FROM WORKWEAR TO THE RUNWAY: THE HISTORY OF REPURPOSED VINTAGE
When tracing the thread of re-worked vintage, it's hard to imagine there being any tangible origin. The practice of mending and repurposing old garments has been a hallmark of different cultures across the world. Though at no point in time has repurposing been more prevalent, creative, and necessary to the industry.
As early as the Meiji era in Japan, workers repurposed old quilts and fabrics to restore their kimonos, pants, and jackets. These raggedy work-staples were sewn together through intricate patches of sashiko stitching. Kimonos were sewn together with old quilts and leftover rags to preserve their life. In the west from the early twentieth century and onward, French factory workers repurposed old fabrics to rebuild their Blue de Travail work uniforms. Tares and blowouts repaired using small pieces of jackets, multiple pairs of pants sewn together to maintain the rugged uniform.
Beatniks in the '70s counterculture movement would repurpose old military surplus pants to create the era's ubiquitous bell-bottoms. It was only until the late 80s that reconstructing entire garments became culturally significant within the realm of high fashion.
We come to the rise of Belgian designer Martin Margiela and his dedicated design team. The Maison began working with old vintage garments since his first collections in 1988. The Maison would travel around the world scouring different flea markets or anywhere else they could find quirky lived-in treasures. Since the majority of the 90s collections hinged on using repurposed fabrics and garments, these scouting excursions became increasingly necessary for the brand.
The Maisons' deconstructionist experiments varied from the whimsical and practical to complete absurdities. Martin and the team would create new trousers out of mismatching colored fabrics, handbags made out of vintage leather footballs, corsets fabricated out of scraps of tailoring-canvas. All of this, to present the fashion world with a new treatise. The ideas behind the collections ranged from sustainable design to examining old traditions while simultaneously crafting new modes of production. These collections presented a new way to look at the history of fashion as a whole.
One of the menswear highlights of these collections was the intricate repurposed jeans. Each pair had its unique characteristics. Some jeans were coated with layers of different paint, some sewn inside-out with altered hems, others were constructed out of multiple pairs to create a paneling effect. These new design peculiarities poked fun at the way consumers wear jeans while at the same time giving a playful nod to workwear aesthetics.
Come to the early oughts, several different labels from around the world began working with vintage garments. A standout among them is the Japanese label Needles and their forward-thinking Rebuild line. Rebuild serves as the brainchild of Keizo Shimizu. An enthusiast of the Americana style and aesthetic. Shimizu started Nepenthes in 1988, originally a distribution company and boutique that catered to importing American goods from Ralph Lauren to L.L. Bean. In 2012 Shimizu established the Needles Rebuild line. The label consists of repurposing new vintage garments and patchworking them together to create a wholly new piece. The designer would source numerous secondhand flannels from different eras, with varying fabrications to produce new garments. The label used OG-107 Military pants, sewn together with contrasting patches and utility pockets. Shimizu's approach to design is very much in service to the garment, to maintain the history and integrity of the piece while simultaneously create something new.
The 2010s saw high fashion labels become a lot more intricate in their choice of patterning, fabrication, and methods of production. Japanese fashion label, Kapital, and their subsidiary Kapital Country began repurposing old vintage clothes to create patchwork shirting, outerwear, and various accessories. These pieces ranged from shirts made out of vintage bandanas to Boro jackets constructed out of old fabrics sewn together with the traditional Sashiko stitching. Around this time Japanese designer Takahiro Miyashita also began repurposing old Levi's to create new patchwork pants for his namesake label. These jeans were all fabricated out of the staple 501 jeans. The pants featured Miyashita's classic cropped cut along with mismatching pockets throughout.
With more businesses moving to sustainable designs and production, the era of re-worked vintage has only begun to take shape. Consumers demand an ethically made and sourced product. The global impact the fashion industry has on the environment has now become public knowledge. One of the only real solutions presented to the industry, (if any) is the reusing of old materials to mitigate years of waste. Vintage re-working has become increasingly ubiquitous in fashion as a whole. Numerous brands, boutiques, and vintage sellers have begun creating new labels centered around vintage clothes and materials.