BORIS BIDJAN SABERI: NO COMPROMISE
Spend any length of time speaking to Boris Bidjan Saberi, and two words crop up repeatedly. For the Barcelona-based menswear designer, objects and processes are regularly described with the terms “freak” and “weird.” These are not offered as pejoratives, but words which he uses passionately to underline his own mindset and convictions, ones which are often unconventional and regularly radical.
For Saberi, when he describes the design sensibility of his grandfather, a tailor, as a “freakism,” it is said with admiration––and, perhaps, out of recognition that he too has inherited a unique, unyielding spirit which drives his work.
Since launching his eponymous label in 2006, Saberi has become a mainstay at Paris Fashion Week. His collections are arresting, unusual, androgynous––a single look can seemingly mesh futuristic tech-wear and Berlin bondage clubs. As such, Saberi’s work is often labelled “avant-garde” in the most archetypal sense of the word, an easy way of placing a designer in box who otherwise might be hard to pin down or understand. Which, of course, misses the point of it all. Beyond the undulating hemlines and military-inspired strappings, there’s a manifesto dedicated to how we consume and why one should even bother creating. This is the truly avant-garde aspect of Saberi’s work, the clothes are just the medium, part of a process designed to probe, push and disrupt until he’s absolutely spent. Only to do it again six months later.
I was very attracted to certain fabrics and to touching what people were wearing. Including my mom’s stockings, or a friend of my mum.
That was actually very, very weird.
Saberi was born in Munich, Germany to an Irish-German mother and Persian-Russian father, both of whom had previous experience of working in the rag trade. He asked for his first sewing machine at the age of six––“also weird,” he concedes.Growing up he “felt like a stranger.” That sense of otherness would be something he would gradually grow to embrace. Look at Saberi today, shaven head with his signature slouchy, draped t-shirts and black drop crotch pants and it’s easy to see why he and Munich didn’t necessarily get on. Saberi possessed more than just typical teenage angst, he was genuinely different, in an area of Germany so archetypally German that it has produced much of the nation’s aesthetic stereotypes. Lederhosen and Oktoberfest, bratwurst and schnitzel, it all stems from this traditional, Catholic region on the banks of the River Isar.INSPIRATION FOR THE COLLECTION
He’s older now, 39 to be precise, and whilst his clothes are atypical and he himself is uncompromising, he is not unwelcoming. Instead, he invites you to share in the weird, wonderful universe he has created, one that is unrelenting in its questioning of the fashion industry and the wider world. “I try to also analyse myself, in a way, and look at how I can support to this world, because I would basically stop my job if I saw that it was just about making money,” Saberi admits. “I would really stop my job if I saw that it was just to maintain (the business), or to keep the fire on. Because this is what I always criticize about this whole fashion bubble.” He says this not as an antagonistic outsider anymore, freely admitting that this feeling has left him after more than a decade of working in fashion, but as someone hoping to incite positive change.
“I think my point also is to say: ‘Hey, are there still garments to explore for our society, or not?’ Because you just have to ask yourself, what do we need today? This is very interesting, actually, because this also goes totally against how fashion design works.” says Saberi. “Fashion design works in a way that it’s about, ‘What is the coat that I can sell the most of today?’ This makes me very sad, actually. All these newcomers, I don’t really understand how they can call themselves ‘freaks’ in the way they work with garments, because I don’t think they are. They’re more like amazing marketing people, you know?”
The world of Saberi is both sobering and refreshing. Step into it and question things for yourself. Sure, he makes clothes–but they’re derived from an ethos which calls into question how we interact with brands and the manner in which we consume. It’s not simply that the message is to stop buying things altogether, but rather to apply a little more critical thinking, to look at it from an outsider’s perspective.
Such an anti-commercial attitude is one which sets Saberi apart from many of his peers. Pushing boundaries is what gets the German going, not balance sheets. It was that same attitude and pureness which chimed with DITA, leading to a subsequent collaboration. The glasses were debuted at Boris Bidjan Saberi’s SS18 runway show at Paris Fashion Week and, fittingly, took inspiration from high-altitude climbing, almost a perfect metaphor for just how far each party are willing to venture outside their comfort zone. Both Saberi and DITA seem to take a near-masochistic pleasure in taking things to extremes, whether it’s the German designer’s refusal to bow to the commercial whims of the fashion industry, or DITA’s exacting standards, so high that only a handful of factories are capable of meeting them. Naturally, atop a mountain was a good meeting point for the two brands’ respective points of view.
“I think that’s the one thing about DITA: there’s really no compromises,” says Dustin Edward Arnold, DITA’s Creative Director. “Multiple factories have dropped out because it’s so hard to make,” he says of one recent project, which cannot yet be named. In Boris, they found a willing partner to experiment and push things even further. “This collaboration is the first collaboration the brand has done in like maybe eight or nine years, so it’s not something that we’ve done very often. It’s quite special. But in terms of the process of collaboration, it’s really about getting somebody else’s perspective on something.” As a result, DITA stumbled upon a host of new ideas and manufacturing techniques they had not considered exploring before. “I don’t think from a design standpoint would’ve come up if we weren’t playing in Boris’s world a little bit.”BORIS BIDJAN SABERI, FALL '18 RUNWAY
For Saberi, the partnership was the result of a rather simple mindset towards collaborations: “Dita was always the best if it comes to the object, to the fabrication and also to the freakiness of the object and manufacturing. And that’s basically it for me, if I want do a frame, I’d do it with them, because I want to do it whom I consider the best.” The result certainly is freaky, unusual, challenging––but also functional, inspired by the pressures of high-altitude mountaineering, utilizing Japanese titanium in a raw finish and a hingeless frame system.
I really love this frame, very much.
He says with an enthusiasm as unrehearsed as the rest of his shoot-from-the-hip appraisals of his peers and the fashion industry (a lot of which cannot be printed). “That is in the answer to everything. If I am crazy about it, this means that it fits. Today, if I make a jacket and I don’t feel this “It’s amazing” thing, like a small kid, and get almost crazy, then… I mean, there’s no other way,” he shrugs, as if incapable of comprehending how he could release a product that didn’t instill childlike wonder in him.DETAIL OF THE FRAME IN BLACK IRON
An independent dissenter amidst a sea of luxury labels backed by major conglomerates, he hopes that consumers and brands alike will come round to his way of seeing things, he says. A viewpoint which prizes passion and honesty above all, unrelenting in its pursuit of both. “We get crazy about something, or we basically don’t do it, that’s it. There’s no other way. There’s no compromise.”
Text: Calum Gordon