STEWART/STAND: The Beauty of Stainless Steel

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Stainless steel watches are staples in the fashion industry, but have you ever seen any stainless steel wallets? Probably not. Cue STEWART/STAND, the innovative brand that is redefining how you think about textiles in the fashion industry. Their vegan stainless steel wallet collection is sophisticated and stylish, and their Diego Rivera collection is also filled with personality and beauty. Over the years, they’ve been featured in O Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Men’s Journal, and more, so if you haven’t heard of them yet, now you will. Here, we chat with the designers about why they chose stainless steel to work with, their Diego Rivera collection, and the future of the brand, and let me tell you: the future looks grand.

 

Cliché: What made you interested in working with stainless steel for your collection?
STEWART/STAND: Simply put, we were drawn in by the effect light had on the fabric. We have always been drawn to sustainable and eco-friendly materials; it’s part of our design theory.

We found a stainless steel fabric when we were touring a factory in Italy to produce our first product, a patented cufflink design my brother-in-law drafted for the groomsmen in his wedding. Walking around, we noticed a shimmery, sparkling effect coming from the back of the factory. As the fabric was being woven, hundreds of strands of stainless steel thread were being whipped back and forth on an industrial loom. As light hit each strand, reflections were sent in every direction, creating a mesmerizing light show. The material was being woven for use in architectural applications and for luxury Italian car engines.

We decided the material was so beautiful it should be repurposed for everyday use; we just had to find the right application, something people carry with them every day. We sought out a factory that could make the weave we wanted with the right alloy that was appropriate for handling. The idea of a vegan accessory that was beautiful and strong was so enticing to us. The fabric is as smooth as silk and shimmers in the light. I couldn’t think of anything else I would want in an accessory. Working with a structural textile was so enticing. The material could be molded and hold a form, a blank canvas for endless geometric and natural patterns.

With every bend we made in the fabric, light would be increasingly reflected, creating an incredible effect as light poured over the beveled surface. The idea of playing with light and shadow to obtain a pattern was just thrilling. Back in the USA as we were finalizing our patent application, we were pleasantly surprised that a similar material was on display at an exhibit at The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. This material had been used in space suits to protect astronauts from meteorites while they were spacewalking. The exhibit was named “Extreme Textiles.” The lightweight nature of this material paired with its strength and flexibility lends itself to incredible modern applications, especially in architecture. To be frank, the material still blows my mind to this day. I am inspired by it continuously.

 

What inspired you to create vegan, cruelty-free products? Do you wish more brands did?
Cruelty-free products…to us, this goes further than just the materials that go into a product. We sense a tremendous responsibility to leave this earth a healthier place than we have left it and to treat the craftspeople who make products with respect. Respect for our environment and the people who live in it are what inspire us to create responsible design. Over the years, I have been pleased to see a rise in makers who consider these things and I hope this trend continues. We have worked with the same team of talented tailors for the past 10+ years. The specialized material means hiring a team full time and employing them year round. To retain the well-trained staff, we need to ensure a comfortable work environment, and more. Our material is made from 85% post-consumer recycled stainless steel and each wallet is 100% recyclable. The stainless steel fabric is vegan, of course, and our top-selling styles are vegan. Paul Stewart-Stand is often quoted as saying, “The last thing the world needed was another leather wallet,” which is our main selling point. There is so much room in accessories design for alternative materials that are vegan. We are one of the few options out there and I expect this category to grow. There are so many celebrities who are demanding vegan design and luckily ours is a luxury look which easily fits into evening attire for events, especially with our women’s designs.

What was the inspiration behind the stainless steel collection? What was your design process?
We draw most of our inspiration from architecture. These monuments play with shadow and light on a grand scale, one that I can walk around in. They use reflective materials and voids for illumination and to provide interior light. Louis Kahn is our primary source of inspiration, Frank Ghery, and most recently Zaha Hadid has been fun to explore as well. I pull patterns from shadows and geometric formations from these buildings, create texture blocks and use a 20-ton press to impress the texture into each piece of fabric that is used in our wallets. I also pull textures from traditional fashion patterns; men’s herringbone and women’s quilted textiles are a perfect fit for showing off the reflective nature of our steel textile. For construction, I create most design models from paper and then reverse engineer the pattern. It takes a lot of consideration deciding where the steel can be applied to the model since it can permanently crease when bent at an angle that is less than 20 degrees. The greatest challenge was finding materials to pair with the steel. We sought out upholstery textiles for their durability and strength knowing that they would withstand any friction with the stainless steel fabric best. There was a year’s worth of research finding the right thread that could contain the strength of the stainless steel fabric.

 

Your So Cal Coast collection was inspired by southern California. Which piece from the collection is your favorite?
The clutch wallet in periwinkle blue + yellow from the So-Cal Coast Collection has to be my favorite; which I think is the same for most women. Driving along the coast, you are presented with a vast blue sky. Every day it’s a similar shade of relentless blue. Between the sky and the water’s edge, there is a marine layer that settles over the horizon. As the sun sets, an electric yellow blends with the blue and creates an incredible effect; they are almost stacked one on top of the other, with this silvery haze between the two. The clutch wallet was inspired by that effect that occurs every day. It’s a recognizable moment for anyone who lives in that part of the world. For me, it’s yet another reminder to be kind to this planet. We are both a spectator of this remarkable place as well as its custodian. Coming up next is a handbag made from this same periwinkle blue, with a similar composition. I think it will be the go-to for 2018.

Tell us a little about your collection featuring artwork by Diego Rivera. How did that collaboration begin?
Collaboration is key, especially in a company that works with unconventional materials. There is a learning curve to every project we approach. I do my best to create a collaborative atmosphere in the studio. I had a wall taken down in our new office, opening the studio to a high traffic area. The result was fantastic. Making the studio so accessible allowed people to wander over, creating opportunities to brainstorm, obtain feedback, and watch people interact with our design as it developed. STEWART/STAND has worked closely with museums and galleries since our company’s inception. We are very lucky to have a PR Firm that encourages these opportunities. We get excited about collaborations that we dream up in meetings with RAW, and because of the relationships Paul has built through the years, we are lucky to see these projects materialize.

We cropped Diego’s work to feature its details as a graphic pattern to tell a color story as well as feature the work as a whole. Recognizing his focal point in such an unusually large mural, we were able to highlight these elements individually as well. We paired the artwork with cool grey tones to emphasize the industrial aspects of the story he told. The largest item, a beautiful tote bag for women, is the star of the collaboration. At the debut event, the museum lobby was filled with women carrying the tote bag. It’s a beautiful neutral item that is an everyday essential. The men’s wallets feature the same archival ink prints that either envelop the entire exterior with a touch of Diego’s artwork inside, or a subtle exterior application of the DIA logo with an all-over display of a mural that spans across the card pockets and up onto the money welt. Working with the DIA was a fun experience. I think people are surprised how receptive we are to collaboration and how open we are to learning about their needs as a client and partner. Our company is always open to collaboration. I am not shy about continuing to get the word out.

 

Why did you choose Diego Rivera’s work for your collection?
The Diego Rivera project for the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA) was so compelling. The piece is a source of tremendous local pride.  When we launched the collection at one of their member’s events, people kept coming over telling stories about relatives who worked at Ford’s Rouge Plant. The DIA was looking to feature this signature installation and we were lucky to have this artwork chosen for us. Diego’s art tells the story of each individual who pulled the levers and stoked the fire at the Ford Factory. His depiction is beautiful and the strength of the factory men are as crucial to the end product as the great machines that they are commanding. Diego celebrated the people behind the production of the automobile, industry, agriculture, innovation as well as the history of indigenous people.  It’s important not to lose the connection to the past, as the world rapidly accelerates. I think this is a very relevant topic today as people in America are concerned about being replaced in a future of automated factories.

With these types of collaborations, we seek to bring focus to local content. From a technical standpoint, we were able to achieve many of the details in the art, translated into the accessory.  Standing inside the DIA’s Rivera Courtyard, we were struck by the innumerable stories depicted by the murals.  Having the opportunity to translate several of these stories into an accessory, carried by people every day, is a source of particular pride for our company as well.

Do you have a particular person or consumer in mind while designing new collections?
Every product we make is a request by a customer, to the extent that we have never designed a product that does not have a customer in mind. The new collections for women were designed due to a need for larger women’s accessories. For years, women have been asking us to make our wallets larger so they can fit their lipgloss or compact or keys inside. It’s a compliment that our wallets are so aesthetically pleasing that women want to show them off. We took note of what our customers were looking for and reformatted the composition to fit the proportions. We were so pleased with the result and the insiders who have had a sneak peak were as well. It felt like such a great success. Our customers range from young fashionistas to the established style icon. I think this question overlaps with our previous answer about collaboration. You might be able to say that our collections are collaborations with our customers?

What can we look forward to next from STEWART/STAND in the new year?
We are rolling out larger women’s accessories in every collection and freshening up the collections with new textures. There are over a dozen new handbags that should be rolling out, each in multiple colorways and a diversity of materials—all still featuring our stainless steel textile, of course. The versatility of our design is something we are pushing to new limits, adding chain straps that can adjust from short/shoulder or satchel length and extending long enough that they can be worn across the body below the hip. We’ve added special features to the interior to keep the chain from roaming around. Our men’s collection will of course expand once again. The demand for well-designed men’s accessories is incredible. The new year is full of exciting new designs for men and women and we are anticipating and prepared for a very busy workflow.

Learn more and browse the collections at http://www.stewartstand.com.

Read more Fashion articles on ClicheMag.com

BY MEGAN PORTORREAL

STEWART/STAND: The Beauty of Stainless Steel: Images courtesy of STEWART/STAND

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