Sabinna Experiments With Mixed Reality Shopping for Fashion

For Sabinna Rachimova, her ‘brand DNA’ is, actually, familial.  It transcends ethos and aesthetics and runs deep into the past, through two generations of her family.  Her grandmother, a maths and physics professor in her native Russia, who during communist times made clothing on the side for neighbours and friends for extra income, inspired her to pursue a career in art and craft.

Sabinna’s parents were professional athletes, her mother a field hockey player and her father a footballer, which meant the family travelled regularly and she grew up in Russia, Spain and Austria, where her family finally settled.  Describing this experience as unsettling, she created her own fictional world of play to distract herself from being the new kid and not speaking the local language, at least initially.  Craft became Sabinna’s passion, so where communication with others lacked, she filled her time with what interested her – art, craft and languages.

Family photos, Sabinna’s studio, East London

Sabinna’s parents insisted she attend a languages and maths-focused high school, so unable to pursue creative subjects, she completed her studies under duress and then went on to enrol in a Slavic languages degree after a rejection from the University of Applied Arts Vienna, where she had hoped to study fashion design.  Struggling to find a route into a design degree, she sent her CV to every fashion designer in Vienna, asking for a part-time job and hoping to step inside what she described at the time as the ‘secret world of fashion’.

Schella Kann took her on and with a tough love approach, telling her to forget about the rejection from the University of Applied Arts Vienna and to look further afield to pursue her dreams.  By putting together a portfolio based on the way her maths and physics professor grandmother had taught her to present ideas, she applied and was accepted onto a foundation course at Central Saint Martins in London.  Not bad for someone who pulled together a portfolio in twenty four hours, assisted by her boyfriend and now long term partner, David, and sent it simply addressed to the ‘fashion’ department with a request to join a fashion course, of no particular specification.

Following completion of her foundation course, Sabinna went on to study Fashion Marketing and Design at CSM and interned in the knitwear department at Dior, which she describes as ‘the best and worst’ (experience).  She describes spending up to two days pondering yarn colours alongside the knitwear team, and working with Italian factories who would bring cases full of ideas into the ready-to-wear team’s studio for the knitwear team to use as inspiration from which to develop the seasonal designs.  Sabinna describes gaining an insight into the technical aspects of knitwear development and production with the scale of a luxury fashion house and this knowledge has clearly stood her in good stead for developing her own fashion business.

Describing herself as “terrible at maths but very good with numbers”, she explains to me how her business, which she launched eighteen months ago, works on a day-to-day basis, with the SABINNA team, consisting of herself and her partner David, co-founders and leading the design and IT and e-commerce respectively; Zula, Sabinna’s mum, who is head of knitwear, which is made in Vienna, Austria;  Scarlett, a long-term friend of Sabinna and pattern cutter, who develops the designs alongside Sabinna and is based in Hastings;  David’s sister Simone, who is in charge of taxes; Julia, who is based in Vienna and does research and marketing; and Asya, who creates the crochet pieces and assists Sabinna in London.

Sabinna’s studio 

All of Sabinna’s fabrics are from Europe and all the ready-to-wear, custom made pieces for private clients, crochet pieces and bags are made in the UK.  All of the knitwear is made in Austria.

Zula’s knitwear design notes, inspiration and hand-knitted jumper at Sabinna’s studio, East London

Having seen behind the scenes at Sabinna’s studio, I am eager to delve a little deeper into this season’s collection, show and mixed-reality presentation.  Having attended Sabinna’s catwalk show and seen the collection up close, I’m curious to know what prompted Sabinna to delve into using the Hololens and working with a mixed reality platform to present her collection virtually after having just presented it in catwalk reality.  When I ask how the fashion-tech collaboration came about, we spent some time talking about notions of innovation in fashion and the idea of ‘newness’.

Sabinna’s studio 

Fashion is highly resistant to change.  I have mentioned this paradox a number of times in my articles.  Sabinna puts it clearly, “the main problem with fashion is that it doesn’t communicate well with the outside world… Social media has divided fashion along commercial lines”.  She feels there is too much made of creative/experimental fashion versus commercial fashion, especially in London, and that designers are often placed in one box or the other.  Describing her collections as very wearable and leaning towards the commercial side, she sees the opportunity for innovation and creativity in presentation and storytelling, with Microsoft Hololens and collaborator Pictofit being the perfect collaborators for this, facilitated by the FIA and Fashion Scout.

SABINNA SS17, I Still Love You  – Photos and Styling:  Toni Caroline

Sabinna follows what’s widely termed as the ‘see now, buy now’ business model, which means her collections are produced in advance of her show and ready to buy immediately after they are presented, allowing her to capitalise on the buzz of London Fashion Week and engage her clients in a complete presentation and shopping experience.

SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

Setting the tone for seasons to come, where Sabinna plans to continue experimenting with technology to create new experiences rather than attempting to constantly re-invent her products, Sabinna chose to create the world’s first mixed-reality shopping event at the Freemason’s Hall as part of Fashion scout during London Fashion Week, following her catwalk show.


Behind the scenes at SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

Why mixed reality shopping?  With her collection available, she thought it would make sense to give the customer a creative tool to explore styling different pieces of the collection virtually before purchasing.

Top: Image capture by Pictofit in Austria, Bottom:  Sabinna’s mixed-reality shopping experience at Fashion Scout, LFW – Photos by Emmi Hyyppä and Sabinna

There was also an app available to download, allowing shoppers to use the Pictofit virtual fitting room and, instead of looking at virtual mannequins, try on the SABINNA collection, entitled I Still Love You, on images of themselves.  The clothes adapt to the user’s body shape in real time.

With a huge ambition for trying new technologies and exploring the potential of virtual and augmented reality, Sabinna passionately emphasises that designers need to experiment with new technologies in order to discover newness.  Sometimes something new is right in front of you, but you don’t see it because you are striving to re-invent something that may not need re-inventing, she says.  Newness can come in the form of simply working with a new piece of technology, while sticking to the same core aesthetics, materials and designs in terms of product.  For her, technology is the catalyst and an exciting tool for telling new stories in fashion, she states, mentioning the huge leaps in the technology’s image capture and render quality in just the six months since Martine Jarlgaard’s mixed reality fashion presentation at London Fashion Week in September 2016. Let’s see what next season brings.

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Edda’s Illustrative Fancies Make for Fashion Week Fun

I wrote about the work of fashion designer Edda Gimnes on Techstyler back in February and was curious to see where her penchant for large, sweeping illustrated textiles had taken her for this season.  Edda is an emerging designer beginning to navigate her way into the fashion industry, grabbing onto opportunities arising from winning the bronze award at Designer’s Remix in Milan in March and Germany’s ‘Designer of Tomorrow‘ award in July, following the launch of her label EDDA at Fashion Scout  seven months ago during London Fashion Week.

Edda’s speciality is her celebration of ‘naive’ illustration (she draws with her non-dominant hand) and her willingness to be led into creative territory by mistakes and asymmetry in pattern cutting.  Most western-trained fashion graduates are schooled to strive for balance in pattern cutting, with a focus on fit and silhouette.  Edda’s patterns are a canvas – at times literally – for her fun and figurative broad-brush stroke designs which are digitally printed onto textiles.  The result is graphic, bold and a whole lot of fun.

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Winning the ‘Designer of Tomorrow’ award following her SS16 collection launch has earned Edda the tutelage of Alber Elbaz, commencing in 2017.  She will create collections in Germany and expand her practice and understanding of commerciality and manufacturing during the year-long award, supported by Peek and Cloppenburg.  I joined Edda to view her SS17 collection in East London, following her presentation at Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week.  She talked me through her ambitions to develop more wearable pieces in this collection and create structured dresses with softer prints to balance her signature graphics whilst maintaining the fun and naive construction and idiosyncratic details.  She peppered the new collection with colour and also introduced cute illustrated canvas handbags.

s02_0798s07_1115 s12_1998s06_0926s11_1669Edda SS17  Photos: Yoo Sun

I was especially drawn to the graphic prints in this collection.  Trying on Edda’s clothes transports me into a Quentin Blake-illustrated Roald Dahl-esque world, exciting my imagination and wrapping me in fantastical childhood memories.  Who wants to be a grown up anyway?

Edda SS17 London Fashion Week presentation

Edda and I discuss fashion magic and she wholeheartedly believes in keeping the spirit and fun in her designs from concept through to the final product.  Arguably, fashion is most successful when it offers familiarity and fantasy at the same time – there is something that feels right (nostalgic or familiar) and something new about it.  Edda’s creations deliver that.  They are so authentic – like a child’s frank honesty – and carry with them the designer’s charm, making the clothes highly personal for both her and the wearer.

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I’m placing a personal order and look forward to experiencing this feeling every time I wear one of Edda’s designs.  I also look forward to seeing the response it elicits from others.  After all, fashion is a language best celebrated in dialogue and Edda’s graphic stories are the perfect conversation starter.

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Edda Gimnes Makes Fantastical Fashion

“I wasn’t exactly top of my class, my techniques were a bit out there.”  Edda Gimnes confirmed what I feared when lecturing recently – that in some institutions, students were being moulded, polished and judged according to a narrow set of guidelines where a certain ‘aesthetic’ prevails and is thought of as ‘good design’ and all else is less than acceptable.  Want to design shiny ballgowns?  Tacky!  Want to scribble on blank canvases then slash and top-stitch them together a la’ paper doll dress?  No way!  Fashion design is almost entirely subjective, but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you listen to some schools of thought in fashion education (no pun intended).


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Edda Gimes AW16 collection and inspiration

What makes a good design?  What makes a great designer?  Does it have anything to do with taste?  Does it matter?  The question I prefer to ask is how does the designer’s work make me feel?  What does it inspire in me?  If the answer is nothing, then subjectively, it’s not for me.  In the case of Edda Gimnes collection it filled me with happiness, excitement and wonder.  I think fashion is largely about magic… and clothes.  Edda’s clothes are sprinkled with a childlike fun that came from her abandon and wit in scrawling across vast sections of cloth with her non-dominant hand in an effort to return to a time when she was learning to draw – to return to being a kid.  The charming naivety leaps off the fabrics which are stiff cotton ‘canvases’ that showcase her monochrome illustrations to great effect.  The jagged seams and raw edges suggest an immediacy of design realisation – it’s like she created the pieces with fervour before their essence could be lost.  She admits to struggling with pattern cutting and finding a way around that limitation by creating cutouts roughly in the shape of a dress sketched flat on a piece of paper.  Rather than being held back by her limitation, it fed into the quick, naive mood of the illustrations and brought them to life in an honest and ‘fitting’ way.

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The slow and at times laborious nature of refinement and re-working in clothing design and creation can mean that all that is human about the design is smoothed away, leaving a perfect but impersonal result.  The ‘hand’ in the creation – the personality – is lost.  Edda’s clothes are theatrical and honest – not unlike her.  Edda’s personality shines boldly throughout the collection and I want to wear it all.  I was in and out of tops and skirts and shoes and lived for a little while in her world.  It was fun, personal and compelling.

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To hear Edda talk about receiving a warm and positive response to her work was a joy.   She was still beaming from meeting Jimmy Choo earlier that day.  He took a huge shine to her and her collection.  He adored her mis-matched and customised high street shoes.  I can’t help but think of Quentin Blake‘s illustrations when I look at her black scribbles atop the pointy toed shoes.  She beams with the recollection of reading Roald Dahl‘s books as a child and initially couldn’t remember where her inspiration for this illustration style came from, until she dug deep into her memories and saw the connection.


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I’m delighted to bring the passion and energy of Edda’s designs to the ‘pages’ of Techstyler.  Her garments are digitally printed and cut and sewn in London and when I spoke to her at Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week she was taking private orders.  Sara Maino from Vogue Italia stopped by and Edda had interest from boutiques in Japan while I was chatting to her, so get your orders in fast, before everyone’s chasing a piece of Edda Gimnes magic.

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Edda Gimnes AW16 Lookbook

When rounding off this post I read a completely unrelated (but brilliant) article and realised that the success of Edda’s collection lies in its authenticity.  It offered this:

“When you’re not trying to hide away the real version of yourself, people will respond’.  When you’re demonstrating authenticity, not some contrived personality, that’s when you find a way to reach out and connect with other human beings”

Onwards and upwards, authentically.

Header Image: Edda Gimnes AW16 Lookbook

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