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Victorinox & Christopher Raeburn

Premiered during New York Fashion Week, the Swiss lifestyle brand has hooked up with the young Brit designer for an edgy and well-made capsule collection of reused army fabrics for the luxury market

In an inspired move, Swiss luxe alpine wear brand and pocket knife experts Victorinox have hired Brit designer Christopher Raeburn to design a capsule collection for Autumn Winter 2011. Consisting of only eight pieces - one of which is Raeburn's own take on the famous Swiss army knife - the young London creative has managed to merge his forward thinking design aesthetic with the heritage and tradition of the 127 year old brand. 'Remade in Switzerland' is the result of Raeburn travelling to Victorinox's home country to go through an extensive number of army surplus stores in Ibach, the birthplace of Victorinox founder Karl Elsener. Not only did Raeburn source the fabrics for his collection there, but he also managed to find the original house in which Elsener started the brand, and it was there that Raeburn chose to establish his Swiss LAB to produce the 100 pieces of each style by hand.

Using existing shapes and vintage fabrics, it was up to Raeburn to bring together his sophisticated design details with the over a century long manufacturing expertise of the Victorinox staff, some of who featured as models in Raeburn's installation during New York Fashion Week. Cleverly bringing together fashion with music, film and photography, the presentation had something for everyone. The stop motion films that had been made for each item in the collection were especially impressive, and the music was put together using only "sounds generated from actual recordings of garments and equipment" during the manufacturing process.

The collection consisted of a heavy wool coat with a detachable hood, a zip detailed parka, a cocoon blouson-esque puffa, waist long thin jackets in parachute fabrics, wool scarves, hats, and a backpack. There was, as mentioned, a Christopher Raeburn pocket knife in the collection as well, and lots of... nails! Metal nails, marked with the Swiss cross, were printed on many items and worked as the coherent print symbol throughout Raeburn's focused and well-made A/W outing. Although strictly limited in numbers, 'Remade in Switzerland' is the perfect result of this interesting design collaboration. Raeburn, of course, is already famous for his reused army fabrics and Victorinox has the means of putting them in to widespread practice. Together, they can achieve great things and maybe even crack that age old nut of how to make a warm winter feel completely unique while still doing its job and keeping you warm...

Dazed Digital: How did the collaboration come about?
Christopher Raeburn:
 A brand consultant for Victorinox suggested I'd work with them. Lots of brands have asked me to collaborate but none of them resonated with me in the way that Victorinox did. It evoked childhood memories of being given a knife by my two older brothers. I've collected the knifes throughout the years and we use them in the studio.

DD: Why did you use Victorinox staff as models?
Christopher Raeburn:
 People are proud and happy to work for Victorinox, and these guys embody the brand. They just had the right character. We didn't want to use archetypical catalogue models, I liked the lo-fi way of presenting the collection.

DD: Why did you feel it was so important to mix the clothes with music, film and photo in the presentation?
Christopher Raeburn:
 I really like this holistic design concept, it's an all-encompassing way of looking at it, and we created a brand within a brand. I also think this sort of presentation helps elevate the product, it added value. Today, many young designers fail with their presentation... the product might be good but they don't have it all covered!

DD: What were your first impressions of the brand, were you aware of it before the collaboration?
Christopher Raeburn:
I'd been to the Bond Street store and always appreciated the level of quality, and there's elements of innovation, but design-wise it presented an opportunity for me to bring in my own aesthetic to give it a new dimension and a European thought process since the clothes are designed in New York.

DD: Why do you think Victorinox approached you?
Christopher Raeburn:
I do what they do but on a small scale; the quality, trying to establish a brand, a sustainable approach to fashion. I'm hoping that they saw in me and my brand a label with longevity, since they have been around for ages themselves.

DD: What happened after you said yes to work with Victorinox, what was the next step?
Christopher Raeburn:
I wanted to continue the work I've done in the UK so I came up with the idea of 'Remade in Switzerland'. So I went to the their Swiss factories and also visited army surplus stores in the area, which is where we got all the fabrics from. I was also shown the original house where the Victorinox founder Karl Elsener started the brand 127 years ago. So I thought 'we've found the fabrics and our factory, let's do the production here!'

DD: Tell me about the collection, it's eight pieces...
Christopher Raeburn:
It's seven clothing pieces and the knife. Each item is made in 50 for women and 50 for men...

DD: Where did the orange come from - one would have thought that red and white were the Victorinox colours of choice...
Christopher Raeburn:
It's the original colour of the parachute - we haven't dyed or manipulated anything. It's actually not from jump parachutes, but from the kind that are used as jet breaks from the back of aeroplanes. They are cross shaped and that's part of design...

DD: There's a strong visual print in the collection, the nails - how did that come about?
Christopher Raeburn:
It's the symbol for the whole collection. They'll come in box of 100 nails and originally they were used to stamp in horse shoes. It's an elegant - yet painful looking nail - with the Swiss flag marked in. I like them, they're simple and efficient. But Victorinox have also melted the nails and used the metal to create our pocket knifes.

DD: Talk me through the fabrics... there's the  parachute jackets and the sleeping bag puffas...
Christopher Raeburn:
Yes, the parka is actually made of the sleeping bag's outer shell, a slightly harder and rougher fabric. Even the zips are re-used and sourced in Switzerland.

DD: The heavy wool coat with the detachable hood looks like the most work has gone into...
Christopher Raeburn:
Yeah, it's a Captain's Coat, made from original grey coats and Swiss field jackets. As we deconstruct the pieces, we look at how we most efficiently can put it together again through re-paneling it and building around zips and pockets.

DD: Eight pieces all in all, it seems very much to be about quality over quantity...
Christopher Raeburn:
Yeah, it was important for both me and Victorinox to gain trust and make sure it got off to a good start.

DD: Next question is obvious then - is this a continuous project?
Christopher Raeburn:
We're really keen on continuing the project in one way or another... the collection might be developed in another way but I definitely think the enthusiasm is there from both sides.

DD: Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
Christopher Raeburn:
I really like the cocoon blouson, and I enjoyed making the bag as well. But the knife is of course a highlight as well...