When in 2018 Karl Lagerfeld was asked, in one of the last interviews he gave, who was the best new designer on the scene, and he was given a choice between Virgil Abloh, Jacquemus and JW Anderson, the Kaiser replied: “I am the one who I like is Marine Serre. 1.50 tall and an iron will. The designer praised very few professional colleagues in life, but of course he had never complimented a promising 26-year-old who, moreover, did not represent the elitism that Lagerfeld surrounded himself with, much less worked in the field of luxury, at least not in the luxury in its most classic sense.
Four years have passed since then and Marine Serre (Brivela-Gaillarde, 1991) is already the complete opposite of a young promise, but rather a benchmark in which the new generations of creatives who want to change things look. She grew up in a middle-class family and studied in Marseille, far from the prestigious Parisian schools. She paid for her master’s degree collection, in 2015, with a crowdfunding. Two years later, with that and a subsequent collection, he won the LVMH award, the most prestigious award for emerging design in the world. With those 300,000 euros, and while she was working as an intern at Dior, McQueen and finally at Balenciaga, Marine Serre created a brand of the same name that today has a turnover of 15 million euros and has no less than 100 employees. “When I started, everyone told me that the upcycling (creating new pieces through old fabrics and garments) was not fashion. That I was an artist, that the idea was fine, but not as a business. Turns out they weren’t right,” he explains via Zoom. Today the upcycling It is on the lips of all firms, large and small, “because they have realized that every day one more person decides to spend their money on something that makes sense, especially now that the world doesn’t have it,” he says. But Marine was a visionary when she decided to build her banner with that waste, too much, that the textile industry generates. She was also when, between 2018 and 2019, she dedicated her shows to the climate catastrophe and “dressed” her models with her masks. “The situation has not changed, it is getting worse, at Christmas it was 21 degrees!”, he says, “but I always say that, within the horrible pandemic, many people have reconsidered their way of consuming, and they do in a more emotional way, or simply do not consume and prefer to keep what they have. That is something new, and more in this business”.
If Marine Serre has built a solvent banner with a hundred employees, it is, in part, thanks to the t-shirts and accessories (also the masks) stamped with her logo, the crescent moon, which first went viral by absolutely all the celebrities on the current scene and then his ever-widening cohort of followers. A symbol that, although it has been confused with Islamic references, for her means “optimism, transformation and change” and that little by little has been settling in the minds of the whole world, perhaps overshadowing each novelty that she designs: “But I don’t care . She wasn’t even raised as a logo. It was a print that I thought at the beginning to signify a political change (a parade that imagined an alternative nation, with the moon as a uniform) and that, due to the demand, gradually became what differentiated me. I haven’t even changed the tints or colors from the start, and it still works six years later. It was casual, but very advantageous, because many times thanks to that crescent moon, people come to my brand and discover it. In the end, it has been loaded with values”, argues the designer.
An alternative business structure
With discover, Serre refers to a business, the only one, in which 80% of the products are made with old fabrics and garments, which always acquire a new life internally or in local factories. “It has been very, very difficult to get here,” he says, “especially keeping this business model in mind and, at the same time, wanting to maintain average prices, accessible to more people. Obviously if we do everything in Paris and in this way it can’t be cheap, but we try to have a tight profit margin so that it reaches as many people as possible [el precio medio de una prenda son 300 euros]. At first it was difficult for us to survive because it is a brand model that is very different from the usual one, but now that we have shown that it is possible, I think, what could be better than learning how to turn garbage into something beautiful?
In order to remain faithful to his ideas, almost everything he earns is reinvested in hiring a team, “because everything is done here. There are people dedicated to looking for old fabrics in stores or markets, another is in charge of making the patchwork with those fabrics… it has been very expensive to create that structure and turn it into a realistic offer”. The rest has been invested, for the last two seasons, in creating huge parades open to the public after purchasing a free ticket. The first, last June, on an athletics track; the second, this January, in the Parc de la Villette. “The security and equipment needed to house 2,000 people is very expensive, but as long as I can afford it, I’ll keep doing it,” he says, “because I don’t believe in the idea of parades being something very exclusive for the same people. I want this to be like a concert or an exhibition, if you want to come, come, and if you don’t want to come, don’t come. Actually, a show should be for people who consume or like my brand, wherever it comes from”.
In recent seasons, Marine Serre has given a twist to her identity. He patchwork and, of course, the moons are still there, but the result is much more basic and extensive, garments of all kinds to wear in any circumstance. “I am no longer the new designer who has to make the new skirt of the season or a show that is a fairy tale. I don’t know if they’re basic or not, but now, after six years, I’m looking to make fashion that makes sense. I already have, I think, a defined identity. Now it’s time to take the upcycling to the street,” he says. It is not easy, taking into account that it is about recycled, unique garments (“and fashion has become something homogeneous, where everyone looks at what the next door is doing”, she thinks), but Marine has started her little revolution where the big brands always start, that is, with a bag: hers, how could it be otherwise, in the shape of a crescent and called Eclips: “I started making accessories very early, but we sold them quickly and didn’t I was able to meet the production demand with recycling standards, and starting to produce new objects goes against my philosophy”, he explains, “until we came up with the idea of creating a fixed structure, a kind of skeleton that we fill and decorate with different old fabrics denimtartan, flowers… that means that it can change every season and that its clothing is affordable”.
Influence (really) on the street
He is 31 years old, a prosperous and independent project in a sector dominated by conglomerates and like some, very few, cult brands, a cohort of fans who wear his clothes almost like uniforms. All this seems incredible to Marine, but for her it is not enough: “The other day I met a girl on the train who stopped me and told me that what I had achieved gave her hope. I didn’t quite know what to say to him… especially since young people have it very difficult in a world like this”, she says.
“Then I started to think about it, and of course I am excited to see people in my clothes, because that means that my ideas find answers, but I think that what it is about is changing mentalities. Like, I don’t know, I take a shirt from my boyfriend and make it dressed, the normal thing would be that we get used to doing that, creating with what we already have. In the end, clothes are a very powerful tool, people first look at what you are wearing before speaking. If we change the way we dress, we can make a lot more things change.”
All the models in the report are from MARINE SERRE.
Styling: Juan Cebrián
Model: Anok Marial (Two Management).
Makeup and hairstyling: Antonio Romero (One-Off Artists) for Mac and Kevin Murphy.
Styling assistant: Paula Alcalde.
In the era of ‘upcyling’, what separates creative recycling from intellectual theft?
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