For Sruli Recht, design is a science and fashion is forensic. The Reykjavik, Iceland-based designer has meticulously experimented with unconventional materials such as whale and kangaroo foreskin. Not to mention, he once surgically removed a strip of his own skin to create the polarizing “Forget Me Knot” leather ring which retailed for approximately $390,000 USD. With that being said, it’s not a stretch to compare the highly-imaginative designer to one of our favorite horror villains, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
The ways in which the fictional, forensic psychiatrist prepares the meat of his victims is quite similar to the boundary-pushing methods that Recht utilizes to produce a fine leather item. Why the unusual practices? “When something is uncomfortable it is invariably new. As such, my creative barometer guides me via those particular things that excite me or make me uncomfortable,” Recht told HYPEBEAST.
Aside from his seasonal apparel collections, Recht is also widely-known for his “Non Products”—hauntingly beautiful objects that are either hand-tooled or machine-made that would make zero sense to mass produce. One example is his “Carradina” piece which is an asphyxiation belt made from dolphin skin. Although he creates these bizarre skin products, Recht is still an upstanding gentleman. Yes, much like Lecter. He’s a refined designer who has finessed 3D printing and laser cutting techniques to produce something extraordinary out of 100% organic materials.
We sat down with the madcap couturier to discuss the “world’s first” translucent leather collection he made in collaboration with Dutch imprint, ECCO Leather, alongside talks of origins, inspirations and all the sinisterly brilliant projects he’s currently working on. Take a look at the full interview below and then head over to Sruli Recht’s official website to view more projects.
Innovation and controversy seem to go hand-in-hand with your creations. What are your motivations behind the unconventional designs you produce?
It’s probably easier to describe it more as reactions than motivations. I react to things, temporal or physical. And those reactions spark ideas which most often become objects as defined by narrative. We are all very sensitive to the world – time, people, objects, temperature… and so, constant reactions, because we are always flanked by those catalysts. Paying attention to how you react to them is the key.
Design is entertainment, and designers are entertainers. What appeals to us, appeals to us because of the story it is telling. These stories in the collections, they are in a sense autobiographical. The themes have a basis in something that was happening around me at the time.
When I get into a particular mood, I write the story poetry before beginning the collection design, and pull the characters and palettes from that. The prose informs the collection development in every way, from texture through to the construction features and up to the runway presentation.
What’s the creative process like and what tools do you use?
I think a lot. I just keep thinking until things collide. When that happens, I write. And when I get super excited about what I’ve written I usually fold things into forms. So mostly brain, emotion, paper, scissors, modelling clay and small-scale mannequins.
Once the concept is at a stage that is relevant I work with a small team of very patient and talented people to bring it to reality. I’m blessed to have partners that are incredibly good at what they do with brand direction and company vision, and also have made a good habit to shield me from most of the anxieties of production and administration stuff. As a creative that’s pretty important.
Can you tell us about your fascination with skin?
It’s all around us, hard to use, and challenging to interpret in new ways.
What sort of backlash have you received from using the aforesaid materials? Any interesting stories?
The strongest reactions are on design websites, the comment sections where frustrations let loose, mostly by other designers that you would expect support from. I usually try not to feed the trolls by engaging with their epic and bottomless darkness. I think people don’t realize just how hard it can be to bring a material or product to market – simply achieving commerce should get you a handshake. But it always gets so… personal.
Then there are moments of beauty, wonderful phrases people write about what you do that teaches you more about what you’ve made, and it’s context/relevance than you realized. I love that. Also, I was once asked to make pendant earrings out of someone’s testicles.
Alexander McQueen is desperately missed. What important life lessons did you learn from working with him?
That you can always afford to be kind to people.
You recently created the “world’s first translucent leather” collection for ECCO Leather. How did this project come about? How did you decide on using cowhide leather?
When we started this, we assumed it could take several years. But ECCO Leather believed that there was value in developing translucent leather beyond what artisanal brand could do with it. During these innovation marathons, the question came up whether it was truly possible to achieve this type of thing, soft, non-funky, and a non-tearing leather that wasn’t the color of various stages of oxidizing urine.
It made sense of course that if we could replace plastics with leather the luxury market would be more inclined to use it, too. The first coat we made from this leather is still soft after a year and half of testing.
How does this collection differentiate from other translucent leather collections out there?
The first thing to do is ask “how is this different from other incarnations of translucent leather we have seen?” All skins during the tanning process become translucent at a certain stage before the final tanning process. Vellum, for example, a well-known form of translucent skin, was used in the past for bookbinding, and this is where other designers, including myself, have used it to create objects and garments, yet these skins are not finished or stable in the same sense that leather is. No doubt several tanneries, students, designers have presented other types of skin with spectral qualities. You will probably see comments on posts about the APPARITION leather that it is not new or innovative, however, this comes most likely from not skimming headline and not reading further into the article.
Let’s be clear – this is the first successful cow skin. That is a big deal for the industry. This means the skins are 4-8 times larger than what has been available before. In production, there are always limitations of material dimensions. Coats, like you see in these images, are made from one uninterrupted skin, one pattern piece. That is amazing. The scale of material affects the design in every way. If we had used smaller skins it would have required a very different design approach, busier, more seams, a different type of work.
What’s your favorite piece from the ECCO Leather collection?
It’s probably the coats. And some of the other objects that weren’t part of the first release.
Is there a new material that you’re really interested in pushing the boundaries with?
Yes, that interest would apply to any material I can get my hands on. But more than anything right now, mycelium.
What are you working on currently?
So many secrets. So many. Though I can tell you one of them – the next ECCO Leather project will be released soon. Like APPARITION, that will also be a new class of leather. In addition, there is developments for a new collection for Norlan, a brand that I helped launch in 2015. It will be a deeper exploration into the rituals of whisky drinking through a series of modern products.