Balenciaga! Dries! Stella! Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

Words by Jody Hume | 4.1.21

We don’t know if Stella McCartney believes in heaven, but she certainly believes in the afterlife when it comes to fashion because she strives to make clothes that will live in your closet forever. “As a designer, I think it’s the biggest compliment for your designs to have an afterlife,” she says. “To me, that is luxury — something that can be handed down to family or friends.” 


Female model wearing Stella McCartney women's jacket with upcycled patchwork quilt details, sunglasses, top and jeanStella McCartney jacket reimagined by Atelier & Repairs.
Stella McCartney sunglasses, top and pants.


That is why McCartney is part of the community of designers contributing to the launch of ReCollection 01, The RealReal’s new 54-piece collection of one-of-a-kind, upcycled creations. The capsule collection reimagines damaged or unsellable ready-to-wear sent straight from the brands into a single capsule. The collection highlights the benefits of the circular economy and ways to extend the life cycle of luxury that go beyond resale.

We’ve also raided the archives of some of fashion’s most-wanted labels including Balenciaga, Dries Van Noten, Simone Rocha, Jacquemus, and A-Cold-Wall*, and more. And we’ve enlisted the LA-based upcycling maestro Maurizio Donadi of Atelier & Repairs to reinvent these pieces for this first ReCollection.


Female model wearing Stella McCartney women's wide-leg pants with patchwork upcycled details, blue sweater, and black vegan leather bag.Stella McCartney pants reimagined by Atelier & Repairs.
Stella McCartney top & bag.


For McCartney, longevity is a form of sustainability which is the beating heart of her business, and part of the reason we’ve worked with her on initiatives that help educate (and reward!) consumers about the benefits of reselling as an environmental practice. Long before companies rushed to go green, McCartney was the vanguard and has since become a role model for the industry. 


Female model wearing Balenciaga denim jean jacket with upcycled quilted patches, black sweatshirt with triangle applique, green pants and white Triple S sneakers. Balenciaga jacket and sweatshirt reimagined by Atelier & Repairs.
Balenciaga pants & sneakers.


Meanwhile Maurizio Donadi is a veteran of some of fashion’s most iconic brands (Armani, Ralph Lauren, Levi’s) and has helped brands tell stories through fashion for decades. A longtime vintage hunter, he founded Atelier & Repairs in 2015 as a response to the amount of unused garments that exist in the world. Now he refines, iterates, and distills deadstock fabrics into upcycled works of wearable art, but he insists he’s, “not a designer!” Through his process of adding patches, linings, and other finishing touches he not only imparts each item with a hand-worked beauty but he is also able to give items a sense of history, a certain soulfulness and a sense of romance. “I like the idea of experimentation, I like the idea of transforming something that already exists.” 


Behind the seams at Atelier & Repairs in Los Angeles. Sewing by hand, a Dries Van Noten jacket detail with vintage piping, choosing quilted patches, and cutting fabric.Inside Atelier & Repairs in Los Angeles, CA.


For ReCollection, Donadi is taking one of his favorite materials, vintage, unfinished quilts, and adding extra flourishes to iconic pieces from designers’ past collections, like an oversized Balenciaga denim jacket, wide-leg pants from Stella McCartney, and a lilac-ruched sleeveless blazer from Dries Van Noten. The patchworked motif from unfinished quilts serves as a thematic throughline, connecting the work of these various designers into a singular collection. “I don’t work with finished quilts,” Donadi stresses. “Let’s put it this way, I don’t destroy. I don’t cut a quilt that’s already finished. The point of view was not to change what designers have done with the clothes that we received. Who am I to change the fit of a Balenciaga jacket or a Jacquemus dress? What we did instead was try to add value to it by bringing a sense of, I think, a sense of joy. A sense of color to these items that were already beautiful.”


Female model wearing Dries Van Noten printed top with upcycled patch details, and green printed pattern pants.Dries Van Noten top reimagined by Atelier & Repairs. Dries Van Noten pants.


All this speaks to the way that our understanding of luxury is changing. Today we know that a beautiful coat or eye-catching dress doesn’t lose its worth once the season is over. In fact, quite the opposite, over time these pieces gain value. “Luxury is something — to me, at least —that means longevity, a certain quality, a certain point of view,” said Donadi. “Certain fabrications that will last a lot longer than my own life. And that, to me, is luxury. It’s durability. If I can intervene and help create an even longer story for these items, well, I’d be happy to do that.”


Female model wearing Ulla Johnson knitwear patterned sweater with scarf made from upcycled dresses. Tapestry quilt hanging behind her also made of upcycled dress fabrics. Ulla Johnson dresses reimagined as a tapestry and a scarf by Atelier & Repairs.
Ulla Johnson sweater & pants.


“In light of the immediate revisions facing fashion, the concept of reconstituting, revising, and re-inventing a garment was, and is, an essential activity,” says Samuel Ross of the label A-Cold-Wall*. “It’s here to stay and should be embraced.” Ross, who makes sleek, futuristic techwear, believes that there’s a paradigm shift happening in the industry which is making designers reconsider the lifespan of their work, from seasonal to timeless. “For myself, this process is about the continued change in how we propose clothing to the world,” he says. “It’s less procure, more procreate — and action-based.” 

 Last year, the Belgian designer Dries Van Noten opened a shop in Los Angeles which included a whole room dedicated to items from previous collections — showing just how far-sighted he is. ReCollection is just another way for Van Noten to show that fashion is always evolving, always changing, always keeping up with the times — as it should. “Witnessing a garment receive a second and vivid life will always be exciting,” he said of ReCollection. 


Female model wearing Dries Van Noten off-white brocade blazer with upcycled vintage fabric trim, and navy blue pants.Dries Van Noten jacket reimagined by Atelier & Repairs.
Dries Van Noten pants.


Through ReCollection, we hope to start an industry-wide dialogue about new ways to think about how fashion and sustainability overlap and about how society’s ideas of luxury need to change. “I love the concept of giving new life to a past style,” says designer Maria Cornejo. “This is an exciting opportunity to help bring more awareness to how upcycling can be cool and really showcase it.” We hope it encourages everyone — designers, consumers, retailers — to get creative and think big when they consider what sustainability means to them and their business.

 “I really believe that little by little makes the biggest impact in the end,” said Cornejo. “Making conscious changes to our daily practices, ensuring our customers and wholesalers are educated, staying a ‘squeaky wheel.’ That all keeps pushing the point home. It’s a never-ending process.”

 And the process starts with you, the shopper. By shifting our mindset we can start to see the potential that all clothes possess whether they’re fresh off the runway or ready to be given new life. “Designs are made to be cherished,” said Van Noten. “They only endure in time if they are given the chance.”


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