After getting kicked out of two top fashion universities, Christoph Ritter realised the amount of toxicity that surrounded the fashion industry, which motivated him to take a different and more ethical approach in designing. With bold colours and extravagant shapes, the London-based designer dedicates his most recent collection, Al(ly)ien, to the nightlife that we all miss, turning discarded waste into high-quality clubwear pieces inspired by youth cultures of the past. He talks about his fascination with rave culture, eBay and aliens, all whilst keeping sustainability in mind.
Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing? Was it thanks to your childhood that you decided to take up fashion as a career or did you explore this world later on in life?
I was born in a tiny Austrian village near the Hungarian border but I grew up in Vienna. My upbringing could not have been further away from the fashion world as a village kid. I went to a quite conservative Catholic private school, where everyone around me came from much wealthier families and kids as young as 12 were dressed in Moncler and Hermès. I definitely had a hard time with the hand-me-down pieces that I was wearing. Since I couldn’t afford any designer clothes I started questioning what all that fuss what about. I began drawing my own, which quite quickly turned into an obsession and I guess now my profession.
You have quite an extensive education in the world of fashion having studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Polimoda in Florence and Central Saint Martins in London. How did this intake of knowledge and experience lead you to create your brand and what it stands for?
Like many other hopeful fashion students, I hoped for enlightenment, direction and nurturing. Although I worked extremely hard, I ended up being a very bad student and got kicked out of two of these schools. In hindsight, this is what pushed me to question the system we all try so hard to be part of. I realised that this industry in its current state is quite toxic and dismissive, which I want to overcome. I am eager to fight all the viciousness I have encountered and witnessed there with radical inclusion, appreciation and love for everyone who is involved in the fashion that I am creating.
Your designs focus on the phenomena of nightlife and rave culture. Are there any specific events in youth culture history that inspire your creations?
Youth cultures definitely play a major role in my research. The fact that every generation has its own battles where young people get together to change the status quo is fascinating. Especially the love and energy that you can experience at raves and parties play a major role in what I do. Obviously, movements such as Punks and the New Romantics are a great source of inspiration but also today’s Extinction Rebellion movement is exciting. They are driven by radical ideals, guided by some madness and willing to piss everyone off. What more could you want?
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Your designs have consistently been full of colour and extravagant shapes since day one. Is this style something that you resonate with on a more personal level?
Being quite shy and easily intimidated in my teenage years, it took me a lot of intense nights at raves and parties to get out of my shell and enjoy expressing myself through the clothes that I wear. For me, daring to wear colours and textures that demand and deserve attention has been a journey to being more liberated and more confident. I really do believe that wearing these clothes can and will change your life for the better.
The mission of your label is to “push glamorous clubwear into the age of sustainable, ethical and transparent creation.” How do you approach the concept of sustainability through your designs?
Sustainability for me is not only about damage control and minimising pollution, but rather about using fashion as a vehicle to clean up to planet and to improve the world we live in. For me, it goes further than just material sourcing and recycling – I believe that we need to start treating the people around us with respect and dignity. I want to create pieces that are empowering and a joy for everyone involved and that clean up the planet meanwhile.
There has been an increase in awareness from consumers on the damages of the fashion industry to the environment. Many brands are now focusing on making their products eco-friendlier and more sustainable but at the same time, have created a void between what is considered sustainable and what is seen as aesthetically pleasing and ‘trendy.’ What do you think of the stereotypical style of sustainable fashion today? Does this motivate your designs in some way?
I absolutely agree! The reason why I started my collections was that I saw that a big part of fashion consumers – especially glamorous club kids – were ignored by sustainable fashion designers. It was, and to a certain degree, still is a lot about patchwork, vegetable dyes, natural fabrics or turning waste into a wearable version of itself. I see a gap in the market that is about clothing that is made from discarded materials that look more pristine and more glam than even high fashion brands. This is what my clothes are all about. I believe the magic is in what you cannot see.
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You use forgotten textiles and materials for your creations. Where do you find and source them from?
I love eBay! There is so much leftover yarn, beads, threads, ribbons and just random stuff that people don’t have any use for anymore and I feel like I am getting most of it. Besides that, I reach out to textile companies, other designers and factories and simply ask if they have cut-offs, leftovers from overproduction and a lot of times they do and are happy to share.
The pandemic forced us to host runway shows and catwalks virtually. This could definitely be an opportunity for fashion labels to go crazy and hold fun shows without the issue of sustainability. Do you have anything up your sleeve that you would like to bring to life?
Since the first shutdown, there have been so many amazing ways designers have used to showcase their work and I believe that some of them will keep challenging traditional runway shows.
As for other projects, I have been working on a fashion film, which was a fun experience. Currently, some friends and I are planning a fashion party, which will be partly in real life and partly virtual. My pieces are all about nightlife and parties, which are still illegal at this time. I really love to see my clothes on people who are dancing and fully enjoying themselves.
You appreciate the act of meeting and talking to a variety of different people from all over the world. Is this something that you actively get inspiration from for your designs? Do you feel like this act of socialising and experiencing is interlinked with the bold colours and eccentric shapes of your work?
Definitely! I find people who are completely different from me extremely inspiring. I love finding out how they party and what they want to create. I am quite sociable and collaborating with others normally pushes the boldness and eccentricity – perhaps because I want to share with them what clothes can do for you on a personal level. No one who ever worked with me ever had to make basic white t-shirts but rather ended up making a six sleeved jumper or alien slime gloves.
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Your 2021 collection Al(ly)ien was developed throughout the pandemic. What would you say is the biggest difference you have experienced in developing designs since Covid-19, creative-wise?
I really believe that limitation is the biggest creative fuel one can have. The abundance of options often leads to creative lethargy. I believe my work has become much more focused and more imaginative than before the pandemic. Probably because I really hate the lockdown and am now creating for a post-covid world. It really motivated me to be less careful with the fashion establishment and more excited about replacing it with positivity and fun.
Simply the name of this collection is already so intriguing. Do you have any particular interests in aliens or intergalactic species?
I do! One of my favourite films growing up was E.T.; I live for when people are debating if aliens are among us without us knowing. I would love that!
What are your plans for the future? Are there any major sustainable fashion projects that you are planning that we should be on the lookout for?
I have a couple of projects I am working on at the moment. I just teamed up with Reture – a new upcycling platform – and am currently planning on launching a capsule collection with them, which is really exciting. We will be showcasing our Al(ly)en fashion film during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia very soon. I am also working on a new fashion film and of course new collection all with a major focus on sustainability, fairness and transparency.
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