The term upcycling is often associated with recycling but, in reality, they have different meanings. It was coined in 1994 by German mechanical engineer Reiner Pilz who stated in an interview: “I call recycling down-cycling. What we need is up-cycling, thanks to which old products are given a greater value, and not less”.
Therefore, upcycling differs from recycling not only because it is used to create items other than the starting ones but also because it aims to create a product of higher quality, real or perceived.
This technique can really be applied to all kinds of objects, from furniture to clothes.
Almost 50% of the garments proposed in the latest collections of Marine Serre, for example, are upcycled. “Being a designer today means being able to create and produce differently.” said the creative. “Why go and buy fabrics, invent prints that will have to be changed the following year, when there is so much fabric to reuse? I find it frightening that the big houses have not already taken a step towards this type of production, when we then spend time complaining about waste.”
If the approach adopted by Marine Serre is certainly innovative, among the luxury brands there are also those who founded their empire on this technique.
This is the case of Chrome Hearts, a brand born in Los Angeles in 1988, from the idea of the motorcycle enthusiast Richard Stark, who used to wear custom leather jackets aboard his Harley-Davidson. He decided to start making them himself with the help of his friend John Bowman, an expert in leather, and jeweler Leonard Kamhout.
Their garments quickly gained success in Hollywood, and the brand received a commission for the film Chopper Chicks In Zombietown, co-starring the girlfriend of Steve Jones, the lead guitarist of the Sex Pistols.
After a couple years the paths of the three friends divided and only Stark remained at the head of the brand, dedicating himself to the production of leather articles and jewelry made of gold, silver and diamonds. After meeting a client named Laurie Lynn, Stark married her and gave her a key role in the company.
What makes Chrome Hearts exclusive is the importance that is given to the physical shop. The first flagship store was opened in 1996 in Manhattan and the brand still does not have an official e-commerce. In addition, it does not work on seasonal collections and it is strictly forbidden to spread information or even just photos regarding their products outside their stores. All this contributes to the creation of the hype around the company.
Over time, came also the first collaborations with prominent names in the fashion world such as Rick Owens, COMME des GARÇONS, Off-White, Yves Saint Laurent, BAPE, Adidas, UGG and Vans. In this way Chrome Hearts has become part of luxury fashion, getting an estimated value of 1 billion dollars.
But which is the garment symbol of this brand? One of the most exclusive among those offered: jeans. That’s right, their flagship product is the one obtained through upcycling. The Chrome Hearts jeans are nothing more than Levi’s to which are added quality materials such as leather for the cross-shaped applications and precious metals such as silver for the inserts.
Another brand that has become part of luxury fashion, also thanks to its recent collaboration with Lanvin, is Gallery Department by Josué Thomas. The artist founded the label in 2017, merging his passion for vintage and art.
His garments are obtained from reinterpretations of vintage clothes such as work trousers with a flared bottom, aged denim, T-shirts, sweatshirts and more. Thomas used Levi’s jeans as a starting point too, but he also used Carhartt items, giving them a new aesthetic, tearing them, stitching them, mixing different elements, painting them by hand, adding materials, in a nutshell giving free rein to his creativity.
Virgil Abloh was among the firsts to appreciate his work. “He’s a perfect example of someone creating their own path from a community that hasn’t traditionally participated in fashion […] I see Josué as making a new canon of his own, showcasing what Black design can do” stated Abloh in an interview for the New York Times in 2020.
Virgil himself, at the beginning of his career, used the upcycling method with his first brand founded in 2012, Pyrex Vision. The designer bought a stock of Ralph Lauren flannel shirts for $40 to which he applied silkscreen prints made of lettering and numbers, including the iconic 23 as a tribute to his idol Michael Jordan. He sold them for $550 and they soon became a cult object in an emerging streetwear world. However, the success of Pyrex Vision was short-lived and, unable to register its trademark, Abloh decided to close it and founded Off-White.
The rest is history.
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