Tucked away in an East London council estate, just off Kingsland Road in Dalston, is the last place you’d expect to find the pristine, minimalist studio of up-and-coming Parisian designer Faustine Steinmetz. Standing in stark contrast to the building’s gritty exterior, her studio is light and welcoming. The room has a strictly black and white color palette punctuated by the occasional green plant or two. Two interns are busy weaving away on wooden looms that look fresh out of the 18th century, surrounded by original fabric samples that have been affixed to the walls alongside stills from the French film La Haine, a set in the rough suburbs on the outskirts of Paris, similar to the one the designer grew up in. After a brief stint working for Jeremy Scott in LA, she moved to the UK to study fashion at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martin’s. In her newest collection, the young designer takes her inspiration from the iconic tracksuits, jeans, and Jansport backpacks that defined ’90s streetwear, but interprets it all with a certain illusory, loom-related twist all her own.
Was the main reason you moved from Paris to London to study fashion at Central St. Martin’s?
Actually I came to England to go to St. Martin’s because I went to Colette and I saw Mary Katrantzou’s work. I held the fabric in my hands and I still couldn’t tell if it was real or fake denim. I thought it was brilliant because obviously I’m quite fascinated by trompe-l’œil, but she also had clearly been coached very well and pushed in an amazing direction. That was 5 years ago, but she was doing exactly the same thing as me, except it was much better—and I thought, “I have to go to that college!”
What sort of work had you done in fashion prior to doing your Master’s at CSM?
Before that I had studied pattern-cutting and sewing in Paris, and then I interned in LA with Jeremy Scott. When I was there four of us had to share one bed in Melrose Place because it was so expensive! But we had an amazing time working on his collaboration with Adidas. After that I worked in Copenhagen for 4 months with Henrik Vibskov.
What sets you apart from other designers?
I’m trying to have an opinion about fashion. So basically here what I’ve done is take pieces that anyone can pretty much buy anywhere: a tracksuit, a Jansport backpack, Levi’s jeans, and each of these are just a pure reproduction of what everyone wears in the street, but they are completely made from scratch. It’s really interesting because all of those pieces represent what fashion is now. It’s not a craft anymore, it’s just made in a factory somewhere in China. And I thought it was really interesting to reproduce those pieces completely from scratch, and show what it would take to actually craft them and weave the fabric. It’s kind of this idea of tradition against industry.
What happens if you get much bigger and need to produce on a larger scale?
If I was lucky enough to get bigger and have a large company, I would love to continue doing what people have done in Paris for centuries. I want to keep the tradition alive and I’m really happy that the hand weaving mill is working and people like it. In Paris we are losing that tradition somehow. You’re always hearing rumors that all the fashion houses are closing their last factory in Paris.
Your lookbook is really distinctive with the wet, slicked back hair and the simple, lo-fi styling, very minimalist. What do you like about this aesthetic?
I was actually planning to style the lookbook even less! I like colors when they mean something. And the green in here, it’s the green of the plants, it means vegetation, it means outside on the inside, you know? But otherwise I don’t understand colors. What does blue stand for if it doesn’t stand for denim? Every piece of garment is a code. And the only thing that interests me about fashion is to play with those codes. And when you introduce color, if that doesn’t mean anything, to me it’s not important. I’m not even really interested in making nice clothes. I look at it as a painting, and I think, “what do I want to say through this piece?” It’s funny because I’ll send pictures of my work to my friends and family and they will say “Oh, that’s a pretty jacket!” and it really strikes me because I haven’t even thought about whether the jacket is pretty or not.
Do you have an ideal customer?
I really don’t think about that. I think I would be flattered if I saw someone wearing it, but I really don’t think of it when I design. And in school it was a problem for me, my teacher was like, “Who are you designing for? Others are designing for their friends, but you just do an art project!”