In this article, Stephanie Hébert, a Montreal-based fashion design student, engages in a conversation with Morgan Kendall about her personal journey and sustainable approach to fashion.
For Montreal-based fashion design student Stephanie Hébert, her practice has always been highly personal: encouraging the discourse between sustainability, vulnerability, and devotion. “It's as if this need or desire to create was like an artist’s own religion,” says Hébert. From a young age, she felt it was her mission to create in response to her own experiences, and especially with her environmental footprint at the forefront; fabricating intricate pieces from charity shop bed sheets, natural woven fibers, and dyes. She incorporates mixed media allowing for exploration beyond the realm of conventional wearability: a more visceral feeling. Inside the artist's latest Devotion collection, she envisions a world of individuality, where each material used is equally as important in context as the message itself. Much like her work, Hébert inspirational sweaters from artists who evoke experimentation and self-expression in its most irrefutable form. Together, we sat down and discussed poetry, authenticity, and her constant appetite for creation.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOU AND YOUR DESIGNS. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR AESTHETIC, AND WHO ARE THESE PIECES FOR?
I express conceptual and personal reflections with subdued hues through my designs, often in black and white. My artistry focuses on craft and mixed media while maintaining an environmentally conscious process. Vast portions of my pieces are constructed by hand, providing intricate sculptural details, giving each single element design. All sourced materials are from natural and recycled fibers, yarns, dyes, paint and clay. As for a proposed consumer, I do not like to narrow down whom these pieces may be for. They are for any individual who identifies with clothing as a means of communication and expression. Whether it be through their materiality, ideation or values of what is presented, they are intended for anyone who may appreciate them.
YOU MENTION THAT THERE IS NO PROPOSED CONSUMER AND THAT YOUR PIECES ARE FOR ANY INDIVIDUAL WHO APPRECIATES AND FINDS A KINSHIP TOWARDS THEM. EVENTUALLY, HOW DO YOU WANT TO SHOWCASE YOUR PIECES TO REACH THESE AUDIENCES?
This question is interesting since it is not something I often reflect on. I prefer ensuring that the pieces are of high quality before thinking of how they will be showcased and shared. I can imagine them presented in environments that provide a space for self-expression. Maybe theatrically, through performances or worn by a musician on stage. These ideas could be interesting since it allows the consumer to peer into a world in which the garments live freely, and seek kinship with the voices and peers who find mutual comfort through these pieces. For now, I prefer to simply work on the craft.
SINCE SUSTAINABILITY HAS PLAYED SUCH A FUNDAMENTAL PART IN YOUR DESIGN PROCESS, HOW CAN YOUR VISION EXPAND WITH THE NOTION OF SUSTAINABILITY AT THE FOREFRONT?
Sustainability remains vital to find my place within fashion. I believe it can evolve to question how we view its practice by evaluating the function of a garment. Clothing in many ways exudes strong forms of communication and self-expression. These functions provide the garments with a validation of their relevance. We do not need more clothing; we need more eccentric thinking and provoking concepts. Integrating functional aspects will allow fashion to be progressive.
WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST INSPIRATIONS?
I look to the past for inspiration. I look to the artists who opposed the norm and have notoriously been considered daring. And for that, Patti Smith has been a huge inspiration. Her fight and devotion to the people is something that I have always been able to relate to. She is an artist who changed music and influenced generations to come. Her repertoire of artistry is admirably well-versed; a poet, performer and activist. I listen to her music constantly, and admire her ability to communicate so eloquently through poetry and all her forms of work; it is something I transcribe through my concepts as well. I respect anti-fashion artists who have come before me and experimental musicians continuously inspire me. Bauhaus being one of these excellent examples since they are pioneers who have influenced new genres in music. They have observed those before them and created an opportunity for progression. Patti Smith’s strong sense of lyricism allows her audience to connect emotionally, while Bauhaus’s sound allows its listeners a sense of escapism; briefly transposed into a new world, thrilling yet profound. In all, I am most inspired by artists who allow for experimentation and self-expression, ones that aim to create the changes they seek.
CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS WHEN CREATING A CONCEPT AND FOLLOWING THROUGH WITH ITS OVERALL EXECUTION?
When creating a concept I look inwards to myself and reflect on my present feelings. I think of what I want to express, whether it be a message, a personal sentiment or a homage. From this initial stage, I begin my research. I find it to be the most thrilling part of the process as I can gather an abundance of information and learn about my subject. I tend to collect images and readings such as essays, excerpts from books, often poems and lyrics to broaden my knowledge around the elements I feel are relevant to my developed theme. I listen to music and sounds, which influence the ideas I am pushing forward, while following through with the execution is crucial, as I want my works to convey a meaningful message. Every element whether woven, painted, sculpted into the garment represents aspects from the initial theme; the weight of the textiles, the sculptural components or the lightness that can provide such a vulnerability to the garments. I tie in the concept in every possible movement; the shape and silhouette, the weight, the cut, the construction. If I want to present vulnerability, I examine the fabric and evaluate its transparency, weight, and ability to reveal itself, all while remaining somewhat reserved through other external materials. I like the details to be thoughtful and well-reflected.
PERSONAL EXPRESSION, EMOTIONS AND EXPERIENCES ARE ALL SOURCES OF INSPIRATION THAT YOU KEEP FALLING BACK ON. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON SOME OF THESE, AND HOW THEY CAME TO FRUITION WITHIN YOUR MOST RECENT COLLECTION?
Personal experiences and present feelings have been a huge vehicle to explore relevant ideations. I process information and signals from my surroundings and translate them through writings, which I refer to during my design process. In my most recent collection titled Devotion, I explore a creator’s purpose with parallels to religion and the underlying sacredness of art. I presented a homage to artists in which I was studying in books and memoirs, which was developed in reaction to my studies coming to an end and my internal debate with fashion being my means of expression. It’s been a continuous theme throughout the past year, which has ultimately led to a great sense of self-discovery when trying to understand my place as a graduate within the industry. My ideas and concepts flourish from personal occurrences and expressions I wish to convey. It allows my work to be authentic and I believe authenticity within fashion can resonate with many.
YOUR PASSION FOR SUSTAINABILITY WITHIN FASHION IS EVIDENT THROUGH YOUR DESIGN PROCESS - WHAT INITIALLY SPARKED INTEREST IN THIS REALM OF THE INDUSTRY?
I do not fully understand the fashion industry and I constantly question my implications within it. I would like to believe fashion could be a realm for art and creativity. Therefore, sustainability naturally presented itself within my process and designs since I felt uninspired to create garments for an industry oversaturated with meaningless waste. I began cutting up used bed sheets I would find in second-hand shops rather than buying new textiles. I repeatedly expanded on the concept using these white linens. Still, the nuances would vary depending on their wear. The textures would differ; some crisp, some soft, but most importantly, the fabric had a story and I simply served as an outsider giving a purpose to an existing, intimate and primal object. This was the introduction that encompassed how I always intend to design. I still use bed sheets along with new textiles locally sourced and made from natural fibers. I also naturally dye my fabrics, most often with nuances of black. I sculpt the notions I sew into my garments. There is a need for sustainability and not solely within fashion. My perspective is slightly pessimistic at times, but perhaps small efforts can make a difference.
IN YOUR EYES, HOW COULD THE INDUSTRY CHANGE IN A WAY THAT WOULD MAKE YOU RESPECT IT FOR WHAT IT IS?
It is so difficult to answer this question concisely, my mind is racing with ideas of change and collecting my thoughts around this has always been a challenge. The industry needs to neglect capitalism. We need to revolt against satisfying people’s conceptions of what is ideal and integrate personal meaning into the act of dressing and self-representation. Often, participants continue to present themselves in the best
light in fear of rejection by our audiences and surroundings. Conformity presents itself here as a means of survival to find acceptance among others. We tend to lose individuality, an aspect, which I find so stimulating when observing fashion. How can we progress by deceiving our identities and trying to become something we’re not? We need to practice shaping our identities and worlds to create a desired future.
ASIDE FROM RE-WORKING RECYCLED MATERIALS, HOW ELSE DO YOUR DESIGNS CONTRIBUTE TO THIS CHANGE? DO YOU HAVE ANY PROJECTS IN THE FUTURE THAT WILL EXPRESS THE ISSUE AT HAND?
I often think of garments made to last. Yet lately, I am interested in garments made to expire. I am toying with the idea of impermanence and I am fascinated by the path and life expectancy of objects. I am looking towards futurism and death. I resonate with the slow decay of items and what may occur to the soul and physical body once they have lived. I also appreciate the beauty of things in a state of transition and the slow unravelling of our surroundings. I like the idea of allowing a piece to slowly dry out over time like a flower that wishes to return to nature.
AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TOWORK IN FASHION? WAS THIS SOMETHING YOU KNEW YOU WANTED FROM A YOUNG AGE?
I think from a young age I wanted to be an artist or a performer. In my adolescence, I instinctively leaned towards fashion. At the time, Rei Kawakubo was a huge inspiration to me. I was fascinated by her radical pieces and understood then that fashion is often misunderstood. Fashion can be genius; it can reach multitudes and break barriers. I was intrigued by fashion’s ability to communicate and to reveal individuality. I then pursued my study of fashion design and have since then adopted another view of the industry. I always wanted to do something that I felt would matter, to make a change or go against a norm either in perspective or in appearance. Because of this, I often question if fashion is my medium to do so. Though my goal remains, I want to create work that inspires people and entices reflection. I still want to be an artist and a performer.
YOU MENTION STILL WANTING TO BE AN ARTIST AND PERFORMER; DO YOU SEE YOUR ARTISTRY EVOLVING WITHIN OTHER INDUSTRIES?
Yes, I see myself evolving and learning from other industries. I used to enjoy writing in school, and recently I have gone back to writing poetry. I recently moved to a new space, which has been so liberating for me. The environment, in which I surround myself, is integral to my creativity. It is equally important to create the space and world you want to live in, as it is to dress the part. I now live beside an incredible friend and muse of mine. She is an intellect who can criticize fashion in the manner it should be challenged. Her chaotic world, in contrast, compliments my life of order. We talk about music, performance, attitude and creating our world. These inspirations allow me to explore writing in a new light. Poetry and toying with the idea of performance have become a great new method of expression, which has been coexisting within my work and overall aesthetic. I like comparing verbal and visual communication by exploring how these methods present the same information differently. I sometimes question the effectiveness of communicating through visual methods rather than reciting or screaming written words, though both seem extremely compelling.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT POETRY THAT HAS BECOME INTRINSIC TO YOUR WORK?
Poetry fascinates me in its ability to communicate a message without blatantly revealing itself, demonstrating artistry and mystery in written language. It completely influences my ideations when creating and developing a concept, since it provides space for daydreaming and for the mind to divulge its thoughts. When sourcing inspiration I reference existing poetry as well as my own, it allows my mind to unravel what I wish to communicate within my work and helps unharness my present feelings and desires. Perhaps poetry is a realm in which I use to escape and revel in the world I wish to create. It enables this fictitious world, dark yet heavenly, and surrounds where I imagine my pieces to inhabit. Most importantly it is incredibly freeing.
IF YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO CREATE YOUR DREAM COLLECTION, WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?
Presently, I am working on incorporating various mixed mediums such as painting, sculpture and developing different textures with the use of various natural raw materials, such as clay. I have been using external projects as inspiration for my pieces. I paint abstract work on canvas using textile scraps from my previous collections and I am working on transmitting these textures or shapes into my designs. I have been sculpting small notions for my garments, all while broadening my knowledge and experience manipulating clay. I am anticipating this research to lead to exploration outside of conventional clothing and fashion. At the same time, I continue to daydream of the following mediums and materials used in subsequent pieces.
YOUR OVERALL ETHOS SEEMS VERY INTENTIONAL AND ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS IN EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE. WHAT INITIALLY GOT YOU INTERESTED IN THESE VIEWS AND WAY OF LIVING?
I’ve always been a very conscious person and I am fortunate to be surrounded by like-minded and thoughtful individuals. However, being conscious does not always entice people to act accordingly.
I think people have difficulties manifesting themselves or their beliefs in a generation filled with an abundance of external influences and information. I feel a certain responsibility to act consciously especially since I have the privilege to do so.
AND HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN SUSTAINABILITY AND LIVING A MORE ECOCONSCIOUS LIFESTYLE, SPECIFICALLY WITHIN FASHION? DO YOU FEEL THAT THESE LIFESTYLE CHOICES SEEPED INTO YOUR DESIGNS?
I wanted to present authenticity and sincerity within my work. My lifestyle choices seeped into my design as an expression of self–to present my sense of identity. This external influence of sustainability was also a sort of rebuttal to the industry’s inherent wastefulness; it is extremely flawed and oversaturated. I want to present something of value. I feel a sense of responsibility to push reflection and critical thinking to help address that fashion can be a method to communicate these values.
CONSIDERING EVERYTHING THAT IS GOING ON IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW, HOW DO YOU THINK THIS WILL AFFECT SUSTAINABILITY OVERALL, ESPECIALLY WITHIN FASHION?
The current situation of the world has been an incredible opportunity for reflection. This past year has been a challenging one where we have felt a shift in values. It seems there’s always been a sense of responsibility to be aware of our actions but the current shift in the world provides a motive to act sustainably. We have a primal need to survive. When this need is met, we feel safe, fulfilled, and perhaps motivated to do something progressive. In this period of isolation and reflection, people are craving human connection. While within fashion, the industry is seeking an outlet to connect with their primitive surroundings and continue to express themselves through dress. Thus, allowing the opportunity for conscious processes and productions to develop. I am uncertain, but I hope ignorance and greed will come apart and the need for sustainability and deeper connections with the way we dress will blatantly unravel itself.
Text Morgan Kendall Images Stephanie Hébert
Design Process Interview originally published in LIGNES DE FUITE Vol.2