Empathy, connection, play and reconnection are all prominent factors in René Scheibenbauer’s creative process. Conducting his research through performance and art-therapy workshops, the fashion label aims to create a space that allows self-reflection and self-exploration while building a community to grow within.
While the fashion industry functions seasonally on its traditional calendar, the London-based label defies the industry standard by operating on a market structure of its own. “Having one show and one capsule allows our team to place the most emphasis on the show, while the capsules are intended to offer a reinterpretation of the show, which demonstrates how pieces can be worn in different ways and can last a long time, rather than frequently reinventing a whole new collection,” the designer says. From abstract shirting to sculptural outerwear, René Scheibenbauer’s garments call for self-exploration, functionality and infinite possibilities.
As an emerging designer, what has been your greatest takeaway from your academic and professional background?
I began studying in Austria at a technical fashion school, which I’m really grateful for because thanks to it I’ve grasped a more technical approach to making clothes, pattern cutting and tailoring.
When I was studying at Central Saint Martins, I noticed a big contrast in comparison to my last academic experience. I appreciate the diversity of people and all the different approaches to design. I was constantly having different conversations and contrasting opinions about how things could work. Studying at CSM can be challenging in a way because you’re almost on your own and have to pave your own path, but this was a good thing for me because I already had a background in a more technical aspect, and it was really great to merge my past experiences with new opportunities.
Graduating from Central Saint Martins, do you believe that school can limit the creativity of emerging designers or does creativity become an academic discipline entirely?
I think academia in fashion design and in the creative industries in general is really good. I say this because there are so many different people you’ll come across and so many ways to evolve in these environments. However, when I look back now that I’m running a business, I notice how school may have felt like a little bubble because there weren’t many rules or a direct connection to reality or to the times today. This is pretty interesting though because it is kind of the core of fashion but it was something I didn’t feel as much in university as I do now.
Your namesake label allows viewers to question functionality. How would you define your brand? Who is the ideal customer for René Scheibenbauer, if any?
The ideal definition can be that the brand creates a space that allows for self-reflection and self-exploration while building a community to grow and nurture within. Regarding the ‘ideal’ customer, we are currently building a community and learning about everyone individually, which is what influences our work. As I’ve been working with many different people, I’ve learnt that there are many different identities to learn from.
That being said, I guess I can say that the brand targets individuals in the creative industries who might be interested in mindfulness practices or who have an interest in specific aesthetics or culture. My work often bridges elegant tailoring with something more casual and dynamic, so I think the brand appeals to individuals who want to wear an item in different contexts since it can offer something more leisure-like and professional at the same time.
With a holistic approach behind designing your graduate collection, what was the primary motive behind the use of art-therapy focus groups? 
Shortly before starting my final year, I did a lot of meditation and went to some retreats because I wanted to prepare myself really well and be receptive and present. I guess, automatically and naturally, my work wanted to create a similar space to these experiences, which conveyed a message of self-reflectiveness and mindfulness. Once I began my process, I started creating abstract shapes – my motivation was for it to be therapeutic where I can offer a tool that someone can play with, something that has endless opportunities and absorbs you.
At first I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to merge this idea with fashion but I found a way to create this link through my group sessions as I was able to look at what attendees wore, and I used this to fuel my research. After my final year, I asked the models to bring the garments that make them feel really comfortable or something that makes them feel attractive. This was very interesting since it gave everyone the opportunity to dress for themselves but also to be looked at. Throughout this process, I analyzed everything about their choices and was able to understand the stories built around these pieces. This is my link to fashion as it allows individuals to truly understand how visual identities exist around the body.
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How do you find the appropriate balance between experimentation and wearability?
I’ve always wanted to make something that could be seen later on the street and something that people want to wear. Even if there are abstract shapes in my work, it can be brought to something wearable in many ways. I don’t think much about wearability as it’s something that comes naturally.
In your opinion, what is most important in a garment for it to feel good on the body?
I guess the way a garment fits is what comes to mind instantly. However, I think functionality is very important; for instance, what kind of movements would you like the garment to adapt to or allow you to do? Part of my workshop has a lot to do with movement, and I think it’s interesting to see how clothing can create comfort in how we are seeking it, but also how clothing can create restriction. Of course, materials and aesthetics are very relevant as they are what brings together the touch and the look of the garment and how it relates to the body.
Given the experimental take present in your work, do you have a starting point and medium when working on designs, or are they mainly created on a trial-and-error basis?
When I start a new project, I begin by deciding what I want to cultivate through an array of emotions. My project from last September was created to offer a space or a process that was very grounding and comforting, but at the same time, questioned what comfort really brought to an individual. For me, having an inspiration as a starting point, whether it’s abstract or not, is very important because this is where I can begin evolving my process. In my past workshops, I’ve tried to let the whole process flow naturally and not have too much control over them, so I have many outcomes to experiment with.
Based on your latest work, how would you describe the method behind your unconventional approach to design?
I believe what’s most important is to understand how a whole experience can be created when presenting a collection. By this, I mean finding the best method to fuse the music with the space and the characteristics of the garments and how they are presented. This is interesting to me because it isn’t just about a collection of clothing; it’s more about the creativity behind the whole production, how obstacles are overcome and how to build the perfect space to bring people together.
As you’ve worked directly with performers, what do you believe is the most interesting aspect behind the psychological relationship we have with garments or objects?
It’s very nice to see how many diverse approaches and understandings there are in relation to clothing. For instance, when I asked models to bring garments that made them feel attractive, it was interesting to see someone wear something tight that allowed more visibility of the body, while the other chose to wear a pop of colour and wanted to be a little more covered up. Or seeing a model wearing a delicate silky skirt paired with a really heavy pair of boots, which might’ve made them feel grounded. It’s very interesting to see how an individual’s personality is embedded in the choices of garments they wear; someone might speak about a family member and how a certain garment they wear might take them back to a specific point in time.
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When developing new concepts and searching for materials, are there elements you look for in particular?
In my process, I prioritize sustainable materials. Because of this, a lot of these materials aren’t available to me because there are factories that still produce massive quantities, which is not necessarily something I want to work with. Additionally, when I look for materials, I like to look for something that’s crisp and has a strong structure but feels modern, like cotton that is sculpted and might seem papery but also very tactile. I’m also looking into more traditional materials meant for tailoring that are functional and sporty at the same time.
What is your approach to sustainability and how do you plan on maintaining this in the future as your brand keeps growing?
Right now, I find it really hard to have two seasons and two collections per year. When I started off, I didn’t want to do that; I started working on having one show and one capsule, which allows our team to place the most emphasis on the show, working with performers and having workshops. After that, the capsules are intended to offer a reinterpretation of the show, which demonstrates how pieces can be worn in different ways and can last a long time, rather than frequently reinventing a whole new collection.
Honestly, styling is very powerful and it’s interesting to show how different a garment can look from the way it’s styled during a show versus how it may be presented later in a capsule. I do want to work around a different market structure.
Besides the workshops and research conducted behind the scenes, are there other artistic disciplines that inspire your work?
Dance is quite relevant. There are lots of people in my community that are dancers and I’m highly inspired by dance as an art form and as a language. It’s interesting to observe how choreographers create pieces and understand their physicality given that there are so many different elements that are all so relevant – like how an individual interacts with a space or how people relate to you in a particular space.
In terms of inspiration, Agnes Martin is one artist that definitely inspires me. I’ve been to her exhibit at Tate Modern in London – it was such a different world and gave me an understanding of the creativity I was looking for. By this, I mean that it gave me insight on how to work with my own experiences and notions instead of looking for references from past decades, which is something that the fashion industry does quite often.
Given the organic nature of your work, how do you hope to see your brand evolve in years to come?
I want to keep looking at this as a multidisciplinary space. I would like to keep my approach on how I create my collections and continue to constantly find sustainable ways of developing the brand. However, I don’t feel a huge urge to grow too fast since I still want to keep learning about how the industry works and what my space within the industry is. This also depends on where the industry is heading… I hope there is a lot of change coming.
Any last words?
Yes, I wanted to shed some light on the current climate within the industry and my work. Focusing on the emotional connection with our clothing has been an integral part of the brand’s DNA since the start. When I developed my first project, I established this connection through tactile and visceral elements, which were explored through choices of materials, cuts and fit. While developing my practice further and extending the brand’s research through community groups, the focus on emotional connection to clothing has grown immensely since it embraces identity, personal intentions and needs.
The conversations I’ve had with my community pose a strong emphasis on their own choices of clothing and their intentions behind it as clothing can be used to align with emotions and daily intentions. For instance, some days you may feel determined to get things done and choose to wear something that makes you feel more stable. When choosing this kind of outfits, functionality is required because of the work you are planning to put in. However, you may feel the need for space and relaxation on other days, and perhaps an individual with a very busy lifestyle may require all of these elements in one item.
That being said, I am aiming to provide a space that gives individuals an understanding of their personal needs and how they can translate them given their choice of clothing, and allow them to value their own clothing and identity. Today, I believe it is more and more important for individuals to establish an emotional connection with clothing and choose to wear particular garments as long as their personal needs are fulfilled. The clothes we wear carry our own stories directly on our skin.
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