"Why make user-friendly clothes? Because people don't know how to look after a garment anymore—how to iron properly or fold pieces—which is why they throw stuff away before they need to," says designer Ninna Berger, one of Stockholm's most avant-garde designers. The Swedish founder of Restructional Clothing has been getting particularly excited about buying a bolt of 100% ecologically sound new fabric for the first time in years.
It's a landmark for Berger because hers is a line which has, for the past six years, used exclusively thrifted fabrics from reclaimed garments as the starting point for a couture range based on the Restructional Clothing system. It's a design methodology that utilizes her own set of mathematical and technical guidelines to drive the design and construction of each garment bearing her name.
"I've always had an interest in textiles and clothes wherein our relationships to the textile is typically bound by clothing. Fashion itself was something that came along later as my education progressed," says Berger. And what an education: Pattern construction, mode and design theory, a year learning weaving techniques on old hand-looms, followed by a stint at Sweden's prestigious Konstfack for a Masters in Fine Arts Textiles.
All scholastic facets can be traced through Restructional Clothing's pieces, which hold the kinds of intricate nuances and detailing that entrance many of her peers and the Swedish fashion establishment itself—which is arguably hardest to please. "It could be said that I am maybe more interested in the problems of constructing something that is intended to fit on the body than the fashion part of it," Berger notes.
"I sometimes say that I make clothing, not fashion—there is a difference. Different parameters within textiles, different boundaries within clothing and different structures within fashion," she continues. Considering nothing in a Restructional Clothing garment is box-fresh, it's safe to say that Berger is thinking and working beyond many designers. The use of second-hand fabrics, and the subsequent evolution of Berger's methods, is a journey that began in 2003 when she wondered if it were possible to be in fashion yet have a greater consciousness of the world. "Remember, the world was very different in 2003. And in Sweden in 2007, when I started to really apply Restructional thinking, the notion of sustainability was non-existent. People can try to argue otherwise, but that's how it was—and that's not even very far back in time."
Paradoxically, the restrictions one may associate with using exclusively second-hand fabrics for couture pieces are actually positive stimulants for Berger's output. "I'm so much more comfortable working with recycled clothing over bolts of fabrics. What I do has been an exploration into whether it's possible to stay true to my design vision while only using second-hand fabric. I've now got techniques which have been refined and honed since 2007."
Berger makes everything by hand, sourcing materials and fabric through a set system and experience of what works—noting that denim, wovens and synthetics are her favored materials. While she shudders when touching on the cheap stretch fabric, Berger is glad that she can go some way to lessen the waste of synthetics in her work even if she cannot reclaim the cheaper material. She feels that there is a special tension in a reclaimed fabric that is not as present in a stock fabric. Plus the breakdown of the 3D to 2D and back to 3D is a process which allows her to really feel where a textile might be used best.
Where some might comment that most fashion operates on a purely aesthetic level, Restructional Clothing does not. There lies not only an application of pure handcraft, and the touches of an impeccable seamstress, but also a predetermined system of influence. In her most recent work, Berger explored the use of the square for garment construction, extracting textiles from even the smallest of opportunities. "Even a tiny child's tank top can give me a square of textile, and from a larger garment I can harvest even more," the designer says. Past collections have stemmed from the number three; exploring scale and reduction to the power of the number. Sometimes she works with a mix of different systems.
And, for the moment at least, everything is entirely in black. "I'm a systematic person. Everything has to be explored properly before I'm comfortable enough to move on. Black is timeless, I can play with a mix of shades, build subtle changes in pace. But essentially, I focus on construction and material first and foremost. To add color to the existing system would ruin it. There's no room in the system right now. It's full. Besides, I'm in this for life now—there's plenty of time to explore."
The result of this deeply theoretical approach to sustainable clothing construction is quite beautiful. The design is intelligent and there is a style unlike any typically Scandinavian approach that permeates the entire collection. There's a level of emotion and honesty brought about by the touch of the human hand, and by the fact that each piece has lived a life before this one. These are moody, exclusive (perhaps even cantankerous) pieces that demand attention, and ultimately care from the new owner. Which is perhaps what Berger has always wanted with the Restructional Clothing approach; to break down a failed garment and rebuild its confidence, embrace its shortcomings and send it back out into the world with a renewed purpose.
Restructional Clothing pieces are available online starting around $300.
Images courtesy of Restructional Clothing