As soon as we arrive in Oskar Metsavaht’s atelier, we are caught up in a flurry of models, make-up artists and stylists who are getting ready for a fitting session of the new Osklen collection.
In the main studio, racks of clothing are lined up along the walls and studio lighting has been set up in front of a makeshift catwalk. Several Osklen staff members are sitting on the floor surrounded by sketchbooks, cameras and laptops.
Leaning back in a black director’s chair at the far end of the room, Oskar is critically sizing up a slender black model in a dark-green voile dress. His fashion coordinator Juliana Suassana walks over to the model and pulls up the skirt. “It needs to be shorter at the back,” she says just as Oskar notices us standing by the door. “Come in, come in!” he beckons. “Welcome! We’re just starting!”
We join Oskar and Juliana and watch the next model head down the runway in a long black and gold dress with a low back.
At our previous meeting on Arpoador Beach, Oskar told us about his vision of Brazil as a global role model for sustainability. He sees it as his personal mission to make sustainability cool, and to make the sustainable lifestyle something that people want to be a part of.
Oskar gets up and goes over to the model in the middle of the room. He gently tugs at the dress to expose more of the girl’s back, while Juliana pins the material down into this new shape. “I find women’s backs very sensual,” Oskar says as he turns to us with a smile. He takes a step back and considers the adjustments before sending the model off to the photo shoot in the next room.
“Let me show you how we work,” he says and leads us to a table in the corner where a series of design sketches and photos are laid out. “These are the design sketches for the new collection. Every time one of these outfits has been fitted, we send the model over to the photo studio and we replace the sketch with a photo. And by the end of the day, we have a collection!”
“I don’t know how you do it,” I say, leafing through a photo portfolio of previous collections. “Where do you get your inspiration? It must be such a challenge to keep developing a new concept that fits within your broader vision.”
The secret of Oskar’s inspiration
Oskar lowers his voice as if he’s about to let us in on a secret: “Osklen draws its inspiration from the Rio way of life – a balance between the simplicity of nature and urban sophistication. I get inspiration from many sources: a natural phenomenon, a personal experience… oceans, the Amazon, wind, rain…
“For instance, the first idea for the Vento collection came during a party on a Rio rooftop where I was observing the wind playing with people’s clothes. I started thinking about it: wind has no colour or form, so how do you design clothes on the theme of wind?”
“It seems that with every collection you are taking your designs and the message they carry to a higher level,” Maarten says.
“I guess that’s true,” Oskar says pensively. “The further I explore the theme of sustainability, the more I have come to realise that it is not just about ecology and nature, but that there are strong cultural and historical elements as well. For years, I have wanted to explore the theme of Brazil’s cultural heritage, but I never found the right spark to make it happen.”
Maarten smiles with an air of disbelief: “It sounds more like a theme for a PhD thesis than for a fashion collection. How are you going to translate such a complex topic into design?”
Oskar laughs. “Actually I already have – it’s the collection you see here,” he says pointing at the photos and sketches on the table.
“As you may know, 2011 was the UN Year of African Roots, which led me to explore the connection between Africa and Brazil,” he says. “Brazilian culture has strong African influences: in music, in dance – even in our local religion, Candomble. “And this is the result,” he says with a smile as he looks at the models preparing themselves, “the Royal Black collection.” A tall blonde girl struts through the atelier wearing large sunglasses and a short orange overall. Oskar goes over and walks around the model with a thoughtful air.
eFabrics – sustainability all the way
“By the way, this is an eFabric,” says Oskar. I get out my camera to take a close-up shot of the shiny texture.
“What is it made of exactly?” I ask.
“e-Fabric is actually not just the material itself, it is a broader concept that covers all aspects of the sourcing and production process. It looks at everything: who we buy the raw material from; how we interact with those communities; and the environmental impact of tanning processes, it’s one whole.”
“And fish skin?” I ask. “I heard you use that in your designs – what is that like?”
Oskar points at the orange overall. “This is it!” He explains that in the food industry fish skins are usually thrown away, despite the fact that they are perfectly usable as a leather substitute. “Fish leather appears soft and thin, but it is often more resistant and sturdy than bovine leather. Because social awareness is an important part of the Osklen brand, we source our fish leather from indigenous tribes in the Amazon basin, thus allowing local communities to maintain their traditional lifestyle.”
Oskar shifts his attention back to the catwalk, while we sit back and watch the Osklen team at work. The Royal Black collection is coming together right in front of our eyes: simple, clean lines and natural tones – greys, beiges and whites – combined with black and gold. The last model makes her way down the catwalk, showing off a light cotton pantsuit. She strikes a pose and gives us a cool look through her large sunglasses. We get the message: sustainability can be cool!
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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