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“Every design is born in a digital environment using state-of-the-art 3D modelling programmes that are mostly applied in high-end CAD-manufacturing and others more commonly found in the entertainment industry,” Published By’s creative director and founder Christoph Tsetinis tells Aljadid over Google Hangout. After training as a carpenter and transitioning into fashion and accessory design, the constantly curious Vienna-based designer left his position at Alexander McQueen to launch a studio with his partner, Ruby Wallen, driven by a desire to push possibilities. Since its inception in 2017, the duo have challenged both the aesthetics and mechanics of accessories by applying unexpected and unexplored opportunities in manufacturing and material science.
Instead of being crafted in Italian ateliers, their signature metal bags build on the traditions of yesterday and are produced in an automotive factory. Instead of leather, they transform recycled car parts into their signature sculptural shells. Through blending two radically different worlds, Published By not only reinterprets, reengineers and reimagines just what a fashion product can be, but revolutionises how they’re produced, communicated and consumed. During an hour-long video chat, Christophe and Ruby talk us through what drives them to push beyond the constraints of traditional manufacturing, their ability to reduce waste and produce consciously, and desire to continually push untold creative boundaries.
Firstly where are you, how are you and has this interview interrupted you from?
Ruby: I’m in Germany visiting our factory in Germany and Chris is at our offices in Vienna. Where are you?
Aljadid: London, enjoying a late heatwave.
Ruby: We love London and actually met there while Chris was working at Alexander McQueen. We had planned to visit for London Fashion Week to meet friends and stakeholders but the very next day, they added Austria to the travel blacklist.
Aljadid: Here’s hoping you can return soon. What would you say was the overriding catalyst for launching Published By?
Ruby: A desire to create and to control our output. We actually started with leather bags with an interesting twist. We met suppliers and producers, made prototypes and the Austrian Fashion Association gave us the chance to show at Paris Fashion Week. We went, showed the collection and although we were proud of what we’d made, we were struck by just how many leather bags there were already. How do you stand out in such a saturated market?
Christophe: Did the world need more leather bags? It soon became clear that it didn’t. So, we sold all of our machines. At one point, we had just one room with a 3D printer and a laptop. That’s how we created our bags at the beginning. We wanted to push ourselves to becomesomething more. For any emerging brand, it’s really important to create your own DNA.
Ruby: When we were brainstorming about where to take our brand, it became clear that we should Chris’ family link to the automotive industry create something truly unique. His father owns a large consultancy that works in production, essentially a prototyping factory for the German automotive industry. So when we returned to Vienna, he sold the contents of his studio.
Aljadid: An extreme refresh but one that has forged a unique approach.
Christophe: The technology undoubtedly led us to an aesthetic that would be possible without it. We would find sculptural stones on the beach and wanted to create something similar but it just wouldn’t be possible using traditional methods and materials. After we travelled extensively to Italy and Spain to learn from these 75-year-old leather craftsmen, we decided to collaborate with the car industry because they have all the technology in the world. It was an unexpected journey that led us to working with people who have never created a bag before.
Aljadid: There must have been so many interesting conversations. Firstly with these traditional 75-year-old craftsmen that have been working solely with leather for half a century, you arrive and talk of metal. Then, meeting research and development experts in the car industry and informing them of your plans to turn their materials into fashion accessories. How did they each react?
Christophe: All of them have a certain mindset which I love. In Italy, there’s so much passion for the leather but when we showed them what we had in mind, they were really open and intrigued. At the same time we might receive a call from a guy who creates body parts for Mercedes who's upset because there’s a minimal incorrectness. Each world is so passionate.
Ruby: In general, we try and work in a structured way but when we work with the automotive company in Germany, it’s next level. Design can be a flexible process but they expect every single article number, every dimension, every screw positioning one year in advance. While we still have a flexible approach to creativity, it’s taught us a valuable lesson in discipline.
Aljadid: I’m intrigued by your design process. Each and every design is born in a digital environment using 3D modeling programmes that are mostly applied in high-end CAD-manufacturing. How different is this design process to what you were doing at McQueen? Where do the skills come from?
Christophe: There was a need and curiosity to learn. I was trained initially as a carpenter, so the mindset was there but it was limited. At Uni, our professors were Hussein Chalayan and Bernhard Willhelm who were great, but unfortunately there was never a digital approach to design. At McQueen they hated technology, everything was by hand but sometimes I would trick them and simulate watercolours on the screen. When we started designing the bags, there was a need to learn so I went for it.
Ruby: He says that so lightly but when he found out that he needed to do 3D modelling, he was learning until 4am every morning for two years. When he decided to go down this route, his curious mind just compelled him to learn so much.
Christophe: With Ruby taking care of the business, I’m able to focus on design. It sounds dry but the experiences you gain by learning from people is so exciting. When you create fashion traditionally, you know your path but we had no clue. As we progressed more topics came up, like rendering, visualisation. Before we create anything, we can show buyers and gage interest.
Aljadid: It’s essentially pandemic proof, which helps.
Christophe: That’s what we’ve found out. For me, little has changed and we’re busier than ever, so we’re actually bringing more people onto the team. I do believe that our path is future-orientated.
Aljadid: For you, how much is Published By driven by a desire to disrupt and challenge convention by offering a better way, a more positive and conscious process and product?
Christophe: We found out pretty quickly that our technology enables us to create products that are so digitally advanced that we know the end result is precisely what we drew. The technology unlocks so many possibilities and allows us to not only explore them digitally, but to share them digitally too. So the first thing is that it is extremely flexible. The second is waste. Leather is beautiful but there’s a next step that has to be taken. The pieces themselves, while made from recycled car parts can themselves be recycled, that’s something that we’re keen to push even further. For me, the beauty of Published By is that two people can create beautiful products. 20 years ago, that would have been unthinkable. One of the only limits now is knowledge.
Ruby: We would love to be part of teaching the next generation of students about what’s possible. We actually had two University workshops planned, one in Singapore and one in Sydney, but COVID had other plans.
Aljadid: What excites you most about tomorrow?
Christophe: We live in such a challenging time but the chances we have as a 2, 3, 4 man company to grow and show strength are truly exciting. Also, the digitalisation of the system. My dream is that 500 people order and we create 500 bags, not 800. The mindset around how technology can push and change aesthetics is really exciting.
Aljadid: We’re beginning to see shifts accelerated by the pandemic.
Ruby: There’s been so much talk around the restructuring of the fashion calendar and we’re big supporters of that.
Christophe: For me, fashion design is product design. When a product is ready, it’s ready.
Aljadid: There’s been so much positive talk, now the time is positive action. Change is undoubtedly coming.
Christophe: It will happen step-by-step. The pandemic slowdown has enabled a growing number of industry figures to see that there are alternative methods. We can begin to see what’s possible and that’s exciting.