Dress for the Pandemic You Want, Not the Pandemic You Have

S.R. Studio. LA.CA. Spring 2021 Couture Collection - Apparitions

Sterling Ruby is challenging my notion of couture. He is pushing at couture in a way that only an outsider is able to. Originally trained as a painter, Sterling Ruby has been expanding his artistic practice to include garments. Sterling Ruby’s debut couture collection featured garments that looked ready to face the pandemic and also offered ideas of how one might dress in the new normal. It is post-apocalyptic/post-pandemic couture. But it is also couture for the here and now.

“Apparitions”, the title of Ruby’s collection, conjured up punk apocalyptic pilgrims, floaty nymphs, and architectural power suits reminiscent of David Byrne. There were references to nature in digitally printed floral fabrics and brightly colored denim treated with bleach forms splotches like glowing lichen. Ruby gives care to material, texture, color and pattern. Giant shaggy textiles envelope models like a comforting blanket, a place to hide away from the realities of the world, but also perhaps, the comforting armor one needs in order to face it. The clothes are painterly, and there is an attention to detail and a level of care that is particular to visual artists.

Sterling Ruby’s couture collection faces reality head on. He does not shy away from the pandemic. Instead he presents ways of dressing for it. Or rather, he presents ways of dealing with the grief of the pandemic, by way of getting dressed. These are not party dresses to wear once the pandemic is over and we are repeating the glamour of the 1920’s, like some are predicting. These are garments of weight and substance. They acknowledge the heaviness of grief and the lightness of happiness. They encapsulate the rollercoaster of emotions we have all been feeling.

We can luxuriate on our couch, comfort eating in one of his loose, wispy chiffon dresses. A rectangle of cloth so light it threatens to fly away, it has been stitched with narrow channels of drawstring, shirring and gathering the cloth in light folds across the surface of the body, and radiating out at the seams, like a halo.

We can armor up in one of the ensembles with the bonnet that takes away our peripheral vision, and focus on what is ahead of us. Made out of a heavy denim with large flecks of bleach, the bonnet looms over our vision of the world. Worn with a matching shirt dress and wide leg pants, the voluminous shapes pull towards the ground. A grounding, but also a weighing down.

That weight becomes a source of comfort in the warm and heavy embrace of one of the shag-carpet inspired pieces. A white, red, and blue plaid ambiguously shaped garment envelopes the figure. Maybe it is a jacket. Or maybe it is a skirt suit. Whatever it is, it looks as if it provides the soft comfort of wrapping oneself in a down comforter and has the same calming effect as a weighted blanket. It can also serve as a form of camouflage, to become one with your carpeted surroundings.

When we emerge from under the blanket, we will have to acknowledge the new normal. Wide legged pants, a denim jacket, and a geometric poncho, all printed with the same abstract and textural digital print will be what we wear for our reemergence. Yarn has been haphazardly attached, as if the garment has weathered a storm, emerging with debris clinging to the surface.

Sterling Ruby’s garments are not for show. They are for telling. Sterling Ruby used his debut couture collection to work through his feelings about the pandemic. He did not present us with garments to distract us from it. The garments are practical. Functional. They are to be worn now, and not saved and accumulated for the future.