With ‘made to be tight’ its unofficial mantra, the London-based label is bringing people together with an image of warped sensuality
Clothing so tight that it acts like a compression vest, stretched panels of lycra haphazardly bandaged around the torso, piped seams that press into the skin and hoick the flesh into position – to wear a piece designed by Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE is to alter the feeling of being in your own body. “When we first started the brand it was all about being sexy in this really obvious, half naked way,” co-founder Alexandra Vincent explains, “but ever since the pandemic, our clothes have become like armour, they cover everything while still making you feel seductive.”
Though the brand “always speaks to sexiness and comfort,” a huge portion of the Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE shopper has an entirely different perspective on the label. “Weirdly we’ve carved out a following in Japan, America, and Canada with all these boys who see Mainline as a technical label. It’s fascinating because they go camping in our puffer jackets but then we also cater to all these East London boys and girls and people in LA who just want mini skirts and tiny bralette vests.” The expansive nature of the brand’s fanbase is a reflection of Vincent, Zarina Bekerova, and Karl Felix’s international footing. Having first come together while working in Berlin – from Montreal, Russia, and the Bavarian countryside, respectively – even the brand’s name, a mash-up of its founders’ home country codes, is an ode to continent-crossing.
All three of the creative directors are now based in North East London but that philosophy remains unchanged. “We call ourselves a nationless society but whereas our early collections looked at how travel can bring people together, that’s not really present anymore. It's more about asking ‘What does it mean to be connected in a world that’s only just coming out of a pandemic?’,” Felix says. Indeed, since its inception, the label has found a protagonist in the kind of businessmen who emerge from airport terminals in crumpled suits and skew-whiff shirts – that and sexed-up dog walkers. And yet, Vincent, who heads up design with Bekerova, insists that she’s not inspired whatsoever by what the people around her wear. “Personally I think more about what I might want to wear more than putting out this super fun image that others are going to find sexy.”
It’s an ethos shared by the likes of KNWLS, GmbH, and Ottolinger, who have built a shared vocabulary on second-skin fabrics, freeform seams, and serpentine cut-outs. While these designers create work charged with eroticism, there is a hardness to their clothing that inspires a feeling of safety, like in the warped piping that vines throughout Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE’s Pre-Fall offering, giving the looks a “corset-like feel”, as Bekerova says. That same collection is the subject of a new film, which follows a group of strangers as they brave the elements, schlepping across cliffed coasts and rolling fields before coming together in poetic unison. Think of it as an abstract retelling of how Vincent, Felix, and Bekerova first entered each other’s lives, vis-à-vis The Blair Witch Project.
“It’s a reintroduction to Mainline, exploring what it means to find connection and stay connected,” Felix, who directed the short, says. “Those Apple headphones, for example, which appear in a couple of scenes, are such an important symbol of that – we’re the first generation to even have the ability to be so connected. Nowadays you can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Like, 16 nationalities worked on the film, so it was as if we had created this new civilisation within different civilisations – a nationless group of people all connected with each other.” They so easily could have been torn apart, however, with Storm Eunice threatening to blow the whole thing open. “I'm actually very happy that we all survived.”
But, almost everything can be improved with a wind machine and the film’s tormentous conditions only underscore just how good the clothes really are – with laddered column dresses, gnarly puffers, and sheath-like stretch jersey whipped up around the body in a furious gust of wind. “I remember thinking ‘this is so beautiful’. There’s power, movement, and there’s just something very sexy about it – whatever that means,” Vincent says, “That’s something all three of us agree on.”
Directed by Karl Felix, Styled by Alexandra Vincent and Zarina Bekerova, Hair Stylist Katsuya Kachi, Make-Up Artist Iga Wasylczuk, Models Jang Qi, Vakarė Ste, Jason Gomes and Andrey Costa, Producer Bryanna Kelly, Director of Photography Scott Jones, Sound Eleftheria Orfanidou, Casting Directors Kyra Sophie, Sarah Benjamin and Marissa Baklayan, Editor and Colour-Grador Karl Felix, 1st AC Kai Newton, 1st Assistant Photography Oli Matich, Camera Trainee Kiren Foster, and Production Assistant Brianna Dennis.