The artist-turned-designer revealed his new line, S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA., at Pitti Uomo.
When Pitti Immagine Uomo announced Los Angeles-based artist Sterling Ruby as the special guest for the 96th edition last March, several questions arose: Sterling Ruby is becoming a fashion designer? Will he actually designing the clothes? Is this an art project? Will the clothes resemble his collaborations with Raf Simons? Or will he completely surprise us? The fashion and the art worlds finally got those answers on June 13, when the artist-cum-designer presented his debut fashion collection in Florence under the name S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. in Le Pagliere, a hay manger built in the 19th century that was once filled with livestock. Several all-stars showed up in support of Ruby, including Simons, stylist Olivier Rizzo, photographer Willy Vanderperre, and multihyphenate Virgil Abloh.
Instead of using a backdrop comprised of his art, as Simons did for several seasons at Calvin Klein, Ruby opted for a bare set with lean benches for the fashion and art cognoscenti in attendance and clouds of smoke floating above. Ruby is no stranger to fashion; he first started with a sewing machine at 13 and made his debut on the runways of the Couture Week of Fall/Winter 2012, collaborating with Simons on his inaugural collection for Dior. His partnership with Simons outlived the designer’s tenure at Dior; he would go on to work with Simons on his eponymous men’s line as well as throughout Simons’s time at Calvin Klein, where his work appeared as sets for Simons’s fashion shows, in the stores, and the Calvin Klein offices and showrooms. Ruby has been making workwear himself for years, and he’s even exhibited it in a 2016 show at Sprueth Magers London. In an interview with the German magazine 032c that same year, the artist made a surprising revelation: “I would say 90 percent of what I wear is what we make in the studio.”
S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. is not just one line, but the umbrella under which four different collections exist: S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. is the main line; ED. 50 creates limited-run pieces in editions of 50; SOTO, which are clothes made with fabric handcrafted by Sterling Ruby Studio; and UNIQUE, one-of-a-kind pieces designed by Ruby. Ruby culled the inspiration for the show from different parts of his life, with several of the garments carrying the same tropes used by Ruby in his artwork, including the vibrant acid-washed prints from his bleach-collaged soft sculptures and canvases, an American flag print inside candle-shaped silhouettes, the monsters of his sculptural work turned into a print; and the fringe that often appears in his installations.
Although the majority of the show comprised of his acid-wash covered workwear, Ruby also introduced several surprises. Amish and Mennonite-inspired dresses covered in plaid were a homage to his upbringing in rural Pennsylvania, chunky knits and coats decorated with intersecting lines referenced the yarn in his artwork, and Melanie Schiff, Ruby’s wife, contributed photographs of candles and weeds that were transformed into prints.
Naysayers may think that Ruby should stick to art, but in a world where the lines between fashion, art, and design are consistently blurred, the artist is simply developing another side of his practice. After all, Los Angeles—the city where Ruby resides and works—is rife with experimentation, so why not?