“How do you make something that can live through so many different seasons?” That was the question Chris Leba asked at a pre-fall preview at R13’s SoHo store. Rather than react by doing more, his instinct was to streamline. “I was trying to get a palette that could be delivered in June and live on, but I was also feeling like last season we did so much color and pattern, that I just had to simplify,” he said.
Leba is guided by his substantial technical knowledge. In an age when many designers are led by mood boards and strictly visual references, his collections are deft explorations and reimaginings of wardrobe staples. We can chalk it up to his years at Ralph Lauren and his admiration of Rei Kawakubo—whose influences can be spotted in some pieces here. Ultimately, though, it’s his curiosity for rethinking the mundane that gives R13 its cool, downtown charm.
Leba described this collection as a “play of disproportion,” and while this could be easily applied to most R13 collections, silhouette is a particular focus in this delivery. The collection’s hero piece is a cowboy boot with an extended vamp and enlarged throat. “The silhouette starts slim at the top with the jackets, and then goes wide into the pants and pours into the boot,” he said.
Of Leba’s technical explorations this season, the most compelling is a two-piece sleeve that runs through the collection from tailored jackets down to flannels and knitwear. Set into the shoulder traditionally, the sleeve is pieced at the top of the cap with a raw edge seam traveling down the front and back, creating an illusion of flatness. Other items worth singling out are a “cleaned up” pair of jeans with a center crease to camouflage them as dress pants and tonal embroidery replacing the hardware (like old Lee jeans, Leba said); a hulking bomber jacket where each half is cut from a single piece of fabric, doing away with the shoulder and side seams and pushing the silhouette forward; and a pair of trousers with princess front and back seams in lieu of side seams, eliminating the traditional curved hip in the pattern to streamline the fit.
“There’s a lot of thinking that goes into how we make these pieces special,” Leba said. “Our fabrics, we always use the legit stuff; you cannot fake this, this is generations of weaving.” Last season, Leba played with digitally printed plaids, applying them to airy cotton button-downs and even knitwear. This time around the idea was translated into paint-splattered printed tweeds. “You live with something for a few months and then when it comes to the next collection, you want a different flavor,” he said. “I feel like fashion is moving towards that, and I’ve been around for long enough to see things slowly change.”