February 18, 2011 London
Let's start by stipulating that the look of Raeburn's outerwear is hardly revolutionary. He broke new ground for himself this season, expanding beyond his graphic parachute silk anoraks and patchwork parkas, and introducing a range of tailored pieces for men and women made from deadstock melton wool. But as good as those looks were—and they were really, really good—they don't exactly redefine the look of the now. With that said, however, it's not unreasonable to assert that Christopher Raeburn is the single most radical designer working today. In coming years, it's likely that innovation in fashion is going to revolve less around aesthetics and more around the way things are made—where materials come from and how efficiently garments are produced—and looked at in that light, Raeburn is a visionary. A detail-driven designer, he finds ways to shape the look of his clothes around what he can source, as in his toggle coats, with their leather patches (from old German military smocks) and vintage horn buttons, or his orange wool melton jackets, the fabric left over from beefeater uniforms, or his tweedy baseball jackets, made from military transit blankets that were themselves produced from detritus.
Of course, no one would bother about Raeburn's radical project if he weren't producing great-looking clothes. As the wool melton pieces prove, he's an excellent tailor, cutting a woman's coat close to the body, for instance, and giving its skirt a just-so flare. He has a fine sense of the graphic, using his trademark grosgrain ribbon both to help shape garments and as a high-contrast accent. And for all the utilitarian mien of Raeburn's patchwork parkas, you just have to spy the angled set of their pockets to understand that they were made for people who are incredibly fussy about the look of their clothes. It's hard to fathom how Raeburn will continue to expand the borders of his label—if he'll be able to find ways to do things other than outerwear—but perhaps the best compliment you can pay him is to say that you hope he does.