Having graduated from fashion school in Dusseldorf, Reality Studio founder Svenja Specht still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life, so she decided to study product design. (Her thesis project was a designy tampon dispenser, which she presented to the class in the university bathroom.) In the midst of those studies — during which she also interned for Jean-Marie Massaud in Paris — she took classes in photography and graphic design, the latter of which she practiced for four years at ad agencies in Beijing after finishing school for good. “I wanted to see and learn as much as possible,” she says of that time. But having had all of those experiences, she recalls, it was New Year’s Eve of 2000-2001 when “it came to me suddenly, just like that, that I needed to go back to fashion somehow.” And so she packed up, moved to Berlin, got a job as a trend forecaster, and three years later launched a clothing line that was every bit as eclectic as her own background, if not moreso.
Reality Studio, Specht says, was and still is focused on her wide-ranging interest in traditional clothing and handcrafting techniques from across cultures. “It’s not about making exactly the same thing, just the interest and inspiration,” she says. “Early on I tried to actually integrate fabrics from other places — I ordered some from Uzbekistan and from Kenya, which never arrived and my money was gone — but now I work those influences into my clothing in other ways.” That can mean anything from a specific shoe-strap or toggle-button style she’s spotted on her travels to places like Japan or Portugal, or the more general tribal or nomadic influence that sometimes appears in her fabrics and oversized cuts. Her lookbooks often serve to underscore these influences, such as Winter 2012, in which her models wore headscarves and gypsy-like necklaces with Russian-carpet prints. For Summer 2014, she paired summery linen coats and jumpsuits with a print by French textile darlings Milleneufcentquatrevingtquatre, then invited the design studio Simple Society to shoot the line in the style of the Japanese photographer Shojiyo Ueda, with a bit of Surrealism mixed in.
That collection — plus the instantly successful shoe line she launched last year, through which we discovered her work — has resulted in a major uptick in Reality Studio’s US presence, ten years after it began. Specht’s clothing and accessories are now stocked at stores like Totokaelo and Assembly — places in which her diverse design background and global-meets-minimalist aesthetic is pretty much par for the course. She says she took the name of her studio from a concept William Borroughs invented, in which he cut up all kinds of texts and films and made them into something new. “My reality studio is basically all the material I have around me, my life and my experiences, which I take into the studio, cut up, and reassemble,” says Specht. We asked her to elaborate on those materials and experiences in the slideshow at right.
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.
“It was running joke as a kid, that all I wanted to wear were cut-offs and T-shirts,” says Ilana Kohn. “My mom would buy them by the pack, and I would cut the sleeves and the neck.” Of course, Kohn is now known as the creator of a rabidly collected, Brooklyn-based, cult-favorite clothing line, so was fashion always the master plan? Sure, she was interested in clothes, she says, but her teenage self would be more than a little surprised at this turn. At 18, she says, she did not want to be a “fashion person,” intending rather to study fine art and spend her life of painting. But after high school — in a move that would appease parents who worried about her making a living — Kohn left her native Virginia for New York City to study illustration at Pratt.
Most people, if given the luxury of a third bedroom in a house they share only with a spouse, might choose to turn it into a guestroom, or a studio, or maybe a study. Kristen Lee, a stylist and co-owner of L.A.’s fashion and design emporium TenOverSix, turned hers into a walk-in closet. Step inside and you’ll discover rolling racks of designer and vintage, scarves tossed carelessly around a dress form, shoes lined up in neat little rows, a steamer in the corner, and accessories spilling out over the dresser. And yet for someone so clearly attuned to and obsessed with fashion, it’s not the clothes you first sense when you enter the Ed Fickett–designed, mid-century, Nichols Canyon home she bought last year with her husband and then “renovated the shit out of,” as she says. It’s the incredible proliferation of art. Stephen Shore, Banksy, Leopold Seyffert, Nan Goldin — and that’s just in the living room.