One of the more rewarding aspects of writing for this website is the opportunity to share the power of creative impulse; the power of a designer who pushes fashion towards it’s zenith: the perfect expression of visionary innovation in malleable, material form. Last time was on British product designer Aitor Throup. This time we will look at another individual whose designs stradle the border between Fashion and Art; between Beauty and Disgust.
Sruli Recht is an Icelandic designer whose visceral fashions inspire contemplation and abhoration. His conceptions utilize one-of-a-kind, indigenous materials (Whale, Skunk, Reindeer, Cedar, stillborn-lamb) as objects unlike anything produced in the history of creative product design. Many of his products are completely anti-utilitarian, yet the anti-purpose of his non-products (his own words) convey ideas that could not be put into words. Some of his recurring motifs are the ideas of death, sacrifice, and destruction: these ideas are present in various forms through his diverse body of work.
By introducing you to some of his products, hopefully you will appreciate that some forms of fashion surpass mere ready-to-wear garments and trend towards something much greater.
The disgusting reaction to a wallet made out of whale foreskin, upon more intellectual examination, should give way to an appreciation for the sociological statement he makes. The whale is a majestic animal that is as intelligent as the human, yet in Recht’s Scandinavia, it is hunted and destroyed for it’s meat. The foreskin is cut and discarded from many human bodies, excised in a religious/cultural ritual to cleanse and purify the body by damaging its inherently perfect form. Does using this material constitute a statement of our relationship to money, or is it just an extreme form of fashion that has overstepped its own boundaries?
His most functionally interesting garment is a sweater made out of wood. In collaboration with Elisa Strozyk, Sruli pioneered a technique to repurpose wood into a pliable material soft enough to create even a blanket. By adapting and repurposing this rigid material, he demonstrates that self-imposed limitations on the design process must be problematized in order to create new meanings for familiar materials. What else can be created by transforming the material body? By forgetting our assumptions of its physical properties, it’s nature, it’s purpose? By giving fashion a completely new meaning and interpretation through creative energy?
By far his most famous and controversial creation is the Forget me knot, a ring created in a surgical performance in which Sruli Recht gives a piece of his abdomen to create a Human Flesh/24kt gold ring. This performance highlights how the artist must often sacrifice a piece of (physically, temporally, financially, or otherwise) to create the art object. Whether this sacrifice is in pursuit of art or mere financial gain is irrelevant – in either scenario the artist gives potlatch to be immortalized forever, but not in the original form. The art object is merely a symbolic memory, a semi-permanent memorialization of a snippet of the reality of the physical body and self in its true form. In this way, art can never capture the Reality of the other which it seeks to express in it’s own creation.
Spider Silk T-shirt. The technical innovation required to craft a shirt from the silk of a spider is phenomenal. As described on his website, “Our knit originates from the silk gland of a spider, carefully placed in the milk duct of a goat. The single filament is reeled out of the goat millimetres at a time to produce the most difficult to obtain fibre in the world.”. Although this shirt epitomizes the high of excessive luxury, it too is far too fragile to fulfill its own purpose of providing shelter, comfort, and warmth for the body of the wearer. Luxury is in and of itself non-utilitarian.
Perhaps the least utilitarian creation that Recht has designed are his Glass slippers, hand-blown in a limited addition of 2 pairs. The exorbitant amount of effort required to design and produce something that will certainly be destroyed in use highlights the excess of materialism. These Cinderella-like slippers highlight the relationship between creation and destruction, showing that the most beautiful objects are desirable in part for their impermanence. Like many of his creations, they cannot be used without sacrificing the material body of the object itself, yet without use (and destruction), the symbolic meaning and purpose of the object is incomplete. The only way for these slippers to fulfill their purpose is to be destroyed
Please take the time to extensively peruse his website and discover some of his other incredible creations. His performance art and creative design offer a unique perspective on the relationship between you and your clothing. Most importantly, all of his products are amazing and cool in and of themselves. It does not take much contemplation to recognize the raw amazingness inherent in his breakthrough techniques. Most of his products are just stand-alone cool in their own quirky, fantastic existence.
All images are property of Sruli Recht