It’s not unusual for fashion designers to use fabric as the starting point for the creation process but Bruno Harding’s materials of choice mean that his garments are unique. Utilising what might otherwise be heading for the landfill, he makes jackets and coats from old canvas tents, vintage blankets and discarded windsurfer sails.
Bruno started studying fashion at AUT in 2009, drawn by an attraction to exploring how things were made and how they performed technically. "I was a little lost after high school but I knew that whatever I ended up doing would be creative and hands-on. I chose fashion because I couldn’t find clothes I wanted to wear so I thought I would just learn how to make them myself."
Bruno says he had a lot to learn and frequently had to stay late for more sewing practice; taking apart old clothes and putting them back together to learn the different construction methods. He also learnt from the internships that formed part of the course. Bruno worked predominantly in production at De Ver Textiles and Huffer where he helped to create content and imagery for new collections.
A fascination with vintage clothing was evident in his graduate collection. Although he had purchased new fabric, his designs were classic menswear silhouettes with a vintage look and feel.
After graduation, Bruno travelled to New York where he found employment as a tailor’s apprentice at Martin Greenfield Clothiers. He spent three years working under the guidance of master tailors Joseph Genuardi and Martin Greenfield. Bruno says that he learnt techniques in the construction process that he would not have learnt in any other sector of the fashion industry. "It’s an art what Joseph and Martin do. They take a two-dimensional pattern that, when cut into cloth and constructed properly, can form to a body like a second skin while at the same time allowing the wearer total freedom and mobility."
Working in a business that proudly made finely crafted garments designed to last, Bruno’s fondness for what he describes as "all things old, well aged, patched and repaired" was reinforced. He began to collect fabric from vintage stores and leftover material from his work and he drew on what he was learning at Martin Greenfield to design his own garments in the evenings. This was, he says, the beginning of his own label. "A combination of many things led me to where I am now - a want for uniqueness in a world of mass production, a love of vintage clothing and a hatred of overconsumption and cheap, throwaway fashion."
Bruno says he loves that challenge of taking something that most people have given up on and constructing something new from it. "I’m creating no new waste, there will only ever be one of that jacket or coat ever made, and every new garment is a fun project for me. Nothing becomes mundane or overdone."
When he returned to New Zealand in 2016 Bruno immediately got to work. He found a studio in Freeman’s Bay and began visiting second-hand stores looking for fabrics for his own menswear label, now called Bruno’s Originals. He noticed an abundance of New Zealand-made wool blankets; a fabric that he says makes sense in New Zealand’s "four seasons in one day" climate.
Despite having intentions to only work with natural fabrics, Bruno kept coming across items in man-made fabrics that were just as inspirational. When designing, he retains the markings and fading that happen over time, seeing value in the stories left behind by previous owners. His online store showcases a range of jackets, hats and pants made from very different materials that are united by a common thread in that they all carry a rich history.
One rather large piece of fabric - his own family’s tent from the 1970s - was turned into two jackets, a coat and a vest. The coat was purchased by the Auckland War Memorial Museum and a two-toned jacket appeared in the New Zealand Fashion Museum exhibition, Intellectual Fashion Show 2016. Exhibition co-curator Doris de Pont recalls: "When I first saw this piece it was Bruno’s mastery of the trade of tailoring that grabbed my attention. However it is his audacious use of those skills; to breathe new life and value into discarded materials, that sets him apart."
It was a photo of this jacket that led to a creative project with iconic New Zealand label, Macpac. Bruno’s father sent the photo to a friend at Macpac, and Bruno was invited to create a capsule collection made from unsalvageable gear from their repairs department, including old Macpac tents, sleeping bags, jackets and packs. The six one-off garments were auctioned with proceeds going to the environmental charity project, Fund For Good.
The collaboration with Macpac has led to new projects and Bruno is currently locked in a studio in Berlin designing a collection for warmer weather. "It’s great to be working with like-minded companies to develop new ideas around clothing production through the use of existing materials." But the biggest reward, he says, is being part of the discussion in an industry which desperately needs to change its practices. "I can’t do anything about overconsumption, but Bruno’s is my way of doing what I love without contributing to the problem."
Text by Kelly Dix. Banner image of Bruno Harding wearing a MacPac/Bruno's Original jacket, 2019. Image © Bruno Harding.
Published April 2020.