Xenia Telunts: An Interview With the Young British Designer

Xenia Telunts may be humble but her aspirations are huge.

The young British designer has been in the biz for five years, with her immensely wearable Spring/Summer 2023 collection marking ten seasonal offerings to date.

SS23, her most colorful collection to date, is a landmark for Telunts but it’s also a sort of mission statement for her work: produced locally by laborers earning a fair wage, with sustainability baked right into the creative process from the ground up,

So, what with all these intelligently-designed chore coats, deliciously chunky knits, and patterned workwear set-ups, why aren’t we all wearing Xenia Telunts already?

Well, for one, her brand is intentionally not a mainstream project. Telunts’ thoughtful craft and size — she’s basically a one-woman act — demand a small-scale approach.

Plus, unless you’ve been paying attention to tastemaking Japanese boutiques or scouring the scene for especially thoughtful up-and-comers, you likely haven’t even heard of Telunts, in fact. And that’s okay.

“We choose not to participate in London Fashion Week and to this point have never engaged a PR agency, which allows for investment in our product and the conditions in which it’s made,” Telunts said.

I first stumbled across Telunts’ work at one of my favorite stores, Shibuya’s WARE-MO-KOU, which began working with the designer in 2018, a year after her label got going.

These rudimentary garments reflected only the earliest expression of Telunts’ expressive language but, even at first blush, I was immediately hooked. It was everything I want in clothing, wrapped up in a single collection.

I imagined how easy life would be if I had a closet full of Telunts’ giant coats, boxy jackets, and one-size-fits-all pants made in extremely limited editions, cut from zero-waste patterns, and realized in earthy hues.

There was even a handwritten care label that tied each garment to a unique code that could be entered on Telunts’ website to order spare parts or request maintenance should anything break down with wear — this is the painstaking, hands-on craft I crave.

Telunts’ brand has evolved over the ensuing four years, retaining some of those cues and swapping some of them out as she continues to toy with the tenets of workwear her way.

For instance, “in the beginning, we were keen to offer garments hand-colored with natural dyes but we stopped doing that as we grew because we didn’t… want to do a bad job,” Telunts said.

“Instead, we chose to focus on sourcing our materials from Japan and India, where we are able to find beautiful, sustainably produced organic materials.”

You wouldn’t expect a cost-conscious young brand to also indulge in upcycled buttons, raw silk lining, and organic cotton webbing tape for binding but, then, you wouldn’t expect Xenia Telunts.

This is to say that Telunts’ quality has never been better — though I still think fondly of this one old woven fabric — nor her silhouettes more approachable. That’s not to say that she’s things are less loose, however.

“We believe unisex, oversized silhouettes allow longevity,” explained Telunts. “Our silhouette has always been wide-leg pants and a boxy oversize fitting jacket. I love working with poplin and canvas; these cottons offer great texture and weight for wide silhouettes.”

Some things stay the same and some things change.

Massive outerwear, for example, was once the Xenia Telunts signature but the designer’s Fisherman Sweater has become the cornerstone of her seasonal collections. It’ll be available for SS23 in an ultralightweight, summer-friendly cotton knit.

On the other hand, Telunts’ zest for slow growth remains the same as it was a half-decade ago.

“I learnt to be patient,” she said. “To grow slowly and organically, focusing on the product and its quality, not being distracted by the speed of the fashion calendar. I learnt that it is more important to deliver the best product that we can possibly create even if it means offering smaller collections.”

“That is not a quick route to commercial success but I hope that it builds the foundation for a brand that can still be relevant in years to come. “

You don’t found an ethical clothing brand to get rich — that’s just not ethical!

“The ultimate ambition would be to create an environment for the suppliers and makers we work with that protects the sustainability and integrity of their processes,” Telunts continued.

“We’re so proud that throughout our journey, we were able to keep all our production and manufacturing local, creating jobs and offering people long-lasting pieces while using the simplest of means and being aware of our impact on the environment.”

Note that when Telunts says “our,” she’s talking about the few folks whom she works with to produce the collection. Mostly, it’s just her — “At this scale, I see every email, every order, and the production of every piece” — which only deepens her resolve to provide fair pay for the people who manufacture her clothing.

“There is a cost to using these materials and there is a cost to paying people what they should be paid, which determines our price point — that is probably the only compromise.”

Sustainability is one of the core influences permanently affixed to Telunts’ moodboard, accompanied by general concepts (like fair wages for workers) and stylistic influences (mid-century furniture, and brutalist architecture).

The bilingual designer is also deeply inspired by her ethnic roots in Russia, reflected in both the shapes of her garments and the vintage pins she fastens to sweaters and shirts.

“I have always been really amazed by Soviet art and graphic design,” Telunts said, who recently hosted a fundraiser to benefit Ukraine’s defense against invading Russia.

“The vintage enamel badges offer a great peek into the creativity of people during such a difficult time. I love that a lot of them promote something we really believe in, like protecting the environment, picking up litter, or saving fish.”

“And it’s important to say, at this moment, that identity belongs to all former Soviet Union countries: it’s not a Russian identity alone but a shared, rich, collective cultural identity.”

Thoughtful, wearable, easy on the planet — again, I ask, why are we not all wearing Xenia Telunts? And when I say “all,” I mean everyone.

“I think our collection can be worn by literally anyone,” Telunts exclaimed. “Aesthetically, it’s inclusive and our pieces are both modest and functional, making it easy to wear whoever and wherever you are.”

So, get to it, why don’t you?

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