Raf Reyes doesn’t make clothes — he makes art. It only takes one look at VERYRARE, Reyes’ artwear label, to confirm; based between London and Paris, Reyes puts together ultra-limited, collage-filled lifestyle pieces loaded with interweaving narratives. VERYRARE garments are designed with sentimentality in mind, sustainably and meticulously crafted to be lifelong heirlooms. In this exclusive Schön! online interview, the 23-year old unpacks his influences, the legacy of artwear and his long-term role in flipping the fashion script.
What is your personal history with art and design? And what inspired the creation of VERYRARE?
VERYRARE and Art are indissociable. I’m from an artistic and commercial descent, with every generation of my family deeply involved in either fine arts or trade — a lineage of creators, traders, innovators. My forefathers traded drapes, distributed electricity, lighting up France and Egypt — some are even exhibited at the Musée d’Orsay (Desvallieres). My mother works with ceramics and does mosaics for a living, and I helped her in the studio as a child. As far back as I can remember, I always tinkered with her stuff, touching new materials, sensing textures, collecting bits and scraps. I have it in my blood, in my DNA. I hate to be ‘satisfied’ and I become bored very easily.
Considering myself to be a multi-hyphenate and a new-Renaissance man — the 21st century is the New Renaissance, in my opinion — it was only logical that I’d make the leap sooner or later. Rewind some five years from ago, I was an undergrad at Warwick University. I was already on my own vibe when I arrived, wearing my own creations non-stop and designing custom merch for a ton of student societies and events. My uni homies were asking where they could cop them, and that got me thinking. It validated my urge to hone and perfect the VERYRARE blueprint, maturing it during all these years through the prism of art. Meanwhile, I was rising on the Paris art scene thanks to my talent agency Darmo Art/Gismondi gallery managers.
Becoming a man of taste and a connoisseur is a blessing and a curse — hence why, upon launching VERYRARE, I couldn’t go back to the mediocre quality blanks and simplistic one-layer/print-only tees I first devised for my personal enjoyment/consumption. I was frustrated and dissatisfied from the fact that the people purchasing my artworks (exhibited in galleries, museums, Ferragamo flagship, etc. and sold for tens of thousands) were mainly old white rich dudes. I wanted to appeal to a broader audience. I wanted my high school Gs to be able to buy a Raf, too. I wanted to transpose my art and my aesthetics and my composition skills to the fashion industry. When you think about it, the canvas for a painting is made of linen/fabric, and a garment is exactly that. Now I’m a postgraduate master’s student at the Royal College of Art (MA Contemporary Art Practice w/ Fashion studies), and I’m finally putting my vision out in the universe. I founded VERYRARE in March 2020 — going straight to cut and sew, high-end manufacturing, premium techniques — to mix street & couture with a museum twist; to make art wearable and democratise what’s otherwise unaffordable.
What does ‘artwear’ mean to you? What about VERYRARE’s statement pieces + ‘goodie galore’ make VR®® — your brand — so special?
Plain and simple, artwear = art you can wear. But to me, it’s really about tackling the following four points through the prism of art history + schooling, and via being an artist out there in the post-2020 era (the year me and my elder brother founded the brand):
- Unique: limited editions, each item/drop numbered up until ↑↑21
- Personal: your initials emblazoned on garment
- Premium: we make affordable street couture with irreproachable quality
- Non-fast-fashion: timelessness is primordial to me. I embed lasting themes in veryrare ℅ raf reyes artwear, and strong storylines/underlying narratives perspire from the pieces.
When it comes to the idea of the ‘goodie galore’, it’s that I was dissatisfied with the current ways brands serve their customers. 99% of the time you order from the internet or in a shop, well, you only get what you pay for. If you ask me, the game/industry is tired, and the dominant players lag behind when it comes to what’s really dope for us millennials, gen-Yers, gen-Zers. The incumbents became satisfied, and they now feed us microwaved iterations of what they’ve done twenty times already. As I’ve been a customer before being a creator/producer, I know for a fact that we’re being money-sacked on the regular. And for what?! VERYRARE challenges that and takes an opposing stance vis-à-vis barely-cooked simplistic views on fashion.
I call customers ‘family members’, by the way, for the specific reason that I’m trying to dissociate myself from mainstream brands. We’re not your regular indie guy/newbie brand/streetwear up-and-comer/wannabee, and right off the bat, I wanted my family members to get the feeling superstar models get when they receive pre-PFW gifts from high-end haute couture brands. An unboxing experience unlike any other. One that’s Art, more than just a mere fabric assemblage wrapped in a mailer. One you can flex on the rest of the world, too, because it’s just above and beyond everything you know so far.
The VERYRARE ‘goodie galore’ makes you feel like it’s Christmas every time you buy from us. Custom horoscopes, colouring books, calendars, stickers, puzzles, temporary tattoos, Tamagotchis, keychains, trading cards, branded art handlers’ gloves, lenticular postcards and more. Uniquely coined by *yours truly* and complimentary, on the house. My elder brother and associate often jokes/complains that I spend too much time devising these goodies, but truly, it’s the least of things — I’m paying back the end-purchaser for believing in me and supporting the VR®® vision/endeavour with reciprocal love and effort. I must feel indebted toward them somehow, and it’s in my nature to always compensate. In my opinion, VERYRARE’s value-elevating offer is one that’s crushing the industry standards by all extents possible, quality-wise and quantity-wise — as in, I’m still waiting for my competitors/other brands out there to play Santa like us 🙂
We’ve seen brands respond to the pandemic in different ways. How has this period of social isolation impacted your approach to design?
VERYRARE was founded during this crisis. Borne out of pain, rage, frustration, paradigm shifts. Perfect timing if you ask me. It gave me and my brother strength. I use crises as catalysts, actually, both for inspiration and motivation. My uni is basically under-delivering right now, and I found that ‘idle’ time just about right to start what was brewing inside me all along. Despite everything the administration and officials try to counteroffer, the Royal College of Art, my alma mater, has closed its doors since October 2019; I used that extra time to finally put VR®® out in this world.
You’ve previously discussed your fashion influences, but who are some of your influences from the world of art? What about their work resonates with you?
When it comes to aesthetics-and-art-related topics, I’m someone attracted to the extrem(ities) for sure. For instance, artistic currents-wise, I’m first and foremost very attracted to Renaissance-style art, owing to the rebirth of humanism and naturalism during this period, the prominence of the artist figure and the influence of Greek-Roman art and architecture, the innovation in the techniques used, the new ways it showed perspective and depth, etc. On the flipside, I’m also drawn to Mannerism-style art, with its exuberant emotionalism and elongated human figures, strained poses, unusual effects of scale, lighting, perspective and vivid (often garish) colours. Last but not least, maximalist Baroque style stuff and the dutch Golden Age/Antwerp school will always hold a special place in my heart — specifically, artists like Leo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt… This is it for my ‘old’ art inspirations; now, I’m also influenced by contemporary art at large. To enumerate just a few, Van Gogh, Picasso, Magritte, Marcel Duchamp (Dada), Dali, De Chirico, Gauguin, Monet, Man Ray, Rauschenberg, Barbara Kruger (of course) for the tactics she used, appropriation with characteristic wit and direct commentary to communicate with the viewer and encourage the interrogation of contemporary circumstances. Collagists like Martha Rosler and Nigel Henderson, designers and architects such as David Carson and Tadao Ando, musician-geniuses and polymath-multihyphenates such as Kanye, Cudi, A$AP Rocky, Virgil Abloh, Martin Margiela… the list goes on and on and on, and there are so many more I’d love to shoutout for their contribution to who I am today.
In my humble opinion, originality is a myth. I think we’re all borrowing and remixing stuff. VERYRARE™ is the frankenstein-esque GMO’d brainchild of all my years of moodboarding and studying, spewing out my own version of how I could make them — and myself — proud.
VERYRARE’s website features a manifesto. Why do you think that manifesto — and having it be available for the public to read — is important to the brand?
The VR®® manifesto is quintessential. Each time someone wants to make a declaration of aims public, notably in the artistic or political context, they do so via a manifesto. It is used to kick start something new, a new current, a new wave, a new way of thinking: to change the industry/status quo or present state of things. VERYRARE’s manifesto matured like crazy in my head for three or four years easily before I felt the moment was right and had the courage necessary to launch the brand. I wrote mine in 21 bullet points (VERYRARE’s ‘golden number/prism, through which lots of things are done). These are rules that I promise to follow, to stand for/by. Without the manifesto, I could never have actioned what follows now. The main pinnacle of it, though, is VR®®’s ’quattromotto’ — namely quality, rarity, singularity and sustainability. They’re the pillars on which the brand’s solid branding/DNA and line of vision rest; solid and timeless, the manifesto allows us slight deviations but forces us to remain true to our core roots.
Introduce us to this most recent collection. What inspired this series of works?
To be fair, I feel like organising collections by themes and restricting oneself to one lexical field is outdated, or just so not me. It’s just not VERYRARE. I have a lot of ideas on how to title each and every one of my statement pieces; I give them names worthy of proper artworks, because they are artworks at the end of the day — but I have zero idea on how to name the englobing collection in which the pieces may get inscribed. I feel like that’s never what I envisioned. VR®® is unbound. It’s more like a collection of stuff I find ‘very rare’. Our present collection is more like drops hitting the market every once in a while. Ultra-limited (21 editions/drops only ever produced, never restocking, as our manifesto and certificates of authenticity corroborate), seasonless and timeless releases. I still named our newest collection ’S02’: kinda like an online web series’ appellation, as in S01E2-type shit.
If you had to choose a single piece to represent the spirit of this collection, which one would it be and why?
It would undoubtedly be our newest woven tapestry jacquard crewneck ‘Black Sheep/Maverick Mentality’. A high-contrast Rebellion scene, order vs. chaos-type shit. I was inspired by this Jungian psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ quote: “Do not cringe and make yourself small if you are called the black sheep, the maverick, the lone wolf. Those with slow seeing say that a nonconformist is a blight on society. But it has been proven over the centuries, that being different means standing at the edge, that one is practically guaranteed to make an original contribution, a useful and stunning contribution to her culture”.
Right now, being a youth during the pandemic, I wanted to express that it’s ever-more important to stand by your ethos and values; even when the world may seem against you and pushing you back, you gotta double down on yourself. It’s a powerful piece for sure. And as every house needs an emblem, something worth fighting for, something worth being represented by, ours at VERYRARE is composed of all the overachievers, the underdogs, the black sheeps and the ‘crazy ones’. There will be hills and hiccups along the way, but with the VR®® on, worn like an armour, nothing can touch you. The piece features a black oryx and black sheep figures on both sleeves, amongst some white ones, layered and eerily fusing with mainstage characters. Verso side is inspired by Soviet thought control programs and analogue censorship techniques (before Photoshop existed). This piece shall put the OGs and the new Gs in accordance. ‘Black Sheep’ asks a plethora of questions subtly and implicitly, e.g. which side are You on? Is there even a side to pick? Can’t we create our own side, just like we create our own wave/moves in this universe?
What’s been inspiring you recently?
Since it’s impossible for me to go to museums or galleries at the moment, I go back to basics. My day-one inspo, a.k.a. the street, inspires me: indeed, my block in Paris is full of stickers, tags, ripped shit, graffiti through/from which creativity sparks and get revelated to me. Photography (notably Richard Mosse’s infrareds) and music (I’m listening to a lot of organica, nu garage, future garage, and chill/melodic techno at the moment). Lastly, the global community — humanity, basically. My fellow creative tribe inspires me beyond measure. I have like three accounts where I’m stacking the maximum limit Instagram allows me to follow, that is to say, 7500 pages per account. Only following fellow designers and creators. I feel like I’m roaming the Internet too much. Tumblr, Pinterest, Wikipedia, the Vogue Runways archive, and Google Images are go-tos for me. When I’m not designing and piecing together the VERYRARE one-of-ones for my clientele, I basically either moodboard inspo out, dig through archive stuff, or organise my junk into folders arborescently so I can then retrieve anything at will. My computer and phones basically are the extensions of my brain at this point, storing my memory externally, mixing and matching, recreating something new with the old.
What’s next for VERYRARE?
We’re opening our very first art-elier! My crib was full of fabric, swatches, threads on the floor and pizza-like packaging boxes. It started to feel too cramped and counter-efficient, so the new + neighbouring open space/studio remediates that. We just call it ‘the HQ’, and it’s where we make magic happen, as in it’s where VERYRARE’s statement pieces + goodie galores are put together. Altogether, a showroom/backdoor inner courtyard shop and operations/orders fulfillment centre, everything done in-house. This is a major milestone for us as we continue to grow and people from all over the world support us. I will resolutely make pop-ups happen, and there are some festivals’ booths/partnerships in the planning that I can’t disclose for now. We definitely need more IRL interaction, and I intend to deliver. And since I dabbled in the events industry during my undergrad years, long-term wise, I’d love to host some type of VR®® Boiler Room too, creating absolute art installations prone to entering psychological states of Flow, peace of mind, joy and happiness via synesthesia, intersecting fashion with music in perfect symbiotic osmosis.