Designer Rejina Pyo is an understated London fashion week powerhouse. Pyo dominates the street-style scene, celebrates the daily ritual and shuns short-term trends for designs that stand the test of time. Her A/W 20 collection was a celebration of strength in uncertain climes, a darker mood but a stronger feel and one that exemplifies her knack for making the mundane extraordinary. Here, Pyo and Georgina Evans discuss her latest collection and the world around it.
Georgina Evans: The A/W 20 collection was such a standout for me. Given the times we are in now it's such a coincidence that the collection felt so much about everyday perseverance and resilience.
Rejina Pyo: I mean before the virus we had Brexit - which I feel like we've forgotten about - and climate change and America has Trump and it just felt like we can't turn a blind eye and ignore this. We can't be women taking a backseat or waiting to be saved by other people, we need to save ourselves. The collection was a reaction towards what was happening and was trying to show the change of attitude. It wasn't a feeling of sadness or defeat, it was more like determination and also the observation of what's happening around us. It's a collection that I didn't actually have a lot of art influences other than Harry Gruyaert the photographer. He had this unique ability to express what was happening around him, capturing that moment. It could be a Russian woman going to the supermarket, it isn't anything special, but in his pictures, he captures it so perfectly. That kind of mundane routine, seeing it in a special way, that was the through link. I really felt like I didn't want to be living in a fantasy. The inspiration came from the world that we live in, it wasn't '15th-century something' or anything like that, it's a wake-up call.
GE: If we think about S/S 20, there was this sweet local library for the set, but for A/W 20, showing in a tunnel in London Bridge, there's a grit to it.
RP: We had such a hard time to find the venue. We never create or work with a massive set. By creating it, I'm just going to have to throw it away the next day because we created another unnecessary waste. We tend to prefer to work with the existing architecture. There are so many amazing buildings in London, the tunnel was one of those that you don't actually notice unless you go to the rave party there every month! You can really feel the raw energy when you think about the cracks in the bricks that have been there for centuries, and have probably been there and seen all the protests and things happening. Also, this was the first time we did an e-vite. For a long time, I felt really bad to be a part of the fashion industry, which they say is the most polluting. Luckily, our Managing Director Renee, my friend from Central Saint Martins 11-years-ago, she's been working in sustainability research for years. She's amazing, she has taught me so much about what we can do. It can be overwhelming when you think 'What can I do, what change can I make?' Nothing can happen overnight but we're swapping the cotton to organic cotton and polyester can be recycled polyester and cashmere can be regenerated cashmere or alpaca instead. There's a lot that you can do and we're just doing what we can behind the scenes.
GE: It's making that the normal. There's such a lifestyle approach to your brand that I think that move into sustainability really resonates.
RP: I'm just really interested in everything that's related to our everyday life. From the living space to the clothing we wear, to the food we eat. And, you know, it's one of the things that people might say 'Oh, I'm not really into food or fashion,' but that's what they have to do every day. It's a big part of your life. I really want people to keep my pieces for a long time too. Hand them over to daughters and their sisters and things like that. It becomes almost like vintage.
GE: There are so many unisex pieces too. Was this collection the second time you did menswear?
RP: Exactly. People call it menswear because it's on a man I guess. We were missing the kind of pieces that you just throw on on the weekend. I found that a lot of our girls in the studio, including myself, loved wearing their boyfriend's or husband's clothes because they're oversized and simple. I wanted to have something that can be shared between men and women. It was difficult to show that it's unisex on a female model so show it on a man. I think people were like 'Oh Rejina Pyo's doing menswear,' but it's not a full collection. I have to say actually, the knitwear and coats, the outers and jeans, they're unisex-ish. I am having a lot of fun designing this and my next aim is kidswear!
GE: The colours are so layer-able, this season it was as if they were pulled from Harry's photography.
RP: Exactly! It's a bit washed out and in the analogue shades that you can find in the photography. The tones in Moscow, he had a lot of clashing colours and patterns and it looked so beautiful. I tried to have that in the collection to show strong women. Kind of a weird mix!
GE: How are you at the moment, are you brainstorming or relaxing?
RP: I think this time has given us the opportunity to really review what we value, what's a priority. You can get into a trap, getting in the cycle of having to put something out there. It's given time for myself and my team to go through what's important. It's nice to value family and close relations too. The friendships that you have, even though you speak through a screen, you can still laugh and make fun and do stupid games. I'm trying to see the positive side. You need to be present with what you have.