each of these would always remain passions, it was the deft art of fashion design that ultimately captured his imagination. Ironically, Christopher reveals that his awareness of fashion as a child was limited mainly to the wealth of hand-me-downs bestowed upon him by his two older brothers. But as he grew older, he began to use fashion as a form of self-expression. He admits to a time while at university when he would only ever wear a suit, regardless of what he might be doing. While some might consider this a fashion choice of a purely aesthetic nature, for Christopher it was a precursor to his foray into sustainable fashion. To him, as someone concerned with the intelligent use of fabrics and sustainability, a high-quality suit made on Savile Row represented truly intelligent design.
That appreciation has since evolved into a passion for deconstructing garments from a previous era and recreating them into clothing that is not only intelligent and functional, but also sustainable. “You could say I’ve evolved to have a particular sense of responsibility regarding my actions – one that has informed my ethics and fashion development,” Christopher explains. “I was always interested in reusing items and rethinking problems; the result has been a different approach to fashion and, more specifically, clothing manufacture.”
His penchant for military fabrics stems from a lifelong love. “I find them particularly fascinating because they are so functional – the texture, colour and qualities all have background and add depth to each piece,” he says. “I’ve been collecting military garments for as long as I can remember and, as my creative practice grew, the two areas of interest inevitably bled into one another.” After graduating from the Royal College of Art in London in 2006, Christopher honed his craft working at various fashion houses throughout the city, before seizing fate and founding his own studio in 2008, based on the philosophy of sustainable, ethical design.
In the three years since he launched his brand, Christopher has piqued the attention of fashion’s elite. His first appearance at London Fashion Week was in 2009, when he revealed his spring/summer collection as part of the Estethica showcase for ethical fashion. In 2010, he became the first designer ever to be awarded the British Fashion Council’s coveted NEWGEN sponsorship for both men’s and womenswear in the same year (previous recipients have included Matthew Williamson and Alexander McQueen).
Christopher made his first independent presentation at London Fashion Week earlier this year, which he staged in London’s abandoned Aldwych tube station. The reviews were glowing – in particular from digital fashion bible Style.com, who described him as “the single most radical designer working today”. Lauded for his deft hand for tailoring and visionary eye for details, Christopher’s ability to rework reappropriated fabrics – some up to 60 years old – into contemporary, relevant and practical garments has earned him respect not only in the world of ethical fashion, but in the fashion industry at large.
Each of Christopher’s meticulously crafted garments bears a tag with the words ‘REMADE IN ENGLAND’ – not only a patriotic reference to the fact that all of his clothing line is produced in East London, but also in homage to the previous lives of the military garments he has deconstructed and then created anew. “So much of BLAST has been inspired by our research into the original garments, their fabric technology and development,” Christopher says. “Each piece pays tribute to the objective of the original item – whether protection, camouflage, speed or warmth – and injects a new life and striking functionality through our complete redesign.”
It’s clear that Christopher takes great inspiration from nature and that he revels in the challenge of creating ethical, sustainable fashion. “As a designer I’m inspired by the idea of remaking something new and premium out of what others consider waste,” he explains. “The technical and design challenge is something I find really appealing.”
On whether he feels the pressure to live up to his ‘radical’ tag, Christopher reveals that his feet remain steadfastly attached to the ground. “That article on Style.com was certainly very flattering, but I don’t feel pressure. I think it’s more an opportunity. It’s fantastic that so many journalists have taken an interest in the work that I’m doing and how much amazing support I’ve had to get me in this position.” When pondering the future of ethical fashion, Christopher’s outlook is optimistic. “I think the industry has made great strides in supporting ethical fashion – Estethica is a great example of that,” he says. “I imagine it will take a generation of talent to demonstrate that ethical fashion brands can function as businesses, then that point of difference will hopefully disappear.”