Raf Reyes doesn’t make clothes, he makes art. It only takes one look at VERYRARE’s inventory to confirm—the London & Paris-based artist puts together ultra-limited collaged-out lifestyle pieces that are loaded with intertwined narratives. Beyond their aesthetic rarity, VERYRARE garments are designed with sentimentality in mind, sustainably, and meticulously crafted to be lifelong heirlooms. Below, 23-year old Reyes unpacks his influences, the legacy of artwear, and his long-term role in flipping the fashion script. 

Growing up, what role did fashion play in your life? Can you walk us through your different fashion style stages?

Honestly, my parents had me rocking fly stuff from the youngest age. The pieces were probably bootlegged too ahah; I don’t know if they were legit/official (they must’ve had thrifted it) but they felt good — and loud!! Things like handfeel and weight must have sipped in with time and now I’m really interested in fabric, visuality, cut and shape. And when it comes to fashion and Art, I’m originally from an artistic and commercial descent, with members of my family at each generational level deeply involved in either Fine Arts or trade. As far as I can remember, I always tinkered with studio stuff, touching new materials, sensing textures, sometimes cutting myself with shards of glass, collecting bits and scraps in the street or from the forest, and archiving it or making collages/scrapbooks out of them. Rewind some 5 years from now *already*, and I was an undergrad at Warwick University (I’m currently a Royal College Of Art postgrad — MA Contemporary Art Practice w/ Fashion): needless to say I was on my own vibe upon coming there, wearing my own creations non-stop and designing custom merch for a ton of student societies and events. My uni homies were asking where they could cop them, and that got me thinking. It validated my urge to hone and perfect the VERYRARE blueprint; maturing it during all these years via the prism of art — because I was rising on the Paris art scene meanwhile thanks to my talent agency@DarmoArt/Gismondi gallery managers; …becoming a man of taste and a connoisseur is a blessing and a curse: hence why, upon launching VERYRARE, I couldn’t roll back to mediocre quality blanks and simplistic one-layer/print-only tees I first devised for my personal enjoyment/consumption. Today, I’m all about Uniform For Living (loungewear comfortwear) & timeless subtle flex fits (artwear), on some silent-loud vibe that enables Expression (of what you’re feeling when rocking the statement pieces, what you wanna tell to the world — without even having to open your mouth). Standing out as opposed to fitting in. Exiting the Matrix: becoming VERYRARE (the brand’s motto).

Raf Reyes, photographed by Oscar Dubois at the Gismondi Gallery (20 rue Royale, 75008 Paris) — Raf wears VERYRARE ‘Black Sheep//Maverick Mentality’ woven tapestry jacquard crewneck and ‘Myxoma-Dozed’ reflective tee

Share with us your experience as an artist. What does art do for you? What do you hope it does for others?

Highs and lows. Hills and hiccups. Constant evolution, certainly. Flux. Flow. Color, material, light, shape, sound, texture, form, space, big, small… the list goes on. Art is what you make/want it (to be). It’s therapeutical for sure. Art is for the beholder’s delectation. Like chocolate, but better & deeper. I hope (my) Art raises some issues/questions, inspires to DIY, and makes unique memories/feelings re-emerge in you e.g like Proust madeleines would.

©Raf Reyes

What can people expect to see in your art? In what ways do you believe you stand out from other artists?

When it comes to fashion and lots of other aesthetic-related topics, I’m someone attracted to the extremities: whites, greys, and blacks, navigating between the two ends of the spectrum. Maximality ⇄ minimality, 2D ⇄ 3D, cold and warm, old and new type tingz. Visuality is the key to my frequency. You can read my full bio ​here but basically my main thing is 2D collage and 3D assemblage. The guiding principles in my work are impactfulness & catharsis; very layered (like the substrata of my mind/consciousness), sometimes glitchy & maximalist. All the visuals (or ‘imprints’) on my works somehow are interwoven together, relating to one another and displaying many potential stories open to the spectator’s interpretation. I’m a lifelong learner and a polymath (like no other). I’m an Aquarius ascendent Gemini. The way I navigate between fields of expertise (art, fashion, music, culture, entertainment/events…) is rare. In all honesty, I’m here to fuck the game up. To disrupt shit. Artists are used like replaceable objects by the industry top guns whether they’re the curators or the gallerists, the collectors or the institutional tastemakers. My contracts always include so many weird and crazy time-and-energy consuming clauses (just for the good of the other party at stake, but without any real boon/return on investment per se for the artist him/herself). That’s why I fully and unapologetically do my own with VERYRARE. I speak directly to & where my community is/people are. Direct-to-consumer baby. Undoubtedly, I stand out from the crowd, because of my upbringing, my artistic education, my unorthodox ways, my ability to merge apparently antagonistic shit — at first glance (but not really), and thanks to my youth + fresh eye on the state of things right now too. I’m also way past the 10000 hours spent on the craft (the ‘praxis’ part of Art/artistic — I use — whether digital or analog). And I treat the spectator like a family member: I create & serve nothing but the best (i.e I don’t seek to scam him/her with some metaphorical microwaved fast-food for their palate).

Keep Com(b)ing —  ©Raf Reyes, 2020

How did you come to merge your artistic background with fashion? Do you remember the day you decided to do so?

I really like to transcend plans: I hate to be ‘satisfied’, and I become bored very easily. Considering myself to be a multi-hyphenate and a new-Renaissance man (21st century is the New Renaissance in my opinion) it was only logical that I’d make the leap to fashion sooner or later. But truly really, the main takeaway is quite simple: I switched; I use fabric as the blank canvas for my Art. Blueprinting, devising crazy technical sheets and coining conceptual stuff on garment. Straight cut and sew top-notch quality, named and numbered statement pieces, high-end manufacturing, premium techniques — to mix street & couture, with a museum twist; to make art wearable and democratize 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 for now; always on the chase for the best stuff in terms of quality (handfeel), durability and rarity/originality. When still in uni, I wasn’t trying to fit any mold, rather I was tryna mold the world for me; wearing cheaply third-partied Gildans/Fruit Of The Loom bootleg+custom white tees I was DTG-ing on Vistaprint. No stylist. That was the preVR-foundation phase: filled with design jobs here and there for some societies’ visual identities revamping/overhaul, student events/nights out concept merch etc. Virgil Abloh (a longtime mentor) validating me @Oasis Festival back in 2018 and the current academic shutdown (with the pandemic) were the last pushs, giving me the confidence boost and courage + free time to fully delve into Fashion.

Tell us more about VERYRARE. What do you hope your customers feel when wearing a piece from the collection?

VERYRARE and art are indissociable. My line of business is artwear. Plain and simply, artwear = art you can wear. But to me, it’s really about tackling the following four points through the prism of Art history +schooling, and via being an artist out there in the post-2020 era (the year me and my elder brother founded the brand): ​1. ​Unique: limited editions, each item/drop numbered up until ​↑↑​21; ​2. Personal: your initials emblazoned on garment; 3. ​Premium: we make affordable street couture with irreproachable quality, ​4. Non-fast-fashion: timelessness being primordial to me, I incorporate lasting thematics embedded in veryrare c/o raf reyes artwear, and strong storylines/underlying narratives perspire from the pieces. I custom-make + hand-write on every goodie delivered to VERYRARETM customers, for the smoothest and coolest customer absolute art experience; needless to say my pieces are above and beyond what the industry’s currently serving you. VR®®’s offer is so unique, and my blood, sweat and tears/effort in the composition, thorough research (in the referencing) and accompanying goodie galore make VERYRARE very rare. Different deal, different feel: I want to change how people view a piece of cloth, how they assign value and meaning to it (vs. fast-fashion/barely-worn culture). I want my people to feel (and know) that they’re not alone. Heralding the second wave, the black sheeps, the underdogs, the crazy ones in Apple’s ‘1997 Think Different campaign’ sense of the word. I’m seeing/envisioning in/on the long-run/term and growing the community and the VERYRARE universe, layers upon layers (like an onion); upon making their first VR®® purchase decision, my customers progressively grow with me, gradually knowing what they’re embarking themselves into.

This year I’ve been fond of and really loving towards the jacquard fabric (from Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834), a French weaver and inventor of the Jacquard loom). Next year, something else; who knows?! Right now, I do crewnecks and hoodies with woven tapestry and that’s something that’s been done since the dawn of times in the domain/field of Art with Bayeux, Gobelins and dutch tapestry too (that I’m the biggest fan of). We recently invested in our first-ever art-elier in Paris (Faubourg St Martin flagship). My crib was full of fabric, swatches, threads on the floor and pizza-like packaging boxes: it started to feel too cramped and counter-efficient ultimately, so the new + neighboring open space/studio remediates that. We just call it ‘the HQ’ for now and it’s where we make magic happen, as in it’s wherein VERYRARE’s statement pieces + goodie galores are put together. Altogether a showroom/backdoor inner courtyard shop and operations/orders fulfillment centre, everything done in-house. This is a major milestone for us as we continue to grow and people from all over the world support us.

If you could describe who you are in a painting, which would you pick and why?

Lezioni Fiorentine (by me — Raf Reyes, 2020), a tri-run of 90 x 204,75 cm plexicollage editions, sold for tens of thousands (‘Symbioses’, Galerie Gismondi). I always like to leave hints/easter eggs for the spectator to delectate on and discover later. I do my homeworks and research a lot (ideation → creation). Sophisticated yet cheeky, playful and commited to noble causes (I’m always making sure I incorporate .  VR®® is me. It’s my output; an extension of me. The concept behind VERYRARE c/o RAF REYES™ is to reference Design’s history and signal its existence within the colliding worlds of archive and 21st-century fashion. Selected visuals feature different universes ranging from collector 90s aesthetics to contemporary sub-and surculture imagery. Put on steroids or low-fi’ed for a fresh & reimagined clothing style, opposing ideas speaking to one another, and turned into very rare pieces.

Who has been a big influence in your life and why?

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. OGs and new Gs. From the Leonardo Da Vincis to the Basquiats. Now, Barbara Kruger, Daniel Arsham, Hajime Sorayama, Takashi Murakami… collagists like Martha Rosler & Nigel Henderson, designers and architects such as David Carson and Tadao Ando, musicians-geniuses & polymaths-multihyphenates such as Kanye, Cudi, Asap Rocky, Marino Morwood, Virgil Abloh, Kansai Yamamoto, Martin Margiela… the list goes on and on and on and there’s so many more I’d love to shoutout for their contribution to who I am today. In my humble opinion, originality is a myth, I think we’re all borrowing and remixing stuff out permanently. You dig in the archives and there will always be someone that’s has said or done something very very very very similar to what you have just created. But it doesn’t matter though, and it shouldn’t impeach or block us from trying still to add our metaphorical stone to the edifice. What’s for sure is that VERYRARE is the frankenstein-esque GMO’d brainchild of all my years of moodboarding (and studying), spewing out my own version of how I could make them—and me—proud.

In what ways has Paris influenced You/your work?

Paris is where I was born and raised. It will always inspire me deeply. The agitation, the impatience, the apparent unfriendliness of the city… I mean… even the perfect harmony there is between ‘High’ Art (Paris = museum city, every street is filled with history, one can feel the Soul and heartbeat of the capital and its History/heritage every step of the way) and ‘Low’ Art (bursting with street art) the perfect hybrid. since it’s impossible for me to go to museums or galleries at the moment (because of the pandemic), I go back to basics. My day one inspo a.k.a the street inspires me: indeed, my block in Paris is full of stickers, tags, ripped shit, graffiti through/from which creativity sparks get revealed to me. I’m like No-Face in Spirited Away, absorbing absorbing absorbing. Processing it all all the time, these reminiscences, moments, inspirations, feelings felt.

What does beauty mean to you?

To me, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. Period. I really believe that the perception of beauty is subjective – what one person finds beautiful another may not. A lot of things can be beautiful. Landscapes, faces, fine art, or epic architecture; stars in the sky. Or simply the reflection of the sun on an empty bottle. Beauty is nothing tangible, it only exists in our heads as a pleasant feeling. If we have to define it, we perceive something as beautiful if its color, shape, form, or proportion somehow are appealing or delightful to us (cf. golden ratio, fractal patterns, symmetry…). Beauty is a very human experience that’s been with us for millions of years. Humans have been fine-tuned for millions of years to process visual input and assess our surroundings. It’s just what we’re programmed to do and we’re starting to learn more about how much beauty as a property is really influencing us (happiness-wise, productivity-wise etc.). Beauty meets an inherent need for meaningful information. Maybe it would be worth giving it more space in this man-made world we have created.

shot, styled, designed by Raf Reyes. model wears VERYRARE’s ‘Fallen Angel’/VR®®’s artwear gallery gear museumware.

I’ll quote two cool guys here with whom I share similar visions of Beauty: “Art imitates nature as well as it can, as a pupil follows his master; thus it is sort of a grandchild of God” (Dante), and “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere” (Vincent Van Gogh).

What comes next for the brand?

I don’t like fashion for fashionistas, music for music people, cinema for movie-goers, books for bookworms etc., I don’t like art that divides categories of people, that puts them in boxes. I hate boxes. Adamantly, I like art that brings people together; and that’s exactly what VR®® does. The future of a brand like VERYRARE for me is that from 7 to 77-years-old can buy something in it, with the vrare lifestyle/philosophy + signature/timeless aspirational imagery being in every statement piece/item. You know… quoting Yeezy on this one ‘Man in the store tryna try his best’, I guess I’ll spread the artwear word/gospel even more and do everything in my power so me and the VR family stick together like crazy. I’ll collab with some Parisian and Londoner homies of mine who have their own brands, and meet/link up with the VR®® community. Hence why I will resolutely make more popups happen after the pandemic. There are also some festivals’ booths/partnerships in the planning that I can’t disclose for now… not to mention runways, catwalks, (Paris) Fashion Weeks (I gotta represent!!). Feels like we definitely need more IRL interaction. And since I dabbled in the events industry too (during my undergrad years), long-term wise, I’d love to host some type of VR®® boiler room too, creating absolute art installations prone to entering psychological states of Flow, peace of mind, joy & happiness via synesthesia, intersecting fashion with music… the VERYRARE way ♡

Raf Reyes @raf.reyes
VeryRare @veryrareclo www.veryrare.co

Interview by Alexandra Bonnet @alexbonnetwrites