Home Fashion Artist Sterling Ruby Turns Fashion Designer, Launches S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. at Pitti Uomo – Vogue

Artist Sterling Ruby Turns Fashion Designer, Launches S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. at Pitti Uomo – Vogue

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Immediately after this show, held in a 19th century-built hay manger, we hacks clustered into a room below that was originally a horse shelter the better to gaze at this fully-fledged fashion thoroughbred—no, this seeming unicorn of fashion who had suddenly appeared before us. “That, ” said Suzy Menkes, “was the best new-person collection I have ever seen.” Behind her, Pierre Rougier’s eyes widened at the compliment paid to his client by that most dauntless journalist, who has probably witnessed more collections than the rest of us put together.

Sterling Ruby is certainly one of the most charming runway debutants ever—not at all up himself—and this collection was indeed of an outstanding standard for a first-timer. However it must be conceded that while a new-person on the the end of a runway, Ruby comes to the game with credentials no other debut designer has ever possessed. For not only does he have 33 years of clothes-making experience (he first started with a sewing machine aged 13) but he is also an internationally renowned millionaire contemporary artist with a mighty aesthetic back-catalog to mine.

Famously (at least in fashion) he was first collected by and then later became a friend of Raf Simons, with whom he collaborated recently for Calvin Klein (draw the veil), and also earlier for a 2014 Simons collection. As Ruby told W Magazine that year of his experience at the show: “everybody was standing up, cheering. At that moment I thought, ‘Fuck being an artist—this is wonderful.’ ”

Fast forward to tonight—via a 2016 exhibition in London’s Sprüth Magers gallery of battered, bleached, dyed, and color-spattered denim—and Ruby has finally engineered his own wonderful moment. Ruby is a manic, super-scale collagist, and as well as the many themes drawn from his own personal journey there were echoes here of Simons in some silhouettes and also of Rick Owens’s meaningfully meditative primitivism, especially in the semi-rigid ponchos made of a patchwork of mixed materials that came piped with a sort of selvedge time-stamp to act as a mark of provenance. This was part of a careful dedication to captioning-by-label prevalent not only in Ruby’s gallery homeworld, but also in the work of Virgil Abloh (who was in attendance).

Most of this though was derived directly from the work emerging from Ruby’s sprawling California studio complex. The printed dresses and shirting featured imagery of candles and weeds shot by Ruby’s wife Melanie Schiff. One model wore a vinyl tabard bearing the lurid coverwork of a book entitled Hex, a 1972 examination of pow-wow and murder in the Pennsylvania Dutch community amidst which he was partially raised. This childhood influence presumably also influenced the Mennonite style dresses in bleached denim. Ruby said the stalagmite like US flag decals on his denim pieces reflected certain sculpted works, Ruby-philes will doubtless recognize many more entanglements between his artistic body of work and the beginning of this new one as they look at these clothes.

Arguably the boldest element of all on show tonight was the act of a famed contemporary artist transitioning into the world of fashion design. Fashion traditionally tugs its forelock at contemporary art, while contemporary art is happy to take fashion’s sponsorship cash and revel in its assumed superiority in the creative hierarchy. Ruby, conversely, seems to be genuinely enthused by this new aspect of his practice, and who is to say his fashion will not prove as lucrative as his art?

This ‘collection’ is in fact not one, but four collections: Some pieces went immediately on sale, see-now-buy-now style, and are presumably the fashion equivalents of print editions. The rarer, presumably (even) more expensive, and in theory more collectible—and consequently more likely to gain in value—items will be presented to the market later. Some models wore cast metal rivets, or carried hatches and axes also cast in metal: it was unclear whether these “accessories” will be sold too. What does seem likely, however, is that if you purchase a pair of black Sterling Ruby blurry twig-print yoga pants (they were worn under a long, color-patched hand-knit cardigan) you might be making a fashion investment that truly accrues.

When asked about the difference between making fashion to the production of art, Ruby said: “in many respects, outside of the logistics of putting together the collection and the garments—in the kind of production of it—I don’t see it as any different to making a sculpture or painting.” He added of making objects that are worn: “I kinda find that more rewarding. Not that I mind if somebody has a painting and hangs it on the wall, but it is fun to think of something going out into the world, and moving, and being something for people to see.”

And will this be an every season thing? “I think 15 minutes ago I may not have been able to say yes or no, but now… yes! It might not be seasonal but I will do it again.” America’s most interesting new fashion designer is also one of its most prolific and successful contemporary artists. We were privileged to see those two worlds meet away in a manger in Florence tonight.

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