Ravensbourne Students X VF Corporation Collaboration – A Show of Fashion Integrity

Who doesn’t want to be spoilt?  Drawing on inspiration from Traveller culture and a fascination with DIY objects and applications, the Spoilt team crafted an illustrated story of colourful and textured characters.  The collection included a pink paint print oversized duvet coat and and over dyed geometric printed puffa jacket.  The accessories included lace-up denim cuffs embellished with dangling multi-coloured acrylic nails.  Total embellishment abandon and a whole lot of fun.

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-13-03-55screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-13-02-25screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-13-02-01dsc04317The Spoilt team:  Including Jodi Feddon (far right) illustrator and designer

Spoilt were one of a number of teams of Ravensbourne students working on a live brief for VF Corporation, owner of a number of lifestyle brands including Lee, Vans and Wrangler.  The teams, comprising of BA (Hons) Fashion, BA (Hons) Fashion Buying and Brand Management and BA (Hons) Fashion Accessory Design and Prototyping students working in collaboration, were charged with interpreting a design brief set around the concept of the Lee ‘BODY OPTIX’ range which “combines visual science and design to enhance certain body shapes”.  

In pulling together this article, I researched the BODY OPTIX range on the Lee website and was horrified to find this borderline racist, body shaming language used:

“Scientifically designed by vision scientists and Denim designers, BODY OPTIXTMcombines the power of VISUAL SCIENCE and design to create jeans that flatters, enhances and shapes the Asian body. The application of geodesic shaping and precise laser anatomy warping gives you perkier backside and strikingly long legs, granting you a more feminine figure that is ideally proportional and attractive.”

This branding language, product and imagery (which I will not include here, but is on their website) merits a far deeper discussion around western influence on fashion and feminism, but in the scope of this article, I really want to keep the focus on what the Ravensbourne students created and how they succeeded in reinterpreting the brief towards utilising graphics, embellishments and downright visual distractions (acrylic nail fringing) whilst developing the textural interest and surface effects of the denim to elevate the humble jean –  none of which were fitted or body contoured.  In fact many were oversized and unisex.  The Ravensbourne students showed incredible creativity and design integrity, which makes the Lee branding and campaign seem even more dated and uninspired.

Foe took a darker stance than Spoilt, looking to Japanese Samurai and armoury to incorporate rivets and other hardware to hinge together accessories and clothing.  In their brand literature they state that Foe aims to attract a different type of consumer to the VF corporation by taking the female physique and using different silhouettes and style to bring diversity to the company.

dsc04337dsc04341dsc04339dsc04342The Foe Team:  Zahra Khan, Katy Andoh, Polly Tamalia and Mary-Louise Fischer

Oneness lashed at their denim with latex and paint and created clothing and accessories with a craft/skate/patchwork theme.  

dsc04320 dsc04322 dsc04325 dsc04327Bag (and hand) by Toya Mehmet accessories design student

Deflect played with organdie and denim, creating illusionary false and hidden pockets with contrasting bleached denim. 

dsc04285 dsc04287dsc04302Team Deflect are: Ciara Kelly and Holly Lovey (Fashion Buying and Branding), Denisa Mehmeti and Kyra Chang (Fashion Design) and Anna Sabe (Fashion Accessory Design) 

Uniq 2 was represented firstly by a Korean duo who described soju (a kind of ‘Korean Sake’) as a cultural slang term meaning the desire to go wild and rebel as the starting point for the collection.  The design picked up on the current Korean trend for wearing oversized wind-proof protective layers and used the silhouette and seaming details of a traditional denim jacket in the windproof material, adding their own logo branding – quite a literal and believable interpretation not far removed from the way designs are translated quickly on the high street, albeit with less fun and flavour.

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Gyal Dem looked to Grime, the music sub-genre drawing on multiple influences including drum and bass and UK Garage, made famous by Wiley and Dizzee Rascal, for stylistic and brand references, adopting a unisex sportswear aesthetic to appeal to their target audience.  A specific target market and design point-of-view led to on-point branding and a strong website including the brand story, look book and a behind the scenes look at how the products were designed and made.  

dsc04268dsc04271dsc04276The Gyal Dem team are:  Celine Polidori and Alexia Amaning (Fashion Design), Raji Bagary, Laura Holloway and Katie Vincent (Fashion Buying and Brand Management)

Analogy created the first luxury brand to utilise biodegradable materials throughout the collection.  They used Algix, an algae and PLA composite 3D printing filament that biodegrades after 50 years, replacing the 100% PLA and ABS alternatives which biodegrade after several hundred years, not unlike the pleather and plastic-based fabrics made as leather alternatives, raising questions over the true sustainability and environmental impact of these alternative materials.  Analogy are posing interesting questions by using this composite filament and replaced a full collection of sample garments with a mixture of life-size printed garment cut-outs alongside denim samples.  Their resin and denim swatches and experimentation with subtracting warp threads leaving weft ‘floats’ as a denim detail added interest to the denim.  With impressive branding and use of Algix sourced (and physically collected) from the US, these students could pass for a professional outfit, pardon the pun.

dsc04260dsc04245dsc04246 dsc04257dsc04249The Analogy team: India Martin (Accessories Design), Eleanor Maylin (Fashion Design) and Elle Morlang and Nicole Keitch (Fashion Buying and Branding)

SoNNE presented an altogether different proposition to all the other teams, using subtle variations in sublimation print to create painterly designs on denim canvases, exploring the colours and textures conjured up by varying their printing technique.  The colours brought a sophisticated palette and softened the denim foundation, until they were subverted again into big, bold, unisex boiler suits.  I’ve got my eye on one and am ready place an order.  I’m not alone, so it looks like fashion design students Isabel Hibbert and Grace Flood have a busy Christmas ahead.

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The exhibition serves as a reminder of the diversity and cultural richness design, buying and branding students in London have.  They are tapping a broad range of cultures, languages, subcultures, art movements and belief systems.  Sadly I couldn’t cover the work of all of the teams in this article, but the integrity and creativity of the students featured spanned the other teams too, leaving no doubt in my mind that the ‘Rave’ students have enriched and enlightened the VF Corporation teams they worked with on this collaboration.

Header Image featuring swatches by Oneness

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Makers House: What Point Is Burberry Trying to Make?

It’s all Greek to me as I enter the Burberry Makers House venue via a heavily scented and clay sculpture-adorned corridor (reminiscent of Aesop – the fragrances, and the Greek story teller) by Thomas Merrett, scholar of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.  Thomas is one of a number of craftspeople and artists under The New Craftsmen collective, lending their talent and artistic practice in the form of live installations – they work in Makers House as members of the public look on and learn about the art of craft.


dsc03004Thomas Merrett’s sculptures at Makers House

I spoke with Rose de Borman about her hand-painted silk screen prints as she worked away, blending paints inspired by a nearby pots of flowers she had collected from her garden and brought in as colour inspiration for her prints.  When I asked her about the designs she said she freestyles them, and hanging behind her are examples of pieces drying before being sold in the Makers House shop.  I thought perhaps Rose designed prints for Burberry, but she explains to me that she has not and that much of her work is for interiors.

dsc03010dsc03013Rose de Borman at work

I also met a trio of students from the Royal School of Needlework who were spending the weekend cross-stitching designs provided to them by Burberry.  Items from the RSN Handling Collection were displayed and available to touch via gloved hands, which was an interesting addition to the passive nature of the other displays.  I chatted to one of the students about her craft and asked whether fashion tech or conductive yarns, for example, are on her radar.  They aren’t, as the course at RSN focusses solely on traditional craft – there are no machines, all work is done by hand – and the threads and yarns are all traditional natural materials.

dsc03029dsc03031dsc03032dsc03035Royal School of Needlework students and Handling collection samples

When I first entered Makers House, I assumed there was a connection between the work of The New Craftsmen and the creation of the Burberry September collection.  The collection, shown at London Fashion Week on Monday 19th September, is on display at Maker’s House alongside the craftspeople, but it transpires that these makers are unrelated to the making of the Burberry collection.

dsc03057dsc03055dsc03056Burberry September Collection

This is where Makers House feels more like an exercise in creating an experience by association rather than telling the story of the Burberry September collection and its relationship with craft.  That’s not to say there isn’t the inclusion of craft in the collection – there is – but the beading, to my eye, could very easily be the work of Indian embroiderers. Burberry’s printed fabrics have historically been made in Italy, so unless there has been a sudden change, this collection is likely to have been printed there too.  This is no bad thing, it just jars with the romanticised and earnest display of English craftsmanship accompanying the collection at Makers House.

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This is also against the backdrop of Burberry recently halting plans to open a factory under the title ‘Project Artisan’ in Leeds to make their iconic trench coats.  Sadly, an aura of faking rather than making is cast over this experience.  Contrived mood boards of highly symbolic and literal inspiration for the collection sit alongside the makers, which adds to the feeling I can’t shake that this is all a bit forced.

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I found the opportunity to get up close, walk around the clothes, feel the fabrics and see the silhouettes and layering in detail far more interesting and engaging.  It is another example of a strong argument for presentation formats that allow buyers/the public to inspect and absorb the details and beauty of the clothes at their own pace, in contrast to a blistering dash on the runway.  This space had a showroom feeling, with buyers replaced by members of the public.  With the “see now, buy now” launch  (the collection is already for sale to the public) this makes perfect sense.  

dsc03040 dsc03048dsc03054dsc03064Burberry September Collection and Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer, Burberry

Burberry has been a digital pioneer, incorporating technology into every facet of the presentation and sale of its collections for years and always leading the fashion pack – that’s why this feels somewhat like reverting to analog.  Put this in the context of a London fashion week that saw the first holographic fashion presentation by Martine Jarlgaard London and Fyodor Golan’s CGI avatar model fashion presentation and it is suddenly feeling like retreat rather than innovation; not withstanding the live streaming on Facebook with chatbots on Facebook messenger to answer questions during the show itself and support online sales.

Pondering the absence of tech, I notice the longest queue in the building leading to The Studio space and after enquiring what the fuss was all about, I learn it’s the queue for the Instagram booth made famous by a number of celebrities in videos messing around amongst the aforementioned clay sculptures.  The urge for social media and sharing the Makers House experience is strong, and Instagram is an extremely powerful marketing tool for Burberry.  The current count of followers is 7.6 million.

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Attendees of Makers House queued for Instagram photos in the same studio as the celebrities above 

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The current Burberry campaign featuring Burberry Artisans alongside the September collection

Whilst compiling this article I discovered via the Burberry online store that the collection is made in Italy.  The mens beaded waistcoat is not for sale, so appears to be a one-off show piece.  This leads me to wonder what the purpose of placing English craft next to Italian manufacturing was, if not to dupe the Makers House audience into thinking English craftsmanship and Burberry go hand in hand. 

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Martine Jarlgaard’s Mixed Reality Show at London Fashion Week – A World First

Often looking inward (and perhaps gazing too much at it’s own toned, teenage-model navel),  fashion, for all the illusion of creativity and dynamism that it exudes to a captive public audience, is, in reality, largely conservative.  “I don’t see much innovation in fashion” says Martine Jarlgaard, ex-Vivienne Westwood Red Label Head Designer who has also designed for All Saints and Diesel.  It’s a broad professional backdrop from which she launched her brand Martine Jarlgaard London in 2014, and is presenting for the first time in an immersive ‘mixed reality’ experience on the official schedule at London Fashion Week in September 2016.

“I wanted to wait until I had a significant reason to present” said Martine, following a long discussion about the current state of the fashion industry and concerns about the environmental impact of mass production and waste in the garment manufacturing industry.  These are concerns that have been simmering for some time and a handful of emerging designers are tackling these issues head on.  Martine is one.  She is “disappointed with fashion” and feels a universal transparent system that untangles and delineates the supply chain and sourcing of materials is needed so that it is possible for brands and consumers to understand the impact of the materials being chosen and make informed decisions.  Many designers, for example, are not aware that some fabrics are created using devastatingly toxic chemicals that pollute and endanger workers and local populations.  Currently, this is not transparent.  She says it’s time for the fashion industry to be re-envisioned and re-defined and find the investment to create alternatives to the current polluting and wasteful processes. 

martine_jarlgaard_london_x_alcantara_x_njal_2016_07_04_0AlcantaraMaterialMartine Jarlgaard London AW15

As this article goes to print I read a piece by Richie Siegel about the expected future domination of Amazon Fashion, despite its current lack of curation and aesthetic appeal to fashion shoppers – a problem now being addressed.  Amazon’s pricing model is not based on large margins and sales discounting to shift stock like traditional fashion retailers.  Its margins are small, prices are keen and products are produced to fill gaps in the market – an already more ‘sustainable’ and pragmatic model – where a t-shirt costing £5 to produce is sold to consumers at around £6.50, in contrast to a traditional retailer who would squeeze suppliers down to a price of closer to £2 in order to sell to the consumer at £6.50.  Since Amazon would potentially sell tens of thousands of units (based on it’s market penetration and 65 million worldwide subscribers) it follows that if the products created by Amazon were sustainably and ethically produced it could trigger a big shift in the current polluting, inefficient, land-fill creating fast fashion sector.  Granted, this still may result in a lot of product eventually finding its way to land-fill, but the business model and the motivations are promising, especially if cleaner production methods are employed, and the customer is at the centre of this model.  For more information about calculating the cost of fast fashion, see my previous article Fashion Data: Calculating the cost of the fashion machine.

Martine is a curious and impassioned designer with a rich educational background (she gained a BA/MA at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and did a stint at Rhode Island School of Design where she studied sculpture, artistic anatomy and anthropology amongst other broader fine art and design subjects, and has always worked in a cross-disciplinary manner.  She feels that the solutions and impetus for the change needed in the fashion industry to achieve a level of responsible, sustainable manufacturing will come from outside the industry and that technology will most likely find the solution.  Amazon is a technology company, and as mentioned above, looks set to disrupt fast fashion and provide some solutions to production excess and bloated inventories.    

Martine and I discuss current examples of big brands tackling sustainability and I mention the Nike Flyknit trainers, manufactured using a single knitting process creating the upper with minimal wastage – no leather tanning and sewing of component layers is required – and it can be manufactured anywhere in the world as it is machine driven.  This knitted upper began as a running shoe style and has now been used in a vast array of styles including the classic Air Force One and Nike Air Max.  Hershel have just released their ‘ApexKnit’ range of backpacks using the same knit technology and other product lines will surely follow.  Digital knitting provides a solution that creates superior design, comfort, wearability and sustainability.  Maybe that’s the key.  The sustainability looks like a bonus here, as the design and product performance is enhanced AND the product is sustainable.  It is also cheaper and easier to develop and iterate, therefore creating a far superior solution to the old leather, fabric and foam uppers made of many components requiring man power for stitching and assembly. 

af1m1 nike-flyknit-air-max-blue-lagoon-bright-crimson-01 Herschel-Supply-ApexKnit-CollectionTop: Nike Air Force One  –  Middle: Nike Air Max  – Above:  Herschel ApexKnit backpack

Martine mentions being inspired by Nike’s presentation at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in which they explained the commercial and sustainable success of FlyKnit, achieved through technology and innovation.  Martine later clarifies that Nike displayed a rare level of honesty at the summit, expressing frustration with the slow pace of change towards sustainability in the fashion industry.  She happens to be wearing a pair of flyknit trainers during our interview, along with a gorgeous pinky, fleshy shimmering silk peaked slash neck blouse from her AW15 collection.

01 Martine Jarlgaard London AW15Martine Jarlgaard London AW15

We discuss luxury fashion in this context and when Martine mentions the apparent lack of desire for true innovation in this sector our discussion leads to a lack of cross-disciplinary teams in luxury fashion and a persistent uniformity and conservatism.  Where a team’s perspective is limited, perhaps the resulting creative expression through product is too.  It’s difficult to find varied perspectives on solutions to creative problems if every team member has a similar professional experience and background, which tends to be the case in the luxury fashion sector. 

Since launching her brand, Martine has used a combination of sustainable, recycled and surplus fabrics from luxury mills in Italy.  Her design philosophy is to create garments with a lifespan beyond one season, that are made to the highest quality, with a minimal aesthetic and an element of the unexpected.  She explores the tension between minimal and maximal so that her pieces have a personality and cites sculptural three dimensional creation of the garments as a driver for the silhouettes. 

b. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16 c. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16 d. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16Martine Jarlgaard London AW16

Martine’s SS17 collection will launch at London Fashion Week on September 17th with a mixed reality experience using Hololens, in collaboration with DoubleMe, who provide a novel 3D capture system, HoloPortal, that converts 2D videos into dynamic 3D models in real-time and supported by the Fashion Innovation AgencyHololens is a headset that projects a hologram in front of the wearer and allows them to interact with it by walking around it and moving nearer or farther, giving a truly immersive and personal experience dictated by the wearer. Martine’s collection will be presented via Hololens, meaning technically, it could be viewed by anyone in any location who possesses the headset, and physically in an accompanying garment presentation at the W Hotel London, marking the first ever holographic 3D mixed reality fashion ‘show’ for want of a more appropriate word.  So why this rather than a fashion show?  The fashion show format has barely changed since its inception in the early 1900’s and does not allow any kind of personal experience with the clothes – it is passive – as is much of the interaction in the way fashion is presented.  There is a lack of true engagement when sat at a distance viewing clothes zoom past on a runway and in a matter of minutes, the whole experience is over.  The format of a fashion show is also restrictive in that there is an intense build-up and planning and a huge team required to deliver a show to very tight deadlines within a remit that can curb the creativity of the designers and restrict the selection of garments shown, as outlined in a recent interview with London-based designers Fyodor Golan.  

Volvo-Cars-Microsoft-HoloLens-experience_01Microsoft Hololens – experimenting with car models in mixed reality

Martine found complete synergy with Hololens because it allows her to work across disciplines with their digital team and create a 3D experience befitting her sculptural design approach.  Here, the presentation format is symbiotic with her design approach and affords her the opportunity to showcase that and tell a story which can then be navigated from the viewer’s perspective, making another leap forward in our journey to the experiential as a form of fashion presentation.  Crucially, her buyers are “super-excited” about the presentation format.  Fashion is changing, albeit slowly, and it feels like Martine is at the foot of what will ultimately be the crest of an experiential fashion wave.  She plans to work with this technology for coming seasons, declaring that this is in no way a one-off, but rather the beginning of an exciting journey to differentiating her brand in an intelligent and meaningful way and raising awareness of her successful creation of sustainable luxury fashion.   

dune-london-diipa-khosla-15Online Influencer Diipa Khosla in Martine Jarlgaard London  at London Fashion Week

For details of Martine’s previous collaboration with Alcantara SpA click here 

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For information on first forays into fashion design using Hololens, click here

For a run down of fashion’s exploration of VR to date, read Emma Hope Allwood’s piece on Dazed Digital

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Fyodor Golan’s Pre-SS17 Collection Brings Grown-up fun and a catalyst for post-Brexit change

Fyodor Golan are somewhat of a paradox –  at once intellectual and playful, they traverse the fringe of a fashion industry in a state of flux.  Whilst contemplating the structure and aim of their fashion business, they are questioning the importance of individualism in a sea of rampantly ‘cohesive’ and highly refined fashion.  The designers open the interview with the revelation that they delayed their seasonal trip to their Paris showroom in order to vote in the referendum.  The fallout from the vote in favour of ‘Brexit’ has left them with a sense of resilience in the face of potential EU funding losses.  Many of the projects and initiatives they have undertaken whilst establishing and growing their business have been supported by EU funding and they predict a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ situation will ensue amongst young independent fashion designers in London who are struggling to create seasonal collections and remain solvent.   

Where this dramatic and uncertain political climate could potentially trigger cautious conservatism, Fyodor and Golan are intellectually and pragmatically assessing all areas of their business and considering the needs of their customers and the best platforms with which to engage them.  They resolve to stay ‘individual’ and adopt an ever more digital and tech-driven approach to their seasonal collections.  Why do a show at London Fashion Week that draws vast energy and finance away from the business and requires the creation of some garments that they know will not be good sellers, but that are necessary in order to create requisite looks simply for the purposes of the show?  If the show is to the clear detriment of their product offering and bottom line, what is the point?  The vast press generated by a fashion show is well documented and, as any fashion designer involved in London, New York, Paris and Milan fashion weeks will tell you, the credibility gained from showing on-schedule during fashion week is immense and affirming – at least ostensibly.  But the rise of social media has taken fashion out of the hands of the few and placed it in the hands of the many global consumers.  Digital platforms have a life beyond a seven-odd minute fashion show during which time it is ‘impossible to see the clothes properly’ as noted by Fyodor.  In summary, fashion shows aren’t fit for purpose and the stigma attached to designers who decide to no longer ‘show’ is waning.

With new presentation platforms comes new opportunities for self-expression and consumer interaction.  Golan explains how insightful and inspiring the dialogue from client to designer is on Instagram.  Their clients post images of their self-styled ‘FG’ looks, thereby contextualising Fyodor and Golan’s seasonal work –  a dialogue that never occurred pre-social media when the only route to market was through wholesale accounts – meaning no direct contact between the designer and the consumer.  That’s all different now and brings me back to questioning the point of ‘cohesiveness’ of a fashion collection.

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The generally accepted framework for the study and application of fashion design that I, and many other designers have experienced at London/UK-based fashion design institutions, hinges on a refined, highly focused – ‘cohesive’ – presentation of a design concept/concepts in order to ensure that a specifiable ‘aesthetic’ is presented.  This occurs to me to be a useful tool for categorisation and identification of a designer or brand for the purposes of critique, but may be at odds with the way fashion is best presented, experienced and consumed in a digital age.

Burberry-Prorsum-Spring-Summer-2013-DECORCohesive uniformity – Burberry Prorsum SS13

Sure, brands like Burberry are built on a largely singular aesthetic/design language and their merchandising depends on a sort of ‘cohesion’, but what of the explosion of Vetements against the backdrop of such ‘cohesiveness’ and singularly focused vision – and what of the conversation about this collaborative, multi-faceted and un-cohesive aesthetic that is starting on social media (of course)?  Will cohesiveness and a singular aesthetic vision be relevant to millennials and Generation Z’ers?   If they’re shopping online and creating individual looks according to their own vision, and Instagram and Snapchat are ultimately more influential and engaging and more readily consumed than fashion shows, what is the point of cohesiveness at the expense of alienating consumers?  And again, if fashion shows continue to lose favour as the predominant presentation format, individuality becomes an even more powerful element of fashion’s presentation.  Fyodor Golan question this uniformity and go on to state that they have never sought ‘cohesiveness’ in their collections, but rather the creation of clothing as a vehicle for self expression and fun for their broad customer base, whose age group spans four decades and is global.  It could be argued that cohesiveness can kill creativity by stamping out individual expression, spontaneity and the charm of the unexpected – a fate unlikely to befall Fyodor Golan.

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On the subject of individualism in an increasingly ‘global’ market the duo explain, ‘Our clients come to us to express a different side of themselves… they have serious, professional jobs and wear Fyodor Golan as a way of tapping into their personality and as a visual representation of that (fun) side of themselves’. 


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Fyodor Golan’s creations are seriously fun.  Frothy?  Yes.  Flimsy?  Definitely not.  The products are underpinned by solid, quality-driven construction techniques employed since the launch of their label (which drew heavily on couture techniques initially) in 2011, and have evolved to express a sense of confidence through playfulness.

tumblr_mjul0m2iXs1s4mpljo3_1280Fyodor Golan SS2012

A further discussion that touches on current challenges in the area of fashion tech centres on product design versus fashion design.  Golan expresses the frustration at being restricted to short development times due to the seasonal nature of the fashion industry and longs to be able to explore design concepts in greater depth – as a product designer would, for example.  The approach through product design of creating a perfectly formed, functional and beautiful object is a luxury that just may be possible once Fyodor Golan have broken free of the restrictive cycle and demands that come with staging a fashion show each season.  Fyodor and Golan lament the unresolved design ideas that ping into their minds at that last evolutionary design stage – often the week before their London fashion week show – leaving them no time to see these ideas through to fruition because of limitations caused by show preparation and the restrictive need to create ‘looks’ for the show, rather than individually strong and exciting garments.  Due to the seasonal nature of fashion, the scope to pick up and continue such ideas in following seasons does not always present itself.  There is a serendipitous aspect to such ideas and sometimes, when the moment has passed, the opportunity and magic passes too. Essentially, dropping the traditional fashion show format allows the freedom and time to be more innovative.  It’s during this stage of the interview that Golan mentions the Makerversity, which is situated near their studio in Somerset House, which has clearly provided a point of reflection for the designers where the process of product design and development is concerned, versus that of fashion.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.34.49 Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.34.23Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.33.54 Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.34.05Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17

In their Pre-SS17 collection, Fyodor Golan have furthered explored a number of concepts initiated in their AW16 collection, including hybrid sportswear with strapping and bows that are silhouette-changing, rather than simply surface details.  This plays into their desire for individuality within the collection – so one garment has many guises depending on the wearer’s styling preferences.  The collection, entitled “Sakura Kawaii’ was inspired by Hatsune Miku – a hologram-generated pop star – resulting in a collection that expresses “romance through plastification”.  It’s surreal to see real live fans at the concert of a holographic pop star screaming and waving glow sticks, but it perfectly illustrates the blurring of lines between reality and artificiality that Fyodor Golan have distilled into this collection.

The animated look book is the perfect expression of this darkly psychedelic-samurai mood, in collaboration with digital artist and animator, Ignasi Monreal.   Part of the joy of Fyodor Golan’s look books is that they seek to excite the imagination, rather than simply sell, and it expresses an aesthetic that the designers describe as resolutely ‘digital’.

Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17

The digitally driven playfulness in the presentation of their Pre-SS17 collection causes me to speculate as to the format of their next fashion presentation for London Fashion Week in September.  ‘We’re still exploring options’ and ‘we’re looking at integrating the process of creation into the presentation’ were the official standpoints at the time of our interview – suffice to say it will be an exciting, experimental and likely experiential offering that will gloriously break with tradition in yet another refreshing Fyodor Golan chapter.  It’s an exciting time in an evolving industry where as many lessons come from Darwinian truth as they do from social media metrics.  If fashion’s future is about creative adaptation, dynamism, freedom of thought and individuality, Fyodor Golan are surging ahead.

Header image:  Fyodor Golan

Fyodor Golan lookbook credits:  Mark Rabadan (Photography), Tati Cotliar (Stylist), Ignasi Monreal (Animation), Michelle Webb (Make up), Johanna Cree Brown (Hair)

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Fashion Data: Calculating the Cost of the Fashion Machine

A sister exhibition to Fashion Hacked at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, Fashion Data is a stark reality check about the consumption of clothing and its societal meaning both in the West and East, along with the environmental implications for the planet. 

tmm_fashion_data_3_foto_johannes_schwartz tmm_fashion_data_4-_foto_johannes_schwartzImages: Johannes Schwartz

Fashion Data incorporates Fashion Machine: an installation by Conny Groenewegen in which she slashes and re-works a typical leftover product of the fast fashion/clothing industry, the fleece sweater.  Conny and her team of students cut up and ‘re-spun’ the fleeces onto giant spools and looped them onto huge looms’ to demonstrate the scale of waste and the banality of the fleece jumper, which is largely undesired as a second-hand product and regularly finds its way into mattresses at the end of its lifecycle, or worse still, landfill.  Conny makes thought-provoking statements about the role of designers in mass manufacturing for fast fashion, summed up in the set of stills below, followed by a film documenting the creation of the Fashion Machine installation. 

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To view Conny Groenewegen’s fashion and knitwear design process in depth, watch this video.

In the film, note the polyethylene (PET) water bottles in the background, from which fleece jumpers have historically been made.  The recycling of PET bottles into polyester fabric to create fleeces is fascinating.  See the full process here.

Balancing Conny’s visual representation of physical waste is Fashion Data – a series of black and white (visually and metaphorically) statistics that give a context to the current European habits of purchasing, wearing and disposing of clothing.  I’ll let the numbers do the talking.

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The exhibition was curated by fashion historian José Teunissen.  Her publication Fashion Data is available to read online and fleshes out the numbers stated above.  It’s essential reading and explains the historic foundation of Fast Fashion, its environmental impact and the emerging slow fashion movement.  It is also a useful visual summary of the Fashion Data exhibition that’s as good as viewing it first hand.  To paraphrase Teunissen, 30% of today’s clothing is sold at the recommended retail price, another 30% disappears in the sales and 40% remains unsold or doesn’t even reach the shops.  This is the deadstock I spoke of in my previous post Fashion Hacked.   Today’s overproduction of Fast Fashion produces an enormous amount of waste with negative social and environmental impacts.  There are solutions being developed to make materials production cleaner and more sustainable, but the business of, and appetite for, Fast Fashion remain strong.

Fashion Data also alerted me to the work of Dutch fashion brand Youasme (womens) Measyou (mens), which launched in 2010 as the world’s first crowdfunded fashion brand creating slow fashion collections of high quality made-to-last knitwear and accessories.

youasme_measyou_pilgrimage_photo_j.w._kaldenbachImage: J.W. Kaldenbach

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.00.23 Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.00.44 Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.01.04An understated androgynous collage – Youasme Measyou AW14 collection.  Images: Blommers/Schumm.  Styling: Maarten Spruyt

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On a stylistic level I was also struck by the natural ease of Youasme/Measyou’s androgyny – it feels tangible and forever.  This is in stark contrast with the overt androgyny expressed by some current fashion designers, including JW Anderson, whose work feels firmly ‘of the moment’ and deliberately provocative – more a scream of gender bending than a quiet dissolving of the aesthetic gender divide.  No doubt both have merit and power for different reasons but it strikes me that Youasme’s expression feels more real; more authentic.  Herein lies the ever fascinating aspect of fashion’s aesthetic debate – its subjectivity.

In addition to Youasme, a host of Dutch designers are utilising sustainable materials and practices, highlighted in conjunction with Fashion Data at Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Temporary Fashion Exhibition.  Here’s a roundup.

paulin1Pauline Van Dongen‘s washable, wearable solar panel knitted shirt.  Image: Liselotte Fleur

The parting insight delivered by Fashion Data comes in the form of award winning film Unravel by Meghna Gupta.  Shot in India, the film illustrates the end point of clothing from the West that is sent for recycling and reveals the gaping divide between East and West and the perceived value of clothing.

The film runs deep into value judgements about society as a whole.  It is shocking and revelatory.  Some Indian factory workers assume that clothes being bought from stores like Primark are very expensive, meaning that Western consumers are very wealthy and can afford to simply give away their clothes for recycling and buy new ones. They also draw the conclusion that Western women are more worthy and beautiful compared to Eastern women because of this excessive consumption.  One female factory worker ponders, while removing decorative crystals from underwear, what the wearer must have done to deserve such a fate – stones on her underwear?!  She concluded the woman must have been forced to wear it as some form of punishment for bad behaviour.  Her comment is a stark reminder of a practical and functional attitude towards clothing, and of patriarchal dominance. 

The full length film can be viewed here. It is a profound and perspective-inducing film that is equally compelling and educational.  Further clothing recycling information is available here.  For information about the sustainable fashion effort in the UK, click here

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Fashion Hacked – The Designers Giving Zara a Lesson in ‘Derivative Design’

There are constant rumblings throughout the fashion industry about copyright, Fast Fashion and IP ownership.  Add to this debates about the impact of Fast Fashion outlets copying designer fashion and you have to wonder; how will small independent designer brands survive in an industry that is getting faster and cheaper by the day?  Independent designers can’t compete with the likes of Zara, the mega-brand owned by Inditex fashion magnate Amancio Ortega who was for a time last year the richest man in the world ahead of Bill Gates and is currently the second richest.  

Zara can copy a design developed and crafted by an independent designer or more established fashion house – check out this example of Zara copying Celine – that may have taken months to create and have a cheaper version for sale in their stores within weeks of that design being presented (and snatched). How should independent designers confront this?  If they claim infringement of their design rights can they afford to pursue legal action against the likes of Zara?  Doubtful.

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Dutch designers Alexander van Slobbe and Francisco van Benthum took the bold and unexpected approach of hacking Zara and other retailers guilty of copying theirs and their contemporaries designs – they’re playing them at their own game. They’ve added another phase to the clothing lifecycle by purchasing a huge quantity of dead-stock (unsold and out of season clothing that often goes to landfill) from clothing retailers selling garments ‘inspired by’ or derived directly from the work of other designers and re-engineered it to make it new.  Some garments had pockets added.  Others were slashed and had sections of fabric inserted into them to create new silhouettes.  In summary, the duo have created a new collection from a number of unsold ones – hacking the hackers.

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It’s ingenious and inspiring.  It’s green and creative.  The exhibition staff were on hand to explain the designers’ motivation and inspiration, and what was initially a statement about industry ethics and environmental awareness has now grown into a brand.  Pieces from the collection are currently exhibited and for sale at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam and the statement has been so popular and garnered such demand that the designers are setting up an online store too. Their stockists include Margreet Holsthoorn, an expansive gallery-like boutique I visited en route to the ‘Hacked exhibition’. 

DSC01279Margreet Holsthoorn Boutique, Rotterdam

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The exhibition ‘Hacked’ features their ‘re-made’ collection and the work of fashion students from the Willem De Kooning Academie invited to re-engineer clothing and consider the lifespan of a garment following a week long masterclass with van Slobbe and van Benthum.  The thinking here is that if a garment is altered it becomes new and therefore at least equally, if not more, valuable. 

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Workshops are also being held at the Instituut for school children to learn how to customise clothing to renew its appeal – even taking it as far as turning stains on t-shirts into decorative embroidered sections to make them wearable again.

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This exhibition compliments the Instituut’s third floor gallery presentation ‘Fashion Data’, a stark reality check about the Western consumption of clothing and its societal meaning, along with the implications for the planet.  I’ll be expanding on this in an upcoming post.

Right now, fashion is ripe for disruption – hackers welcome!

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‘Prêt-a-Toucher’ – Inside A Very Special Fashion Archive

Fashion exhibitions are generally curated and presented is such a way as to distance the clothing from the viewer – a ‘do not touch’ rule applies.  It’s not hard to understand why, considering the need to preserve and protect the fabrics and construction.  However, it significantly limits our ability to understand the garments and to a degree forces us to see them only as aesthetic objects in static form.  So much about clothes is in the construction, underpinnings, drape, weight, linings and stitching – the heart, the soul – especially in couture, which is made entirely by hand.  You need to look inside to see it through the eyes of the craftsmen and women who made it.

The Temporary Fashion Museum at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam allows just that.  With an exhibition presenting the archive of Eva Maria Hatschek, a Swiss woman who had an extraordinary collection of clothes designed, but (oddly in today’s terms) not made, by designers including Hubert de Givenchy, Coco Chanel and other couture masters of the 1940’s and beyond.

tmm_collected_by_1_foto_johannes_schwartzCollected by Eva Maria Hatschek – Image: Johannes Schwartz

Eva Maria Hatschek was a great appreciator of fabrics, colour and texture and from the 1960’s to 1980’s kept a diary of swatches, photographs and notes about outfits she would have designed by the great designers mentioned above then created by her own seamstresses, usually from Swiss textiles.  Incredibly, at that time (from the late 1940’s)  she would buy the paper patterns for the garments from the great designers and her staff would amend and cut them out and construct them in the fabric of her choosing.  She never threw anything away and the collection is comprised of 1700 pieces in total. 

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While discussing Mrs Hatschek’s collection with the museum staff they explained that it was unclear as to whether there were any limitations on the fabric selection imposed by the designers.  Given our current age of intense copyright and IP protection the selling of fashion house-created patterns to individuals to use at their will seems strangely open and relaxed, although it was very typical of that time.  Some of the fashion houses even provided labels for Mrs Hatschek to have sewn into the garments. 

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Eva Maria Hatschek not only wore custom made pieces by her seamstresses, but she had a vast collection of couture created by Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy and Coco Chanel.   Incredibly, Mrs Hatchek wore most pieces once only or not at all.  She was a true collector and appreciator of clothing for the sake of the beauty of the textiles, the techniques and craft, not ‘fashion’ as a notion of perpetual newness.  There were no fashion magazines found at her residence, only hundreds of archive boxes and her sketchbooks full of notes on the pieces she had bought and had made.

The fascinating exhibition is displayed as an industrial shelved archive and was made possible by the Swiss Textile Collection, which took custody of the immense collection (of which only one third is available to view in this exhibition) from Mrs Hatschek’s family after she died.  The Swiss Textile Collection wished for viewers to be able to interact with the textiles and understand the nature of the garments through close inspection and touch.  It’s a great privilege to be able to inspect in detail the work of such skilled crafts-people and understand the techniques of stitching and finishing they employed.

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There is a beautiful ceremony around the process of viewing the pieces.  You are first presented with a catalogue, from which you can select garments/outfits to view.  The exhibition staff then locate the appropriate box in the open-shelved archive and once gloved, lay the garments out on tissue paper for the viewer to unfold and inspect.  I see a Chanel three-piece boucle suit which is archived as an ensemble with a silk shirt and matching scarf and boucle shawl.  The textiles are incredible and it is evident that the boucle’ yarn has been woven for the three piece suit, knitted for the shawl and crocheted for the shawl trim.  It shows a great understanding and exploration of textile techniques and creation of complimentary pieces – the same way a fashion designer might explore textiles within a collection and extend their use in different ways across different garments.  It is also a reminder of a historic way of dressing where an outfit was designed and created to be worn as a whole, without styling variation, in stark contrast to the contemporary way of dressing. 

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The Chanel suit reveals inner markings on the waistband which are believed to be the signature of one of Mrs Hatschek’s seamstresses – a star-like motif that can be found on a number of garments.  It’s a hallmark of pride and craft and is a wonderful secret that would have been contained had these garments been exhibited in a traditional way on mannequins. 

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Exclusive fashion made inclusive.  The way it should be and poignantly in line with fashion’s current digital evolution.

The exhibition entitled Collected by Eva Maria Hatschek runs until May 8th.  For further insight into the great fashion collector read the Instituut’s interview with Rosmarie Amacher of the Swiss Textile Collection.  

Header image by Johannes Schwartz

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Louis Vuitton’s LV Series 3: A Carefully Curated but Unrevealing Exhibition

LV Series 3 is a curated, commercial look inside the fashion powerhouse, Louis Vuitton. Sometimes commercial is synonymous with overly accessible and cheap. That’s not the case here. It is the case, however, that this exhibition has been assembled to lead viewers through a carefully crafted experience of digestible soundbites and images of Louis Vuitton’s luxury wares, rather than revealing the inspiration behind Nicholas Ghesquière’s fourth Women’s ready-to-wear show as Artistic Director, which is how the exhibition is billed.

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I should mention at this point that I took a guided tour to have the full LV Series 3 experience and this was probably a mistake. The gentleman taking us on tour certainly looked the part, but was definitely not well-versed in the Louis Vuitton brand or the manufacturing and presentation techniques he was attempting to explain. Beginning with a (somewhat flimsy) explanation of who Louis Vuitton was and how his fashion house came to be (from the humble roots of a travelling case maker in rural France) he went on to point out an imposing metal sculpture suspended from the ceiling of the first room and cited it as Nicholas Ghesquière’s ‘inspiration’ for the collection. Again, flimsy. That said, he was endeavouring to deliver an inspirational glimpse into a world crafted on quality and luxury and that came across.

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The exhibition is constructed across adjoining rooms and draws together the large scale geometric sculpture above, projected graphics of the runway models being interviewed in an interestingly disorientating round room and mounted screens in mirrored galleries.

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There is also a stunning white oasis filled with Plaster of Paris mannequins cast in the silhouettes of the collection, complete with fabric surface details creating a textural foundation from which to mount shiny and tactile bags, shoes, sunglasses and belts.

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IMG_5348autoIn one of the simpler rooms the bag manufacturing process was demonstrated by a skilled craftswoman who usually constructs bags at the Louis Vuitton’s manufacturing hub in France. She assembled the bag amongst a myriad of components on a huge work surface, demonstrating the process from beginning to end.  There is a genuine thrill in seeing this process, and this is where the exhibition gives a behind-the-scenes look inside the creation of the product and starts to feel more substantial. I inspect the bag and jokingly note the “Made in France” label should technically be changed to “Made in England”. Blanks.

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Continuing in the theme of craft and creation the next room is darkly lit and illuminated by a laser beam style animation, mimicking the cutting of leather bag and shoe pattern pieces. The animation seems designed to suggest this process is digital, which is an odd contrast to the hand-craft demonstration of the same product in the previous room. Having experience of digital pattern cutting and laser cutting of materials this animation is not a true representation of either. It does create a palpate impact with viewers though – so the digital presentation value is obvious.

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The message of quality and craft features throughout the exhibition and the runway show played across multiple screens in a mirrored split level gallery showcases the Autumn/Winter 2015 collection, putting the viewer in the front row.

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This exhibition makes me think about the Givenchy show which decamped to NYC this season, offering 900 tickets in a ballot for members of the public to sit alongside members of the fashion industry to experience Riccardo Tisci’s SS16 collection. There has been a noticeable shift of power in the fashion industry towards the public, with mass utilisation of Instagram and the powerful connection the public are making with fashion bloggers and other influencers across social media. Putting the public front row is a brilliant marketing tool, exponentially increasing coverage through sharing of images on social media. The Givenchy show and this LV Series 3 exhibition are signs that luxury brands are taking note of the shift in power in the industry and engaging with consumers on a strongly digital level. Perfect for securing the future of the brand by connecting with Millenials.

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The exhibition stays very ‘top level’ in that there is no revealing information about the creative design process – just the glossy final product itself. There is a final room of garments hanging in a glass cabinet, some of which are accessible to touch and remove, others are not. Overall, the exhibition looks fantastic and bears great photo opportunities throughout. It is completely Instagram friendly and utterly sharable. It’s an fun trip through a set of cool rooms and galleries, but light on deeper concepts and revelation.

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On reflection, having interviewed fashion designers, computer scientists, coders and artists over the past few weeks for this and my Huffinton Post blog, the importance of authenticity and sharing the story of  he work – whether it be robotics, the creation of a coat or the crafting of a sculpture – is what people ultimately connect to. When overly produced, sanitised and ‘slickified’ the story is lost, along with that all important sense of authenticity.  This seems particularly poignant here, given the LV Series 3 exhibition is in London against what has historically been a backdrop of highly creative and at times makeshift fashion design bursting with powerfully honest ideas, uncompromising vision and rampant self-expression – the celebration of the designer’s imagination and dreams. I studied fashion design in London and I believe it’s part of a London designer’s DNA. I now tell my students the same – albeit with a more Industry-focussed tinge given my experience – focus on concept, ideas and process. The slick, professional finish will come.

It’s hard not to appreciate and feel illuminated by the cobbled together proof of concept of a DIY robot or a quick sketch of a character design that will be crafted in cardboard before being shot and rendered digitally for video game. Seeing the process demonstrates authenticity and invites the viewer into the creative mind of the designer. In an age when we’re ‘authenticity’ obsessed it seems the urge to present a curated and careful image for consumption on social media may have bred a desire to hide the process. Fashion should let us in. We might just buy more product.

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