Credit: Stefan Knauer/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images for MBFW
Christoph Rumpf: The young designer creating fashion fairy tales
Things are moving fast for Christoph Rumpf.
In April, the 25-year-old fashion student won the prestigious Grand Prix du Jury Première Vision prize at the Hyéres Festival, a yearly competition in Southern France that highlights emerging talents in fashion, photography and fashion accessories.
As well as €20,000 in cash ($32,500), the prize included an invitation to present an extended version of his collection at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (MBFW) in Berlin this month. In doing so, Rumpf joins an elite club of young designers exposed to an international audience through the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Talents program, now in its 10th year.
The collection, which was presented Monday night at MBFW, was based on two main tenets: sustainability and storytelling.
The latter takes the form of a semi-autobiographical fairy tale that inspired the looks, which includes generously draped fabrics as well angular silhouettes.
"It's about this little boy who was growing up in the woods and facing different kinds of struggles," he said in a phone interview ahead of the show. "Later in life, it turns out that he's a long lost prince. In the collection, each piece is one part of the story."
The tale echoes Rumpf's experience moving to the city from the Austrian countryside, and the struggles associated with adapting to a new way of life.
Starting with a story is Rumpf's modus operandi, although the story can "change a lot" if more outfits are added to the collection. On the Berlin runway, for example, he debuted his first womenswear looks, thereby introducing a new character to the original fairy tale: "It's a more sophisticated (character). Unlike this boy, who is struggling, this is a woman who has already found herself," he explained.
Sustainability has informed the production of all the clothes. About 90% of the fabrics used are either recycled or reused, and all the fabrics which are store bought are dead stock, meaning they were retired from sale because they went unsold. All of the jewelry in the collection was made from a single chandelier that Rumpf found in a flea market.
"I really want to be sustainable, so I started going to flea markets a lot, and owning clothes that I found there. Then I started including these garments and fabrics, like curtains and belly dancing costumes, in my collections. In the end it turned out that nearly the whole show could be sustainable."
Keeping a low carbon footprint will be an imperative for the first collection under his own label, which he hopes to launch next year. He's already working on it, letting slip that a source of inspiration for the storytelling aspect is "Dead Poets Society," the award-winning 1989 film that features Robin Williams as a teacher who inspires his students through poetry.
Launching a brand at the age of 25 in the ultra-competitive fashion world is a challenging prospect, but Rumpf believes he has what it takes to succeed.
"The first step is to have a lot of passion. I think you have to really like to work a lot, it's not a 9-to-5 job," he said. "But you also need a team, people to help you, because you can't do everything on your own or have all the skills. And of course you need a lot of money, because producing a collection is really expensive."
For the time being, Rumpf will remain a student at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. He decided not to leave school following his win in France, preferring to maintain the methodical focus that has so far served him well. "I had a feeling that if I started working right away, I would have rushed it," he said.
Previous winners of the Grand Prix du Jury Première Vision prize have moved on to illustrious careers, such as Saint Laurent's Anthony Vaccarello and Paco Rabanne's Julien Dossena, but Rumpf shrugs off any hint of expectation.
"Amazing to see that, but it's not really putting any pressure on me," he said.
And when he's asked for words of advice to fellow students who want to follow in his footsteps, Rumpf has a simple answer: "Work more than everyone else."