At first glance, sustainability and couture may seem like an odd pairing, but the days of sustainable design as an ethical aesthetic compromise have long been over. Today, the fashion world is faced with the increasing necessity of producing in a way that demonstrates awareness of environmental concerns, while at the same time leaving space for creativity to thrive and break new ground. Once conceptually limited, sustainability today epitomizes a fresh, electric energy that sets visual inventiveness free instead of confining it. Aged just 24, Swiss-born Central Saint Martins London graduate Kevin Germanier is part of sustainable fashion’s booming new breed of creative talents swapping the plain and generic for flamboyant color combinations, exuberant fabrics and whimsical hyper-femininity.
“I want to give shape and visually translate this internal strength and explosive energy that women have – if I can’t put it into words, hopefully, I can make clothes that look like it.”
Somewhat surprisingly, however, Germanier never set himself the mission of designing sustainably; rather, he fell into it due to material constraints. “I’m from a small village in Switzerland, and when I came to Central Saint Martins I was basically broke,” he says. “For toiling, you need things like calico which is quite expensive, but because I didn’t have a lot of money I was just using my bed sheets.” During the second year of his course, Germanier applied to take part in the Ecochic Design Award, the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition. He won the first prize and went to Hong Kong to design luxury brand Shanghai Tang’s first fully up-cycled capsule collection. “I had the best time of my life there,” he recalls. “Hong Kong was incredibly inspiring and I can definitely still sense its influence on my work today.” The opportunity led to an internship with Louis Vuitton, where he now works as a junior designer while simultaneously working on his eponymous brand, which debuted this February at Paris Fashion Week.
Visually, Germanier’s style is the polar opposite of what could traditionally be considered “eco-friendly”: his garments fuse a hyper-saturated, manga-inspired futurism with the sartorial intricacy of a 1950s Dior gown. Yet, the Paris-based designer has been consistent since his beginnings and committed to showing the world how exciting and appealing sustainability can be. “It was always a very genuine process for me, I was never sustainable for the sake of it,” he continues. “But the more I worked in this way, the more I realized the huge potential in these techniques of production.” To achieve his wildly imaginative silhouettes, Germanier doesn’t let fabric scarcity or time restraints stand in the way of creativity – his vision is as clear and personal as it is chameleonic. “Let’s say I have a design in mind which would require a red felt,” he explains. “I won’t go and buy the red felt, but instead I will ask several companies if they have any deadstock materials if they have any felt, and what colors they have it in. If, for example, they only happen to have purple felt, I don’t care, so be it! My garment is going to be purple.”
The young designer’s adaptability and flexible approach to material resources turn limitations into a catalyst for dazzling creativity. His commitment to both aesthetic innovation and sustainability strongly informs every facet of his entirely ‘no bullshit’ process. “I don’t toile,” he asserts. “Toiling is a waste of time and fabric, and I tend to be short on both those things. It sounds quite risky, but I know what I want and I just do it in one go.”
The result is both exquisite and experimental, innovative and ageless – a testament to the Germanier woman herself. “The woman I design for is aware of the past, living in the present, and already intuitive of the future,” the designer argues. “I have massive respect for haute couture, but I incorporate elements of hyper-digital, video game culture, and futurism to it. I dwell between two worlds.” From looking at both his vivid, singular garments and his self-confessed “boring” personal style, it becomes apparent that Germanier doesn’t care much for trends, and has no particular desire to be considered cool. “I look like a Swiss banker, I dress like Steve Jobs,” he admits. “I was never one of those Saint Martins kids with blue hair and huge personalities; I try to let my work speak for itself.” Rather than being cool or minimalistic, Germanier’s clothes are pretty – a term he’s assiduously trying to revive and create his own take on. “People often tell me that my clothes are ‘too pretty’ or ‘too girly’,” explains the designer. “But I never really cared; I like pretty dresses and nice finishings, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
Halfway between past and future, excess and timelessness, Elsa Schiaparelli and Björk (who’s already been pictured in one of his kaleidoscopic designs), Germanier’s conceptual ambivalence is telling of his take on the feminine energy, one he finds endlessly inspiring. “Women inspire me more than anything, they are always at the center of my work,” he concludes. “I want to give shape and visually translate this internal strength and explosive energy that women have – if I can’t put it into words, hopefully, I can make clothes that look like it.”