Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE make acutely contemporary clothing. Their work doesn’t just look great both online and IRL, something essential for success in today’s fashion industry, but is designed to reflect the ways in which we live our modern lives. The classic two-piece suit is redesigned in tight-fitting stretch fabrics, pattern pieces cut up and reformed so the garment sits a little awkwardly on the body. Trousers are ruched as though one has been sitting for hours on end, tops and shirts are constructed to appear permanently crumpled. These strange shapes and tiny details are impressions of where the piece might have changed due to continuous wear, mini caricatures of how clothing mutates when we use it.
Although the country codes in their name indicate where the designers were born—Russia, French Canada and Germany—Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE does not make clothes inspired by any one geographical place. Rather, the work is about the liminal spaces we occupy when travelling. “We’re nationless,” says Felix Karl, the German third of the brand. Karl met his co-designers, Alex Vincent and Zarina Bekerova (from French-Canada and Russia respectively) on the move. Now based in London the trio are far away from where they grew up, each using their second language to communicate.
Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE’s contemporary traveller is not extravagant, but anxious and tired—more likely to be booking with a budget airline than chartering a private jet. To illustrate this, their performance for Spring-Summer 2020 took the form of a simulated airport waiting room. The models, sweaty and uncomfortable, sat around for hours and the audience, trapped in the space with them, were forced to participate.
Rather than using a traditional runway, the brand prefers to use performance to show each collection. A video for Spring-Summer 2021 was choreographed by Nastya Livadnova and pre-recorded in Moscow, complimented by a soundtrack by Ewa Poniatowska. It involves models and a newly-repaired industrial robotic arm mimicking each other’s actions. The result is unexpectedly intimate, suggesting the strange ways in which a year of isolation has pushed us to access life’s pleasures through technology, rather than in the physical world.
**For your first performance in June 2019 for Spring-Summer 2020, what the models simulated reflected the design of the clothes—pieces looked permanently changed from the hours of sitting around these performers had to do. How is the movement of the body which informs your design translated into the choreography for this video?
Alex Vincent: I don’t think it really is. The whole idea with the robot was that performers would have this relationship with an object. The robot can follow the person’s movement, but then the person can also follow its movement. I think the whole story is about this relationship, how they feel with each other. Even though it’s an object you can still get something emotional from it.
Zarina Bekerova: We started thinking about how everybody was obsessed with those videos, which show that if you touch something and then if you touch a cup afterwards, using a light you can see stains made by the bacteria that was on your hand. We thought, okay, let’s see this from a different perspective. Maybe we’ll get a really nice performance from thinking about this interaction. Then it’s less about what the clothes are but these people are connecting them with another texture, which can make an imprint on them.
**The standard fashion show is said to mimic daily life—a model walking down a makeshift street surrounded by curious onlookers. This video, which is in place of doing a typical show, feels suggestive of a life lived right now. Having performers interact with technology seems fitting for a time in which human intimacy is predominantly carried out online. Does this analysis sit well with you?
ZB: It’s a robot so obviously the first thing you think of is that it’s very technological, very literal. So yeah, I think we can definitely connect it to something like this. But we also wanted to make it feel very sensual, to give it lots of texture: the fabrics, using sand and rocks and people actually touching the robot. So there was no technological-specific or COVID-specific concept. It’s more about touching something, feeling something—like ASMR.
Felix Karl: Yeah, since COVID, there’ve been so many relationships which are just over the phone. There has been so much digital sensuality, also so much sex.
AV: But it’s more sensual than intellectual.
**The robot in the video reminds me of the robotic arms used in Alexander McQueen’s Spring-Summer 1999 runway show. This has been historicised as a comment on the industrialisation of clothing production. I’m curious to know whether you feel that this work sits in with this narrative?
FK: McQueen did it at that time because it was such an innovation, such a new technology. He showed that there’s something changing in the fashion industry, whereas we’re using this robot as a figure of sensuality. Even though the past few years there’s been such a conversation on production and technology there’s really no connection with McQueen’s robot. I think for us, it’s not the innovation itself, it’s the connection between sensuality and technology and how that affects the human body.
**In the two performances you’ve previously presented [Spring-Summer 2020 and ‘Skin Me Tonight’ (2020) at Voo Store Berlin] there’s a process which is being carried out that the observer must watch. What do you think your interest in this observation of process is?
FK: That’s how we work, we work with a process. The performances show how our minds work. It’s a nice way to conceptualise this timeframe for people.
AV: And also to show a wide range of emotions and feelings and visuals in this short amount of time. It’s nice for us to say, ‘okay, this is the context’. I think [‘Skin Me Tonight’] was the most obvious one because it was an actual process. Here’s this couch, that’s the beginning and by the end this couch should be totally skinned. That was like a proper process where you can’t stop until it is over.
ZB: Most of the stuff we’re doing clothes-wise is very abstract but we like to also do a lot of literal things. For example, the sound of the robot is used by Ewa to create a soundtrack for the video. It’s very obvious. When it starts, when you realise what’s happening it takes two minutes maximum to understand the whole process. You kinda know what it is but then most people will stay and watch because maybe something else will happen. But nothing else does happen. There is no result. It’s just a process.
FK: In ‘Skin Me Tonight’ the theme was quite literal because it was called ‘Skin Me Tonight’, so everyone knew what would happen. The moment she started taking the leather off the couch there were a few minutes of excitement but then it became exhausting for her—she was sweating and it was hard to watch. It’s related to time, it’s related to how long-lasting is this furniture? We, in this world, always push to be fast and to be always new, to be innovative. There’s this throwaway attitude, especially in the fashion industry. I think it was a beautiful moment for people to overcome that emotion that they need to do or see something stimulating right now. They were stuck sitting there and they had to just kind of ignore this emotion to enjoy the performance. Especially those of us who are in our mid-20s, we feel like we can have anything all the time. I think that was a beautiful thing, that people were sitting there feeling uncomfortable and wanted to be rid of this impatience.
ZB: This relates to our first performance as well. It was a small box room and you could see the models felt like they were trapped. It was summer and everyone was literally sweating. As the viewer, you overcome it, and then it becomes something new to you. It’s really fun to do. Normal life scenes, scenes which you’ve experienced somewhere before. We recreate it and you see it differently.**
Mainline:RUS/Fr.CA/DE’s Spring-Summer 2021 collection debuted in October 2020, and will be available in stores from mid-March. Their Fall-Winter 2021 collection will be presented on rusfrcade.com on the 8th of March, 2021.