Estonia-born designer Kristian Steinberg grew up in Sweden but considers the UK to be his home these days. This troika of utterly different places has surely affected Steinberg, and the social security of Stockholm, the unstable political climate of Soviet-era Tallinn and the urban energy of London are all visible in 'Scars', his recent London Fashion Week debut show. Shown off Brick Lane, the collection showed not only his Central Saint Martins-taught tailoring skills, but also testified to a mature designer who has spent several years since his graduation working for other designers (Alexander McQueen, Marios Schawab, Rafael Lopez etc) while secretly honing his own uniquely strong aesthetic.
Steinberg, who studied Chemistry before moving into fashion, impressed with subtle army references and a strong design connection to his native Estonia. His characteristic deconstructed tailoring was still present, but there was a sense of Steinberg having left behind his student aspirations of an avant-garde utopia and moving onto the real world where clothes needs to have enough of a unique USP and a strong fashion DNA while still appealing to men's everyday-wardrobe demands. Steinberg managed to deliver on all accounts and we eagerly await his next season...
Dazed Digital: You studied Chemistry before moving on to fashion - what happened?
Kristian Steinberg: There has always been a mad scientist in me, and my love for chemistry blossomed just before applying to university during a summer project with scientists in neuro-chemical engineering. After three years at Royal University of Technology, I decided to take a year out from Chemistry because I was fortunate enough to be offered a place at the famous Konstfack (The Fine Art Academy in Stockholm). I spend a year at the faculty of textile art and continued in the spirit of experiment, but this time by knitting, printing, embroidering in 3D and melting plastic for a video art installation, and I finished the year by presenting two outfits for the student fashion show.
I knew instantly that in fashion I would be able to utilize my vast array of interests from technical to artistic and therefore I continued to train in tailoring and construction, and applied to CSM menswear course from which I graduated 2005. I’m one of those people who has to learn all the time, so I have spent maximum amount of time studying and my whole approach to fashion has been that I also want to understand my colleagues jobs.
DD: What inspired the A/W11 collection?
Kristian Steinberg: I visited Estonia after more than 20 years in exile and studied the remarkable transformation from a Soviet State into an independent country. I visited old Soviet military bunkers that looked like scars on the landscape by the beautifully rugged coast. The green Baltic Sea, the gray concrete and alien vivid blues and oranges from the insides of the bunkers shaped the strange but interesting pallet. Traditional craft and knitting is the second part of my inspiration and it is widely practised in Estonia across all age groups and the spirit of the self-made look was very inspirational to me.
DD: A few garments, like the knits, were made out of different materials. Which ones and explain the process...
Kristian Steinberg: I used the same yarns as the local ladies use for their jumpers, and was inspired by the metallic fuzzy yarns as well as the vivid coloured alpaca mixes. The military feel in the wool-felt tailoring is in even more stark contrast to the nylon base bright blue bouclé, and there is a theme of something from the soldier and something from his mother. Materials are generally something that gets me very exited and in itself inspires design ideas. I never fight with a fabric or a material but rather let it do what comes naturally and I believe that results in better garments in the end.
DD: How important was your Estonian heritage?
Kristian Steinberg: Hugely important! I set out to find something that sets Estonians apart, and wanted to highlight the fact that most Estonians still knit, embroider and make their own cloths. The outcome is always personal, well fitting and defiant of trend and although in different settings I have the same defiance in me.
DD: Loved the zig zag knitted trousers (and scarf) - tell me about the pattern...
Kristian Steinberg: I’m glad you asked! This an old Estonian pattern from the island of Muhu and I deliberately decided not to change it but rather to let it play its part in a contemporary context. It’s worth pointing out that all my knitwear is hand knitted by experienced old ladies from Estonia, so as I’m borrowing their traditional techniques, I make sure that they are the ones benefiting from the sales of those designs.
DD: Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
Kristian Steinberg: The bright blue bouclé jacket with dark gun-metal buttons maybe in a feminine looking fabric, but it’s cut like a uniform and makes you stand like a soldier. The silhouette is ultra masculine and you can’t even drop your head!
DD: Since leaving CSM you've worked for several designers - how come you decided to launch your own label now?
Kristian Steinberg: I have been freelancing for top London designers for four years while developing my own label. It takes a long time to develop a whole new brand and this development is what I enjoy the most in being a creative director of my own label. So, it is no surprise that I have taken my time, developed 3 collections of shirts to test my ideas and philosophy and decided to launch my Estonian inspired collection as Tallinn become the cultural capital of Europe 2011.
DD: Describe the design USP of the brand...
Kristian Steinberg: Kristian Steinberg presents a unique way of cutting and a silhouette that explores the shape of masculinity. The cut is technically innovative and takes influence from both tailoring and sports wear and this mixture of the high-tech and the natural is also reflected in the selection of materials. Kristian also collaborates closely with artists, photographers and musicians to let his brand become a wider platform for creativity and entertainment. The Kristian Steinberg concept speaks therefore loudly to those who are prepared to listen on many levels and among future collections there will always be treats for the keen follower i.e. events, publications or limited edition collectables. It’s all about entertainment, interaction and creative collaborations.
DD: You did a shirt line last year and have long been interested in the shape and technicality of drawing. Do you find that formal wear is at the core of your DNA?
Kristian Steinberg: That is an accurate observation! I’m never casual but I like making formal wear more versatile and adapt it for everyday use. The absolute core to my design philosophy is the shape and the suspense of a perfect line. When I studied pattern cutting it really clicked with me because I adore the graphic beauty of a well-shaped line that will be projected onto a body. This really explains how and why I cut the way I do and lately draping has come into the picture so really my limitations now are very few.
DD: There were strong army influences in the collection - has that always been a strong inspiration for you?
Kristian Steinberg: Yes, I think it has! I used to love my school uniform and I wore my hat with the patent peak covering my eyes feeling very cool. I also had to take part in military exercises as a seven-year-old as I grew up in Soviet Union, so maybe that has something to do with my admiration for uniforms now?
DD: What's next for Kristian Steinberg?
Kristian Steinberg: I’m designing for new clients as we speak and preparing for Merceds-Benz Moscow Fashion Week. There is also a coffee table book and a pop-up shop all planed for 2011, and then of course the new exciting summer collection for 2012.