Raf Reyes is an artist and designer at the cutting edge of streetwear design. A Royal College of Art Graduate, he creates unique pieces that navigate the boundaries between art and fashion. With the label VeryRare, Reyes takes inspiration from a diverse range of places – from Renaissance painting to Alice in Wonderland and contemporary music. These influences collide in energetic collections, encouraging audiences to reconsider our relationships with clothing and fast fashion.
A: You started out as a visual artist. What kind of work were you making, and what inspired you to make the shift towards design?
RR: I’m from an artistic and commercial background, with members of my family – at each generational level – deeply involved in either fine arts or trade. Exhibitions of my works were held in the Ferragamo flagship store on Avenue Montaigne in Paris, and my alma mater, the University of Warwick, recognised my talent – enabling my work to be permanently exhibited in the main hall of their business school building. My main interest is 2D collage and 3D assemblage. The guiding principles in my work are impactful visuality and catharsis. My pieces are very layered (like the substrata of my mind/consciousness), sometimes glitchy and maximalist. I design because it’s an art form too; my influences include David Carson, Dieter Rams and Barbara Kruger.
A: How would you describe VERYRARE’s visual style?
RR: I reference design history, signalling its existence within the colliding worlds of archive and 21st century fashion. VERYRARE’s selected visuals feature different universes – ranging from 1990s aesthetics to contemporary sub-culture imagery. It’s a fresh and reimagined clothing style, in which opposing ideas speak to one another and are turned into very rare pieces. Shortlisted in two adjectives: ‘cathartic’ and ’unapologetic’.
A: Which artists, designers and creative influences do you take inspiration from?
RR: I can’t pick only one! The baseline of VERYRARE and my thinking is collage: aggregated thought and perspectives coming from a lot of different directions. When it comes to aesthetics and art-related topics, I’m someone attracted to extremes: from Renaissance-style art to my “day one inspiration”, the street. The global community, humanity and my fellow creative tribe inspires me beyond measure. This includes fellow designers/creators such as @Slimesunday and @Beeple_crap. Recently, Daisuke Ohba, Raymond Pettibon and Wes Lang have influenced me the most – alongside Ed Ruscha, Warhol, Ramellzee, Futura2000 and Basquiat.
Deserving of a special place in my heart are Hajime Sorayama’s chromed-out characters and “superrealism” wave; Takashi Murakami for his superflat and maximalist kawaii imagery; and Daniel Arsham for his “fictional archeology”, where new and old blur. Lastly, writer-entrepreneur Bobby Hundreds’ book This Is Not a Tshirt hit me deeply for its internet-led, brand-centric, renegade entrepreneurialism.
A: You have said: “Our objective is to sell artwear, or even better just art, instead of streetwear and fast fashion” How would you describe “artwear”? How do you view the relationship between art and fashion? And what is VERYRARE’s affinity with the number 21?
RR: Artwear’s roots stem from artists doing clothing. For instance, all his life, Salvador Dali had a great interest for the world of fashion. His meeting with Coco Chanel inspired him to design clothing – such as the costumes for the theatrical piece, Bacchanale, and for the opera, Tristan Fou. In 1950, he created the special costume with drawers with Christian Dior.
VR®® and art are indissociable. Plain and simple, artwear is art you can wear. But to me, it’s really about tackling the following four points through the prism of Art History: Unique, limited editions, each item/drop numbered up until 21; Personal, the consumer’s initials emblazoned on the garment; Premium, affordable street couture with irreproachable quality; and Non-Fast Fashion, incorporating timeless aesthetics. There are strong storylines and underlying narratives in each piece. As for our “lucky number 21”, it’s been the guiding number for the brand.
A: How are VERYRARE pieces made? What materials and processes do you use? What do you mean by ‘goodie galore’?
RR: I use fabric as the blank canvas for my art. Having founded VERYRARE in March 2020, I went straight to cut and sew, high-end manufacturing with premium techniques. I wanted to mix street and couture, with a museum twist. The aim was to make art wearable and democratise what’s otherwise unaffordable. I’m sourcing fabric from all over the world and collaborating with fellow textile associates in France, Portugal, Turkey and China. I’m always on the chase for the best in terms of quality, durability and rarity/originality. For instance, this year I’ve been really loving the jacquard fabric. I do crewnecks and hoodies with woven tapestry – something that’s been done since the dawn of time. Examples include Bayeux, Gobelins and Dutch tapestry. Recently, we invested in our first-ever flagship in Paris.
When it comes to the idea of the ‘goodie galore’, I was dissatisfied with the current ways brands serve their customers. 99% of the times you order from the internet or in a shop, you only get what you pay for. The VERYRARE ‘goodie galore’ makes you feel like it’s Christmas every time you buy from us. It’s an unboxing experience unlike any other; it’s art. It’s more than just fabric.
A: Many people are moving away from fast fashion, instead opting for more sustainable options. How does VeryRare fit into this narrative?
RR: I was recently appalled by a recent study showing that fashion purchases are worn just seven times on average before being discarded. This statistic exposes fast fashion and the “barely-wear” culture. I transcend this with VR®®, flipping the script towards better ways of thinking. I don’t sell clothes anymore, I sell art. These are ultra-limited statement pieces, named and numbered (21 editions/drops max), for your next 50 washes. It’s stuff your grand-children will be able to wear proudly. It’s also for these reasons that I wrote the VR®® manifesto. These are rules that I promise to stand by. The main principles are quality, rarity, singularity and sustainability.
A: What have been your favourite VERYRARE designs to date?
RR: My newest collection features a statement piece which channels the power of Cabanel’s artwork, Fallen Angel. The painting is just so powerful. The quiet fury and resentment in the subject’s eyes, the single tear for his loss, his hands clasped together in an effort to control these intense emotions… This VR®® statement piece also draws parallels with our era, where many of us can barely contain our anger in the aftermath of world events.
A: What is your vision for the future?
RR: I want to change how people view a piece of cloth — how they assign value and meaning to it. I want them to feel (and know) that they’re not alone; that they’re part of this large family of doers and DIYers. You look at the greatest streetwear designers, and they stand by the same principles as me. They all paint a cohesive story with their work, substantiated by experience and credibility. To me, it’s never mattered how financially viable an idea might be, how popular a brand gets in the mainstream, for whom the blogs are shouting out. After the hype dies, it’s the emotional repercussions that bestow a legacy. It reminds me of a Maya Angelou quotation: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
With VERYRARE, I’m heralding the second wave. I’ll resolutely make popups happen; there are some festival partnerships in the planning that I can’t disclose for now. We definitely need more IRL interaction, and I intend to deliver. Since I dabbled in the events industry during my undergrad years, I’d love to host some type of VR®® boiler room. I’d love to create absolute art installations that evoke peace of mind, joy and happiness – intersecting fashion with music in perfect harmony.
Find out more here.
1. ©Raf Reyes
2, 3, 6, 7. ©Thomas Spault @8po.lls, VERYRARE 2021 S01 Lookbook, Lullaby Collection.
4 & 9. ©Oscar Dubois @oscar_dubois, Raf’s Bathroom.
5. ©BlkCandy, 2020.
8. ©Oscar Dubois @oscar_dubois, shot @Gismondi Gallery (20 rue Royale, 75008 Paris).