Sruli Recht was born in Jerusalem, spent most of his life in Australia, and for the past few years has called Reykjavik, Iceland, his home. But even before he was a foreign-born talent rising to prominence in a city of fiercely local independence, he was already a bit of an outsider. “We traveled to different countries a lot as a kid,” says Recht. “I was always confused about what people wore and the language of clothing. I was very anxious about what to wear and how to fit in. That’s probably why I now just wear jeans and a T-shirt — like everybody else, I just wanted to blend in.” It’s an ironic thing coming from a designer who in January released his first full menswear line, a 55-piece collection of beautifully constructed garments — at once futuristic and cozy — that aren’t exactly for the faint of fashion heart. Or from a designer who calls his studio in the city’s Fishpacking District The Armoury. “The Icelanders don’t seem to get it. They really do think we sell weapons, and we have maybe three visitors to the store a day just looking for guns,” Recht has said.
The new collection, though, is a pure distillation of his adopted country, made as it is from 98 percent local materials. Recht worked with a tannery in the north of Iceland called Atlantic Leather to tame the raw skins of horse, reindeer, birds, fish, and lamb into treated and finished fabrics, and with a local knit producer to create pieces from Icelandic wool. “I like materials that are awkward and fascinating, that have a certain idiosyncracy to them — basically anything challenging,” Recht says. “And I like to make ugly things beautiful.”
It’s a philosophy he calls upon over and over again, both in what he calls his “non-products” — umbrellas, bulletproof scarves, tables, bags, belts, and boots that fall “somewhere between product design, weapons manufacturing, corroded tailoring, and shoe making” and his actual fashion pieces, which he began constructing way back in high school with a single pair of shorts. The new collection was so well received that Recht has already begun ramping up production. “At the moment we’re setting up to make things on a larger scale. We’re basically setting up a factory — more sewing machines, more full-time sewers. I’d rather have a vertical operation, but on other hand, the closer you are to the production, the more true the products come out.”
In Reykjavik for DesignMarch last week, Sight Unseen took some quick snaps of Recht’s studio and then chatted with the designer about his full-on fast-track to insider status (Karl Lagerfeld picked up one of Recht’s showpieces at the January presentation). Recht, however, was typically self-deprecating: “It’s sort of like one of those films where there’s a guy in the desert walking for 25 days without water in the blistering heat. You’re hoping he’s going to make it but you’re not sure because he’s not sure. That’s the design industry. There’s no easy shortcut.”