Purple Magazine
— The Cosmos Issue #32

marine serre F/W 19/20

marine serre F/W 19/20

imagining a post-apocalyptic time, the rising star of paris fashion is making upcycling the new standard while pushing the creative possibilities of sustainability

photography by JEREMY EVERETT
interview and portrait by OLIVIER ZAHM
style by SHEILA SINGLE 

shot at the cité des sciences et de l’industrie, paris

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is your relationship with nature?
MARINE SERRE — I grew up in the country. Until I was about eight years old, I lived in a small city, Brive-la-Gaillarde. Then my parents felt they needed some space and freedom, and we moved to an old farmhouse in a hamlet of five houses in the Corrèze region, with four families, a dog, and nature all around us. I grew up in a microcosm, with a direct relationship to nature. As soon as I’d get home in the evening, I’d go for a stroll in the forest.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you have a lot of freedom as a child?
MARINE SERRE — Yes, and great bodily freedom as well. You’re unaware of it at the time. Only later, when you’re living in Paris and start to miss it, do you realize what you had. At the same time, I really love cities, but only because I know I can get away. In the summer, I’ll often head to the mountains for three weeks at a time. I’ll just up and go with nothing: just my bag, some water, a pair of socks, a pair of shorts — stuff like that. They’re really memorable excursions — seven hours of hiking per day. At every moment, you’re face-to-face with a world much larger than you. It’s really a question of scale — between nature’s vastness and your size as a human being.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’ve incorporated an environmental ethic into your brand. Has that always been part of your world?
MARINE SERRE — For me, it’s very natural. My whole collection for my fourth year at La Cambre [an art and fashion school in Brussels] was recycled. But it wasn’t something I put into the marketing. It’s a way of working and, for me, a part of the process. Only recently have I begun speaking about it openly.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you were already recycling garments for your student collections?
MARINE SERRE — Yes, or fabrics I’d come across. Tarps from worksites made into trench coats, for example, or bathroom rugs or felted wool blankets made into coats. It was an economical approach because I was short of money for producing my collections. It made no sense for me to go to a fabric vendor and buy new fabrics. It made more sense to take a fabric that was already in daily use, with its own value, identity, and history.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Materials that already have a history…
MARINE SERRE — Yes, but what I really love is transforming those materials. When I was young, I spent a lot of time in secondhand shops. My grandfather runs a secondhand shop, and he passed on a certain relationship to objects — to the value of objects of a certain quality, and also of objects of no value. I made a piece like that last year, a coat covered in key chains. They were worth 10 cents apiece, but when you put them together, a transformation takes place.

OLIVIER ZAHM — We consume too much, produce too much — too many garments as well. It’s a contradiction inherent to fashion, which turns on the renewed desire for change. How do you deal with that paradox?
MARINE SERRE — I transform it. I take what’s already there, and the only energy I use is my own and my team’s as we rack our brains to make you want to wear the garment tomorrow, to make it desirable.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why create a new fashion brand in a world that’s already saturated with them?
MARINE SERRE — I wanted to be useful, not to do things gratuitously, to try to be coherent. I created my brand because I wanted to make a small contribution to the necessary transformation of the world we live in.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A world headed for doom.
MARINE SERRE — It’s crazy.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think this is unique to your generation?
MARINE SERRE — People are finally ready. When Martin Margiela worked on recycling, fashion consumers were less ready than they are today to deal with a collection designed with these ideas in mind. With everything that’s happening all around us, we have to find some other way to think and work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In your view, can fashion and fashion designers steer their audience toward the necessary changes?
MARINE SERRE — I think so, yes. But it’s not as if I believe that I myself can do it! I’m hoping to build an ecological brand, but I’m very realistic about what’s happening today. We’ve only suffered defeat until now. Real failure. Even if it’s true that we mustn’t get discouraged — because it’s important to stay enthusiastic and lighthearted, and not lose sight of what you want to achieve.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Unfortunately, it might only be when things get dramatically worse that we finally react.
MARINE SERRE — Yes, and people today see it almost as a duty, but I don’t. I see it as an ordinary thing. It’s neither a duty nor a responsibility: it just makes sense. Once we decide to maintain a certain connection with nature and with life, if we don’t want to end up in a bubble all by ourselves, then we have to consider the trees around us, the air around us, and what happens between us all.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Could you explain what you mean by upcycling?
MARINE SERRE — For me, upcycling, unlike recycling, means taking garments at the end of the chain, before they’re destroyed, and transforming them, raising their quality and making them into unique objects from a fashion perspective.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And you have to sort through tons of clothing?
MARINE SERRE — Tons and tons of clothing! A small part of used clothing goes off to vintage shops, but a lot is burned or sent to Africa or sometimes stored without any specific plan. You have these mountains of plastic bags you have to sort through, while thinking, “What can I do with all this?” The transformed item, clearly, had better be perfect. I’m intransigent on that point. I want every one of my pieces to be impeccable. It’s a crazy feat interms of production. No one has ever managed to do it working with a factory, on a large scale.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was Martin Margiela a precursor of this?
MARINE SERRE — Yes, absolutely. I was lucky enough to work for the Margiela fashion house when Matthieu Blazy was the creative director, before John Galliano. It was tremendously inspiring to see how the house would go about transforming vintage clothes. Of course, I studied in Belgium. Recycling is part of the fashion culture in Belgium, and I was able to round out the year by making a trench coat out of tarps. It wasn’t really a problem. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’ve refined your creative relationship to recycling, pushing it toward experimentation.
MARINE SERRE — With the Red Line, a more experimental line of couture, I can take things further and have some fun. I think certain people have a lot of fun wearing my clothes. At the same time, though, what you wear every day — your wardrobe, your daily vocabulary — is essential. I think we all know that these days, but we don’t want to look like a clown when we’re on the street. So, apart from the couture pieces, the daily vocabulary and the everyday aesthetic can be fascinating.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is that the biggest challenge?
MARINE SERRE — We spend a lot of time working on that. The factories we’re using today understand what we’re trying to do, but at the same time, the actual manufacturing is complicated because they’re not used to it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You have to train the factories?
MARINE SERRE — Exactly.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How many different lines do you have?
MARINE SERRE — We’re working on four lines. The Green Line is exclusively based on upcycling: nothing but garments that have been transformed and become something else. We have jeans, leather, silks, wools. Our prices are very high for the moment because it takes a while to make our raw materials and work on them, so we operate almost at a loss. We’re looking for ways to make production profitable and offer affordable clothes. How do you offer upcycling at an affordable price? On a few items, we can manage it— for example, with jeans, we have to open the seams on the sides, remove the zipper, resew everything from the inside…

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you develop original production techniques.
MARINE SERRE — Absolutely.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And that’s something Margiela never took very far. Margiela was more about the deconstruction of clothing — garment after garment. He didn’t go too far with production.
MARINE SERRE — Right. I myself am looking not to deconstruct, but to transform. This enables me to create a desirable product, if you will, with the proper proportions. Because in the end, it’s also a matter of the silhouette.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What are the other lines?
MARINE SERRE — In addition to the Green Line, we have the Red Line, which is more couture, more artisanal, where I can really let myself go creatively and collaborate with artisans. The latest piece you’ve probably seen, for example, is the dress with the white drape, which is made of recycled T-shirts and has become a haute couture dress, with a strapless brassiere on the inside. I really see it as a redcarpet dress.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What are the two others?
MARINE SERRE — There’s the White Line, which is really the everyday wardrobe — woolen suits, for example. And price is important to me because in the stores today, designers often end up with very expensive items that are not worth the price. For me, it’s super-important to find the right price. We try to keep an eye on it all the way down the chain.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Just to wrap things up with your lines, is there another line after the White Line?
MARINE SERRE — The fourth is the Gold Line, which is rather hybrid. All the pieces I’ve made are a mix of vocabularies — between jerseys and moirés, for example. The Gold Line is really experimental — reflecting the most artisanal or the freest side. How can I make the wonderful fabric on this chair into a wonderful pair of pants to replace your jeans? It’s also about opening the way to unknown materials and to collaborations. It’s about developing an as-yet-unknown fashion vocabulary. It’s the most fashion-oriented line!

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s go back to the idea of sustainable fashion. I speak in terms of cosmic awareness, if we can call it that. The word “environmental” is no good.
MARINE SERRE — “Ecological” has become old hat, too. It’s been used so much and become so commercial. Now all brands have a “green line.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s marketing, and overproduction is still a problem.
MARINE SERRE — That’s why I insist that the Green Line is nothing but upcycling. Only with the White Line, which is more or less a normal line, do you have organic cotton, recycled materials, and so on.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You said you’d gone to Copenhagen. When you look around, do you see young designers making similar moves?
MARINE SERRE — Yes. I think it’s really starting to catch on. There are millions of things I don’t know. We’ve just moved to the north of Paris, into much bigger premises, and I’m more or less trying to do as much as possible in-house. That way, I don’t resort to air freight or sending any packaging, and all the transformation is done right there. I find that very stimulating. You have the real energy of the people who are present, creating the piece with you. It generates group energy as well.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The wonderful thing about you, I find, is that you’ve made this commitment without compromising your creative ideal. Your creative ambitions are intact.
MARINE SERRE — Things start there. That’s the beginning.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because designers will often focus on design and the effect their piece is going to have. They won’t abide by any limits.
MARINE SERRE — I see myself more as being at-the-service- of, you see? I feel that I’m more at everyone’s service, even if that seems a bit odd.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Without losing your creative ambitions.
MARINE SERRE — Right. But with a very clear vision of it. Sometimes I drive my team to desperation because I’m radical! Today we’ve lost clarity, vision. There’s so much information about everything that we’ve lost our way…

 

END

 

Sachi Yamashita at AGENCE SAINT GERMAIN, hair – Kathy Le Sant at CALL MY AGENT, make-up – William Lhoest, casting director – Shane Woodward, photographer’s assistant – Laëtitia Gimenez, stylist’s assistant – Klara Boscic, Eléonor Edith Delécluse, Rouguy Faye, and Grace Sharpe, models

[Table of contents]

The Cosmos Issue #32

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