Deconstruction (which goes arm-in-arm with recycling) is a posh way of describing clothes that look as though they have lived a little. Overlocked seams, frayed edges and unpicked hems have become design features, not results of sloppy dressmaking. For those in the know, they are now tell-tale signs, spelling out the designer's name as clearly as the double Cs on a gilt Chanel button.
There is a whole breed of designers who spend half their time designing and the other half searching out clothes (often old and from flea markets), taking them apart, and then putting them back together in different ways. An armhole might become a neckline, seams might be resewn on the outside. The clothes are then left in their rawest and, they say, purest state.
Even in Browns, in South Molton Street, London, clothes are looking as though they have done several rounds of the country's second-hand shops, been unpicked and chopped off here and there, and then worn inside out and back to front.
There is a catch to all this: like the trend for ripped jeans in the Eighties, the more distressed and raw a garment looks, the higher its price tag. Yohji Yamamoto's laddered jumper costs pounds 295. Of course, it took time and skill to knit the ladders in. But a similar effect can be achieved free, with a pair of scissors.
In Paris, young designers such as John Ribbe and Lamine Kouyate, for his label Xuly Bet, are aiming to make clothes that look poor but which do not cost the earth. Ribbe caused a stir when he made jackets out of Monoprix carrier bags (the French equivalent of Woolworth) and sold them for Fr690 (about pounds 90) in chic Paris boutiques. He likes to work with junk, hammering out bottletops to use as buttons and sequins. He says: 'I call it looking rich in a poor way.'
Meanwhile, Kouyate scours his local Tati (a bit more downmarket than Woolworth) and buys up the cheapest jumpers and shirts he can find. He chops and sews together enough to make a tube dress or skirt, and layers together multi-coloured remnants to give a look of high- fashion-meets-refugee. The range has been bought by Whistles where a tube knit dress costs pounds 125, not as cheap as it might look - or as the acrylic fibres might feel.
The master of deconstruction is Martin Margiela. He can fray a jacket edge like no one else, and unpick darts of old crepe dresses with precision. By using a simple piece of plain white calico as his label, he is almost inviting do-it-yourself deconstructionists to tack on their own square of fabric, and brazen it out as if they had paid pounds 400 for their moth-eaten jacket.
We decided to test the theory that anyone can make clothes like this with the help of students at Richmond Tertiary College. The 19-year-old designer Nicholas King made the skirt in our picture for a project set by Richmond's Ecoaction, part of the recycling section of Richmond council. The students were given free access to Ecoaction's scrap store.
Nicholas King, a young Xuly Bet in the making, recycled his collection of old school socks and showed the skirt as part of the college's 'rags to riches' end-of-year fashion show. His fellow-student, Joo Yeon Park, made the top she is wearing from old pairs of tights, sewn and laddered together. 'I used loads of old tights, but the clothes cost nothing to make,' she said.
You may well need to be a master of couture to get those seams frayed just so, but you can create a fairly good imitation of the deconstructed look with scissors and a few careful snips. The rawer the better.
AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO DESIGNER D-I-Y
Yohji Yamamoto and Joe Casely Hayford: Both designers are leading the way in laddered jumpers this summer - unpick your own old threadbare knits for that 'I've just climbed through a barbed-wire fence' look. Another cunning Yamamoto trick is to dip your hems and cuffs into bleach to give the effect of having got caught upside down in an acid rain storm.
Xuly Bet: Designer Lamine Kouyate recycles old jumpers. He takes a selection of the cheapest jumpers he can find and crudely sews them together to make, say, a dress featuring whole panels of pockets. Take your old jumpers apart and rejoin them (with visible wool stitching) to make long tubes that can then be layered on top of one another. NB: they must be 100 per cent acrylic.
Comme des Garcons: Rei Kawakubo's next collection features slashed necklines, cropped hems and raw seams. Her little knits looked strangely stretched and contorted. Simply put your head through the armhole (leave the hem raw) of a cropped skinny jumper or T-shirt for an off-the-shoulder top with added interest and stretch.
Martin Margiela: Searches out old Thirties tea dresses and suede jackets. Tack your own bit of white muslin into your old jackets for that Margiela cult factor. Cut off jacket or jumper sleeves to attach to any outfit with safety pins. Or do amazing things with old sweatshirts - cut down each side, attach ribbon to side seams and tie round body to make fitted top. Take an old black crepe dress and unpick the darts, and press well for contrasting colour and shape (it will be darker where the dart was); also good for effortlessly letting out dresses when you have outgrown them. Look for old sewing patterns from flea and junk markets and remake them, inside out. Felt your jumpers by boil-washing them. Warning: they will shrink to the size of a five- year-old's, but persevere and squeeze yourself in. Margiela has a shrunken version of a twinset.
John Ribbe: Collect beer-bottle caps and hammer out to sew on to your best little black dress for poor man's sequins. Hoard Kwik Save bags and roughly sew (or even glue) together as you would fabric to make a simple skirt or top.
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