Kristian Steinberg is a unique designer with an exceptional past. Born into Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1976, Steinberg spent his childhood watching his imaginative mother craft dresses from the fabrics had his naval-officer father had smuggled from abroad in order to evade the import ban. After beginning school and being exposed to the British society fashioned by the communist regime, Steinberg began to seek shelter in his own creativity: “I coped by drawing cars and building endlessly with Lego, fantasising about a different reality,” the designer explains.
Drawing on his challenging past, Steinberg’s unambiguously titled Autumn/Winter ‘11 collection ‘Scars’ utilises the colours and textures of his native Estonia: " I wanted to explain how Estonians feel having lost their country for over 50 years." Faced with the inevitability of joining the infamously stringent Russian army at the age of 17, Steinberg and his family fled to Sweden in 1989. After proceeding to study Chemistry at the Royal University of Technology in Stockholm, Steinberg admits: “Choosing science over art links back to my fear of not getting a ‘proper’ education.”
In 1999, he eventually relinquished to the “uncertainties of fashion.” Despite the change of discipline, Steinberg’s scientific career was not undergone vain: “It taught me to solve problems and learn new things in a systematic way. When I decided to become a designer I approached the whole field of fashion like an engineer.” Steinberg worked meticulously around the clock, spending his “weekends in fashion retail, and evenings assisting designers.”
Discovering a natural aptitude for cutting and tailoring, Steinberg honed his skills at the famous Stockholm Academy, later taking to Menswear at London’s Central Saint Martin’s “like a fish to water." Singled out amongst its notoriously competitive students, his final collection was chosen to represent St Martin’s Menswear at Le Vif Weekend in Brussels. “This collection was all about picking holes into the general idea of menswear,” Steinberg explains. “I used Marilyn Manson as the vessel to illustrate a different kind of masculinity bringing together elements of tailoring under a new silhouette.”
The search for a new silhouette continues to dominate Steinberg’s work today. Exhibiting a unique strength for anatomical cutting, Steinberg is consistently inspired by the human form: “The human body is an extraordinary piece of design,” he notes. “Though I want garments to sit and move well on the body, my placement of cutting features is often not adjusted to the manufacturing industry’s convenience but rather the design of bone and muscular structure of a man’s body.” Steinberg also finds many of his ideas in architectural design: “Architects are much more forward thinking than other designers,” Steinberg muses. “Entering a great building is like passing into a different world.”
Despite his initial inspiration, Steinberg admits that his fabric selection often dictates design: “Fabric is king in my book. I always let the material decide how an idea should be executed. I’m always adjusting to suit the material at hand.” Paying close attention to tactility in his work, one texture is never enough: “Contrasting elements can either harmonise or dissonance, but together they say more than when standing alone.”
Exhibiting his fondness for contrast, Steinberg’s rebellious Autumn/Winter ‘14 collection combined athletic and tailored silhouettes. Organic cork is used alongside digital prints and bold turquoise is contrasted against the otherwise muted palette: “Colours aren’t necessarily interesting individually,” he explains. “I want all the colours in the collection to speak to each other and lift the story to another level.”
However, Steinberg has designed his Autumn/Winter ‘15 collection with the buyer in mind: “This year is all about conceptual and the easy-to-wear,” he explains. Drawing inspiration directly from the music underscoring Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, the Autumn/Winter ‘15 line has been designed with a faster beat in mind. Doubling production from one collection to two per year, Steinberg has been enthralled by the pace: “I love the fact that there’s absolutely no time to over analyse... I can see the benefits already!"
Though increasingly commercially minded, Steinberg will not follow the crowd: "Menswear is going through a lot of changes right now and I want to play a part in shaping it," he admits. With his musically inspired AW15 collection clearly on the brain, he concludes: "I step away from the norm. I would never have been a 'punk' but I'm every bit as rebellious!"
Words: Elizabeth Neep
Photographer: Florian Renner
Fashion Director: Zadrian Smith
Models: Harry Curran @ AMCK Models, and Niall Underwood @ FM London
Set Designer: Alun Davies
Hair Stylist: Sven Bayerbach Using Oribe
Make-up Artist: Isabell Boettcher
Nails: Roxanne Campbell
Styling Assistantce: Brillant Nyansago and Muna Abu-Qaoud
Set Design Assistance: Alex Clow