Interviews

SWAMPGOD’S UNCOMPROMISING UPCYCLING

31 May 2022

In conversation with SWAMPGOD at OWENSCORP, END. delve into the young visionary's unconventional upcycling of Rick Owens' iconic designs.

SWAMPGOD at OWENSCORP, Venice for END.
Taking a scalpel to some of Rick Owens’ most iconic pieces, Italian up-cycler, artist and designer, Arturo Boem – known under the enigmatic moniker SWAMPGOD – takes a visceral approach to modern clothing design. Transforming Owens’ garments with a rough and ready attitude, the designer offers his characteristic point of view through the transformation of samples, cut offs and waste fabric to build a new outlook on sustainable design.

Having been contacted out of the blue via Instagram by American design icon Rick Owens in 2020, SWAMPGOD has found himself enmeshed within the world of the Californian designer. Originally hailing from Venice, the 28-year-old upcycling maverick has been adopted by Owens as his latest protégé - handpicked as one of the best and brightest of the next generation of avant-garde designers. Receiving access to the fabric cut-outs, off cuts and samples, Boem creates esoteric garments that enshrine Owens’ signature aesthetic with a twist of rough and ready attitude. Mutating recognisable pieces and metamorphosing their structure, Boem creates a new form of physical collage that remains tied to Owens’ dark and shadowy aesthetic, while forging a new path through the darkness with an anarchistic edge.

Sitting down with SWAMPGOD ahead of the launch of their collaborative capsule, END. discuss the young designer’s work with Rick Owens, finding inspiration in Venice and the importance of upcycling to his creative practice.

SWAMPGOD at OWENSCORP, Venice for END.
SWAMPGOD at OWENSCORP, Venice for END.

Having spent the past two years working with Rick Owens, how have you found the experience? What have you learnt during your time at OWENSCORP?

Life changing, focusing - the period I learnt the most in my entire life. Before going to work for OWENSCORP, I was barely able to do a straight stitch, now I can design and sew a model from scratch. Besides the immense knowledge and technique I had the access to, I had the opportunity to see from the inside how a company of that level works: what the steps are, and how long it takes to start from an idea to the realisation of it. I also met a lot of great people that taught me to take my place in a bigger system, to be a gear of a machine. That was completely new to me as I always behaved as the outsider, even at school or uni.

What is it about the Rick Owens DNA that appeals to you and your approach to design?

I was a Rick Owens fan long before I made fashion one of the fields in which to apply my creativity. I especially admire Rick's rigour ad his uncompromising nature. What I try to bring into my practice, too, is the attitude and method in conceiving projects regardless of the objects produced. The way he and his team start from a vision, from the essentiality of the geometric lines that inspire it, from the technical and sensorial characteristics of the materials, and concretise it into products without losing anything of the initial vision.

What initially piqued your interest in upcycling as a creative practice?

When I initially approached product design, even if I put a lot of attention on how I dressed, I refused to put my creativity at work into the fashion field as it didn’t appeal to me because of its unsustainability.  My generation has grown up with the need to take this into consideration before even starting a new project. Then I discovered upcycling and I started to consider it as a possible solution. I honestly believe we now have enough fabric and garments in the world to dress the entirety of humanity for years to come. I approached fashion from upcycling and not the other way around.  I wanted to produce clothes that represented me and having limited economic resources I decided to produce them myself by reusing materials and fabrics of the clothes that lay in the attic.

The merging of your upcycling practice with Rick Owens’ distinctive and defined aesthetic sensibility appears seamlessly in your work for the label – what complications have you overcome while working through this process?

Now that I think about it, the first difficulty was actually finding the courage and somehow the arrogance to modify a Rick model since I thought they were already perfect as they were and they didn’t need my intervention. I would have bought them if I could. Before working for OWENSCORP I only upcycled used or deadstock workwear in order to use archetypal garments as a sort of empty canvases in which to infuse my vision. With Rick’s garments, it was a whole different story. In front of me, I had objects I had dreamed of but I couldn’t afford and had the privilege to even change them into something I liked even more. At first, I was almost overwhelmed with the pressure I was putting on myself, but then I started to really like the game. Consequently, my approach has become bolder capsule after capsule.

SWAMPGOD at OWENSCORP, Venice for END.
The absolute need to find a sustainable way of living in this world is something I think my generation is very well aware of."

How has your perspective on upcycling developed during your time at Rick Owens?

My time at Owenscorp has been one of immense personal growth. As my technical skills became better and better, I was more confident in delivering my own vision to the whole project. I initially started by making stylistic changes or additions to the garments of the past collections, then I came to use the deconstructed garments for new designs that were completely my own. I also had the opportunity to understand that upcycling is only one of the ways a company can approach to be more sustainable: from sourcing the right fabric, logistics, dyes, and packaging - I was astonished to discover that if it's all set in the right way, how many sides of the supply chain can be upgraded without compromising, that much is profit.

Having the freedom to utilise a vast quantity of materials from the Rick Owens studio must be somewhat daunting at certain times - what is your process led by? What forms the initial idea for each individual piece?

My first reaction was a genuine shock. I felt like a kid in toy land. I had free access to the sampling cutouts container where every day I could find different and precious materials to work with. I had to be very methodical in order to meet the deadlines. I first had to divide my working time between sampling fabrics and production. During the sampling, I analysed the capsules that I would have to make and I divided and stored the materials according to how much they matched (to me) and the material of each garment I was given. Most of the time the creative process started in my mind right in the moment, and by the time I was finished dividing I knew exactly what I was going to do with each piece.

The issue of waste within the fashion industry is a considerable problem – is sustainable design something that you have always been concerned with?

Of course, it is, as I said before, the absolute need to find a sustainable way of living in this world is something I think my generation is very well aware of.  And this is also one of the reasons I wasn’t that much attracted by the fashion world at first. But when I approached upcycling I discovered this could be part of the solution.

Having been born and raised in Venice, a city known for its Gothic palaces and Renaissance architecture, how does the city influence your work?

Venice is a city where beauty, the archetypal one, out of all time and fashion, is everywhere. Having grown up surrounded by all this beauty certainly influenced me, as did my art studies. But not only that, Venice is also a place where upcycling has always been practiced. Many of its palaces and monuments are built by reusing materials from previous buildings. The high costs and difficulties of transport in the lagoon have made reusing materials the cheapest solution available for the construction of new works. On the other hand, this city also has fewer shining sides. Within the gothic aesthetic, the fog, the darkness of its streets, and the job opportunities offered to young people are very few outside of making a living out of renting the houses they inherited from family to tourists. From this humus comes the SWAMPGOD project. The goal is to make upcycling a way of life by imitating what the Venetians had already done in building a city that has no equal in the world.

SWAMPGOD at OWENSCORP, Venice for END.
SWAMPGOD at OWENSCORP, Venice for END.
The Rick Owens SWAMPGOD by END. collection will launch via END. Launches on the 4th June.
writerChris Owen
|photographerArturo Boem
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