Austrian womenswear designer René Scheibenbauer’s name should be on the lips of fashion aficionados not only because he is a graduate of the extraordinarily well regarded Central Saint Martins, which can boast to have nurtured the talent of Alexander McQueen, Riccardo Ticsi and more recently Craig Green, or for the fact that his graduate collection Empathy, Connection, Play placed him as runner-up in the 2018 L’Oréal Professional Designer of the Year Award. For how important accolades and awards may be in the world of fashion, it is Scheibenbauer unique outlook on design and the industry that should be championed.
At face value, good design centres on the aesthetic appearance of the item the designer has created. Although designers tend to have a strong message to accompany their collection, few have abstracted the idea of the body itself quite like Scheibenbauer.
“I’m very curious how we relate emotionally to our clothes and how they inform our choice of dressing. Fashion does not only manage to describe human behaviour but also gives us the opportunity to relate to abstract emotions physically. The physical body and emotional body and our mind-state are directly and inevitabl[y] in connection. Since we are not solely physical beings but also are driven through our emotions…”
The departure from traditional means of creating and curating a collection didn’t stop there as Scheibenbauer expanded on the importance of the connection between the physical and emotional bodies through techniques one would more commonly associate with art therapy rather than fashion design.
“My first research workshop for Empathy, Connection, Play was a blindfolded session in a room full of clothes that I borrowed from different friends with different styles. The participant was invited to feel themselves through the materials and pick the clothes whose touch felt most related to their inner state. I wanted to explore the idea to recreate a tactile and emotional relation to clothing instead of considering only the visual appearance.
It is plain to see that this approach really struck a chord with not only the participants but Scheibenbauer himself as he calls it a “community” not a collection of strangers. The collection as such ends up being as much about this community as it does being about Scheibenbauer. It’s a conversation, a release of emotion, an exploration of your own state of mind and every part of your body. It’s beyond norms, beyond identity, and an immense breath of fresh air in an industry that many would argue has been far more emotionally destructive than it would care to admit.
Although the brand is young and access to Scheibenbauer’s amazing work is limited it’s not something the designer sees as much of a drawback. Scheibenbauer has decided on a far more contemporary and holistic approach doing away with the now formulaic seasonal collections which “short and fast paced rhythm is problematic [in] the way it affects our planet’s health…”
Scheibenbauer stands out, his collection is not merely a stereotypical fashion collection, but ends up being so much more. It’s performance art, collaborative and unapologetically linked to the authentic emotions of real people. With this only being the start in Scheibenbauer’s journey, the future of fashion, fortunately, has a pair of utterly empathetic hands to mould it.