WIW: Denim, deconstruction, DIY

This may be controversial and I had to screw up my courage to post it, but it’s been a good talking point among friends who like this sort of thing so I thought you guys might enjoy it too.

As a dressmaker and inveterate hacker of clothing, I have a deep appreciation for the art of deconstruction. I always love looking at fashion, but very little delights me as much as something that makes me think differently about form and function in garment design, and once in a while I like to experiment in my own closet.

This, though, may be the sartorial equivalent of raiding the refrigerator for leftovers which are past their sell-by date. An old merino wool sweater dress from Weekday came out of summer storage with some damage to the front. I have no idea how it happened since there were no other casualties, but I have to accept it as the price I pay for living in an old building. I love the colour and I’m not ready to send it off to landfill so I gave it a retread.

I was inspired by the upside down sweatshirts at Slow and Steady Wins the Race. After some experimental draping on a dress form, I cut a circular opening around the damaged area and hemmed it with shirring elastic and tricot binding. This is now an armhole or a neckline, depending on how I feel like wearing it.

(The skinnies were a HEWI for the longest time. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to denim. I prefer it unwashed with a selvedge, which can be hard to find in womenswear, so I was thrilled to find these at G-Star this year. Denimheads may sneer at this brand but I’ve had a few pairs and they make great jeans for women.)

I remodelled my oversized Levi’s after a design that appeared at Vetements a year or so ago. I’m much happier with the fit and I found it very satisfying to rip off the branding. They got the approval of the sales staff in Amsterdam’s trendiest jeans emporium, who had to ask where they came from, but I should probably fray the hems more artfully.

I quite like the two together, but I suspect both items work better in support of avant-garde designer pieces. The sweater plays nicely with the Comme culottes and the jeans are a winner with my Ann D blazer.

Props to deconstruction maestro Martin Margiela (who else?) - the boots are original, the oversized blazer from H&M’s Replicas collection, and the base layer is my own modification of his legendary sock sweater, made out of four pairs from Hema.

As ever, thoughts and comments are appreciated. I’m very curious to know how others feel about deconstructed clothing. Do you love it, or does it weird you out?

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This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.

27 Comments

  • replied 2 years ago

    I enjoy looking at and considering deconstructed pieces - from a technical point of view.  I can't say I"ve gone out of my way to put them into my wardrobe, and that could be because they aren't anywhere in my line of vision, shopping-wise.   I like both of your pieces a lot - so much so, that I could see myself wearing either of them.  What you've done with the forest green sweater is really cool - and I like it better than the upside down sweatshirt inspo piece.  

  • Diane G replied 2 years ago

    Really, interesting Rio! Love what you came up with. I think I'm perhaps not as enamoured with the look in #1 as much as the other ways you're wearing the sweater. I love the one sleeved look, with the other thrown around like a scarf the best. What a cool idea! 

  • Angie replied 2 years ago

    HAH. Your creativity is VERY fun, and so is the way you write about it, Liz. Great fridge "raiding of leftovers" analogy. Love what you came up with. The green is gorgeous with your eyes. 

    Now. Perhaps you need to live in Tokyo. It's better then Amsterdam! 

  • Angie replied 2 years ago

    AND you look so divinely '80s in #9. 

  • Gaylene replied 2 years ago

    I'm so used to thinking of myself as a "classic" dresser, I'm always surprised at how much I like deconstructed pieces, mostly, I think, because of the wit and humour I see in them. Some make me smile, others make me laugh, some elicit groans, but a few "wows" have actually made it into my closet. I own a few AD pieces, bought over a decade ago, which totally mesmerized me when I saw them in a shop in Paris. They delight me as much today as they did then.

    Your pieces make me smile because they seem so much a part of you. Would I wear those exact versions? Probably not, but, to me, that's the art aspect of deconstruction. Many paintings delight me at in a gallery, but only a special few hit such a chord I'd give up dinner for a month just to own them.

  • rachylou replied 2 years ago

    I wish I could see the sweater in person. How it works, the different ways. Is that a sleeve draped over your shoulder? I love that. I love clothing that transforms. I'd wear it in a heartbeat :)

  • catgirl replied 2 years ago

    I adore it 100%. I used to do stuff like this to thrifted men's jeans. I made a X-over pair like the R13s 25 years ago which I adored. Post more!

  • skylurker replied 2 years ago

    2 and 3 work beautifully.

    1 weird me out, it's like your tummy has a mouth and 8 weird me out, it's like your bum has eyes. Yeah, I'd better not take a Rorschach test right now or I'll end up in some peaceful institution :)

    Love the fit of the skinnies, forest green looks great on you, so does the round-shoulders blazer. And you're darn cute with a beret.

  • Janet replied 2 years ago

    So cool, I am not as fond of the opening at the front (as skylurker comments on) but the other renditions are so fun.

    I'm drawn to the idea of such pieces but never find them anywhere where I shop that I might try them on (Baltimore has a long way to catch up to Amsterdam in that regard), or at a price point that encourages experimentation (I suspect I might find more experimental pieces in NYC, but for beaucoup bucks!). Keep up the creativity!

  • olga replied 2 years ago

    Wow, interesting....
    Not for me I am afraid, I like more classic clothing, good for you though, very unusual.

  • Diana replied 2 years ago

    This is awesome!

  • Firecracker replied 2 years ago

    You are so creative. I enjoy reading about your processes, and I'm inspired by what you do. The sweater is very cool, as are the jeans. I like 3 and 4 on you best, and could see myself wearing the sweater that way. And I like the look of your deconstructed Levi's even better than MM's!

  • shevia replied 2 years ago

    Absolute interested as thinking pieces, art pieces, and so on. If I were to wear I would probably have a higher flattery standard than usual - in other words, they would have to look more conventionally flattering to offset the confusing bits or I would feel like I had just put my head in the arm hole so to speak. So #2,#3, #4 for the sweater. All the jeans shots look good to me.

  • Gigi replied 2 years ago

    I've never seen deconstructed clothing before, so thank you for the introduction! I would not wear deconstructed pieces myself, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing you in these. They really make me ponder what the original item was like and how it relates to the deconstructed one. I also found that with the first item, I really had to wrap my mind around how the piece could be worn in different ways. This was kind of fun for my brain. :)

  • Deborah replied 2 years ago

    I love this sort of thing but don't have the skill to achieve it myself:(. Makes me think of my Complexgeometries items!

  • CocoLion replied 2 years ago

    I like #3 the best,  I'm more timid about deconstruction.  I love those jeans you are wearing -- I tried some G-Stars a few years ago, they felt great on, I returned them due to the wash but kind of regret it now as I'm not seeing this brand around as much as I used to.

  • Staysfit replied 2 years ago

    I love your creativity! I'm not sure I could get away with wearing anything like this though, my style is too classic.

  • Style Fan replied 2 years ago

    I love these looks.  #1 is perhaps a little on the WOW is that ever weird side but I appreciate that sort of thing.  I tend to dress very simply with interesting accessories but I love creative fashion (and design). 
    I like the green on you too.  Fabulous.

  • Cococat replied 2 years ago

    Really clever and creative looks. I couldn't pull it off, but I think you look fabulous.

  • Helen11 replied 2 years ago

    I'm amazed at the whole idea. (I'm from a small town, a long way from Amsterdam!) The whole process of 'if I just put another opening here....' is new to me. I'm intrigued to see how it works out.
    Though the neck hole worn front and centre weirds me out. But it could be good for keeping orphan joeys warm!

  • approprio replied 2 years ago

    So, so sorry for letting this thread trail ladies (see what i did there?) I woke up on Sunday with a terrible headache (go figure) and couldn't look at a screen for long enough to reply to anything.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts on deconstruction. I realised on reading your replies that I don't mind looking weird among friends if it provokes some discussion and I've been happily wearing it both ways. I should probably join skylurker in that peaceful institution. Then again, I don't think I'd meet a client or teach a class like this. 

    Janet, lisap, Gigi: that's the problem isn't it? It's hard to find, not something we see much of on high street, although All Saints were quite adventurous in the early days and COS often come up with interesting shapes. I guess it had its moment when MM and Ann D were at their peak. As shevia points out, it can be hard to make it flattering. But yeah Gaylene, the humour is definitely part of its appeal for me. 

    skylurker: you'll be pleased to know the beret is a genuine "impermeable" and I've had it for years.

    Una: I'd love to see that jeans alteration! I'll have to chase down the R13's.

    Angie
    : oh yes, Tokyo in my dreams! But I still have to visit Seoul, Beijing, HK and Taipei before I settle down ;)

    Deborah: thanks for pointing me at complexgeometries. International shipping eh? I'll definitely keep an eye on them.

    Helen11: I had to look that up because I thought it might be a euphemism for something. Yes, the extra layers upfront definitely keeps the orphan joeys warm :D

  • Helen11 replied 2 years ago

    Oops, sorry to send you off looking for joeys! Here are some examples for anyone else.
    Thank you for posting your outfits, and sharing your ideas with us all. i have really enjoyed following the discussion. It's good for my conservative brain to be stretched : )

  • Astrid replied 2 years ago

    This is interesting. Interesting but kind of strange. I wouldn't really say it weirds me out, but I don't think I would wear it. I fear I'm much too boring for something like this. ;)

  • skylurker replied 2 years ago

    As usual, your post pushed me into a rabbit hole and I tried to gather info on deconstruction. I can't say I have a better understanding of it now, unfortunately :) but I'm left with 2 impressions :

    It's a kind of meta-fashion, a critique, reflection on tailoring, so of course it's more appealing to other fashion designers than the average wearer.

    The high price set by designers like Rei Kawakubo for their deconstructed clothes make it clear that they don't want average people to wear their works of art anyway. They seem targeted at the fashion elite to start with.

  • approprio replied 2 years ago

    Helen11 that is so cute! We should all modify our clothing to carry baby animals. 

    Astrid: as Gaylene said upthread, there's a classicism to deconstruction that's surprisingly accessible. Never say never!

    And skylurker, as usual you are an insightful and provocative correspondent! You're right that the main practitioners are very much "designer's designers" like Margiela and Kawakubo, which I suppose is why I like them so much. 

    With regard to the prices, I think it works the other way around. The small number of people who buy at this level make it possible for designers like Kawakubo to push the boundaries. Having looked into the economics of clothing manufacture and from years of making them, I know that creating small runs of high-quality items can be very expensive. Elite brands carry a certain prestige and not all of them merit the prices, but artistry and craftsmanship come at a cost. 

    For instance, CdG do most of their production in Japan and hold to a very high standard of manufacture. Before the house was bought out by Diesel, Maison Martin Margiela was an artisanal studio in Paris. The clothes command high prices but the people who create them aren't the rag trade billionaires. The real money gets made on mass-produced consumer items like scarves, handbags and cosmetics, which is where the markup is. 

    Fun story - a friend of mine bought a lovely summer jacket in a deconstructed style by CdG. She fell in love with it and then decided she was unhappy with the quality of the finish, so she asked my opinion. 

    Well, I couldn't fault the thing. It was unlined but the visible seams were immaculately sewn. All the raw edges were intentional. The construction was odd but every join was reinforced with tiny plackets. It was beautifully made, the kind of work that takes a lot of skill and can't be mass-produced, even in RTW.

  • skylurker replied 2 years ago

    "Creating small runs of high quality items can be very expensive" : yes, I believe that's true, and I don't think Kawakubo and co are in this business to make billions, I believe they're sincere in their aesthetic pursuits. I also owned 2 second hand CDG shirts, both were impeccable quality.

    I guess what I don't like in this business model is that it creates a cult following, but that's probably not the designer's intention.

  • approprio replied 2 years ago

    I guess what I don't like in this business model is that it creates a cult following, but that's probably not the designer's intention.

    It may not be the intention but it doesn't do them any harm. It's the black tulip effect on supply and demand. I have the highest respect for Kawakubo as a designer, but there's no doubt she's stayed in the game because of her business skills. She's fencing tiny branded doodads on the back of her creative reputation same as everyone else, from Dame Viv to King Karl. 

    And no, I don't care for it either, and I agree that this is the inevitable contradiction in the whole scenario. The saddest part is that it's not going to keep me from trawling the sales racks for her product. 

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