Bethany Williams’s London Fashion Week Mens presentation was set in the Charing Cross Library, forming the foundation of her brand’s seasonal message in the community mainstay of the local library. Free to all for intellectual enrichment regardless of background or beliefs, the library set the perfect tone for the presentation of the SS19 collection entitled “No Address Needed to Join”.
The presentation unravelled as stories within stories to a soundtrack of The Gingerbread man audiobook. The brand’s social and sustainability story was visually expressed through garments that appeared to have been crafted from sheets of compressed book pulp, cut into strips then hand-woven. Comprising of half a dozen looks representative of a materials re-appropriation design language, the textile-led designs mixed materials rich in text, texture and colour – exuberant and bold – as you would expect from a collection with such a strong social message.
A true team effort, Bethany’s collections rely upon co-operation and collaboration, which must involve vast planning, negotiations and partnership agreements. Her business model goes way beyond simply ordering fabrics from suppliers and working with garment manufacturers to sample and produce her collections. This season Bethany and her team worked with The Quaker Mobile Library, which makes literature available for borrowing to marginalised members of society who have no fixed abode (who are unable to register for public library services) and British publishing house Hachette UK. She obtained waste materials from Clay’s book manufacturing facility in Suffolk and took it to San Patrignano in Italy and worked alongside the community there to weave fabrics mixed from the book waste, waste from San Patrignano itself and donated pre-production waste from textile mills in Italy.
On the garment construction side, Bethany has continued the previous season’s partnership with the London College of Fashion’s ‘Making for Change’ programme, which supports the training of women in Downview Prison. Women on the programme will be constructing the jersey pieces for production orders of the collection. The production focuses on working closely with innovative rehabilitation programmes including San Patrignano, Making For Change at HMP Downview and Manx Workshop for the disabled (button production), providing skills and meaningful employment.
Making up a considerable portion of the collection were oversized hand-knitted jumpsuits, sweaters and trousers created in collaboration with Wool and Gang’s Heal the Wool yarn (made from 100% recycled Peruvian wool fibre with 30% of the yarn price donated to Friends of the Earth. Recycled wool was sourced from Kent for the hand embroidery on the knitwear pieces. All the sampling was hand-knitted by Bethany’s mother on the Isle of Man where she grew up. Yarns were also sourced from Chris Carney Collections, a recycling and sorting facility, where knitwear is washed and unravelled before being hand-knitting into pieces for the collection. The denim elements within the collection were also sourced in the same manner and unpicked before being reconstituted and hand-printed into new garments.
What transpires from this overview of the extensive collaborations and partnerships Bethany Williams forges is that sustainability is impressively integrated and fundamental to her brand, not a token afterthought or a simple matter of ordering organic or recycled materials for use in the collection – it is the very foundation of her creativity and modus operandi while celebrating inclusion, social mobility and community.
Here, fashion is a vehicle for good with her inspiring roster of collaborators for the creation of her collections and their delivery, which was achieved through a presentation in collaboration with social and environmental activists and TIH Models, a niche, socially engaged modelling agency exclusively featuring individuals in unique living conditions.
Of course working at a ‘grass-roots’ level reclaiming and re-appropriating materials from waste can make for difficulties in ensuring required quantities for production and potentially in consistency of material quality. The manual nature of many of the processes may also be challenging to scale up for larger production quantities. Both these factors mean this is not a business model that can scale easily, but maybe that’s not the point here. Speaking of fashion as a vehicle for positivity and change, Bethany Williams states “we provide an alternative system for fashion production, as we believe fashion’s reflection upon the world can create positive change.” Job done.
As part of this season’s community commitment, Bethany is donating 20% of the profits from this collection to The Quaker Mobile Library. Bethany Williams is available now at 50m, Ecclestone Yard, London.
I wrote about the work of fashion designer Edda Gimnes on Techstyler back in February and was curious to see where her penchant for large, sweeping illustrated textiles had taken her for this season. Edda is an emerging designer beginning to navigate her way into the fashion industry, grabbing onto opportunities arising from winning the bronze award at Designer’s Remix in Milan in March and Germany’s ‘Designer of Tomorrow‘ award in July, following the launch of her label EDDA at Fashion Scout seven months ago during London Fashion Week.
Edda’s speciality is her celebration of ‘naive’ illustration (she draws with her non-dominant hand) and her willingness to be led into creative territory by mistakes and asymmetry in pattern cutting. Most western-trained fashion graduates are schooled to strive for balance in pattern cutting, with a focus on fit and silhouette. Edda’s patterns are a canvas – at times literally – for her fun and figurative broad-brush stroke designs which are digitally printed onto textiles. The result is graphic, bold and a whole lot of fun.
Edda’s SS16 Illustrations, research and development
Winning the ‘Designer of Tomorrow’ award following her SS16 collection launch has earned Edda the tutelage of Alber Elbaz, commencing in 2017. She will create collections in Germany and expand her practice and understanding of commerciality and manufacturing during the year-long award, supported by Peek and Cloppenburg. I joined Edda to view her SS17 collection in East London, following her presentation at Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week. She talked me through her ambitions to develop more wearable pieces in this collection and create structured dresses with softer prints to balance her signature graphics whilst maintaining the fun and naive construction and idiosyncratic details. She peppered the new collection with colour and also introduced cute illustrated canvas handbags.
Edda SS17 Photos: Yoo Sun
I was especially drawn to the graphic prints in this collection. Trying on Edda’s clothes transports me into a Quentin Blake-illustrated Roald Dahl-esque world, exciting my imagination and wrapping me in fantastical childhood memories. Who wants to be a grown up anyway?
Edda SS17 London Fashion Week presentation
Edda and I discuss fashion magic and she wholeheartedly believes in keeping the spirit and fun in her designs from concept through to the final product. Arguably, fashion is most successful when it offers familiarity and fantasy at the same time – there is something that feels right (nostalgic or familiar) and something new about it. Edda’s creations deliver that. They are so authentic – like a child’s frank honesty – and carry with them the designer’s charm, making the clothes highly personal for both her and the wearer.
I’m placing a personal order and look forward to experiencing this feeling every time I wear one of Edda’s designs. I also look forward to seeing the response it elicits from others. After all, fashion is a language best celebrated in dialogue and Edda’s graphic stories are the perfect conversation starter.
These are some of the words I frantically tapped into my iPhone notes during Fyodor Golan’s stunning London Fashion Week presentation: ‘tender, ferocious, glitchy, primal, diverse’. The words hit me in digital waves, a helpful metaphor for a presentation that opened with a CGI film in collaboration with Miximaliste that cast avatar models hovering above water and interacting with each other in a tender and glitchy way, creating a warm and poetic narrative about nature, technology and design.
This piece of CGI fashion film art, entitled ‘Change of Paradigm’ portrays a fantasy world described in the show notes as “an artificial FG paradise”, and is the first step in Fyodor Golan’s journey to fully digital design and specification of garments pre-sampling, removing the need to toile. Ultimately, they would no longer sketch the designs and make a paper pattern and mock up a the garment in fabric – this would be done digitally – streamlining and speeding up their design and development process and allowing their creativity to run wild. This new digital process will also enable Fyodor Golan to create seasonal experiences, testing the relationship between fashion, fantasy and reality.
Fyodor Golan X Miximaliste ‘Change of Paradigm’
The multicoloured avatars gave way to a live presentation of the SS17 collection on models packing a serious punch that left the marks primal, attitude and fearlessness in their wake. This was an expression of the beauty of diversity as much as it was about fashion, technology and new presentation formats. Fyodor Golan are pushing all sorts of boundaries – I viewed their presentation twice to take it all in. A fashion journalist from the Czech Republic was enjoying his third viewing when we struck up a conversation.
Amongst my aforementioned frantically typed notes I also wrote ‘so much direction here’, which, simplistic as it is, serves to remind me that the strength of vision in the film-making, use of colour, styling, casting, set design and sound made this presentation a force of fashion, technology and nature. The collection is an extension of pre-SS17, which I wrote about previously on Techstyler, with its inspiration rooted in holographic pop star Hatsune Miku, making their avatar model concept a ‘natural’ extension of their pre-season inspiration.
The hybrid hiking trainers by Salomon led me to imagine a place where these models might scale epic heights, conquering the next frontier of fashion tech and leading an intrepid journey forward into digital fashion’s future. I can’t wait to see how Fyodor Golan bend tech to their will to present the next installation on their fashion tech journey.
Golan Frydman, Fyodor Podgorny and a presentation guest, backstage
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 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.
Top: 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.
Martine 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.
Martine 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 Agency. Hololens 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.
Microsoft 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.
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.
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.
Cohesive 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.
Vetements P/E 16
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’.
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.
Fyodor 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.
Fyodor 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.
A recent visit to Ravensbourne has catalysed a shift in my opinion of ‘fashion tech’ as a discipline and led to an animated discussion around the reasons for the aesthetic gulf between fashion design and technology. The reason for my visit was the European Space Agency initiative, ‘Couture in Orbit’ – a fashion show at the Science Museum in May, featuring the work of five fashion colleges in Europe: ESMOD Paris, ESMOD Berlin, Fashion Design Akademiet Copenhagen, Politecnico di Milano and Ravensbourne London, which set about planting creative seeds for what will become a necessity – fashion in space. The colleges worked to a brief set by the ESA to present ideas and prototypes for fashion and accessories in the coming age of space travel. In response to a number of nasty and aggressive comments on their YouTube page in response to a video of this initiative, the ESA wrote this:
Couture in Orbit is a student outreach project. The students are using materials and technology in their designs that are a spin-off from the space industry. Each school had a theme linked to an astronaut’s mission, such as environment, health, sustainability, and their final designs had to have practical benefits for life on Earth. No funds were exchanged and material and technical support was provided by Tech startups.
Yes, the designs could be seen as somewhat ‘amateurish’ and ‘costumey’ in their concept and presentation and describing them as ‘couture’ and ‘fashion’ is not strictly accurate, however the idea here is key. Fashion’s robust approach to design and creation of cohesive, refined collections does not allow for this kind of playful theatrics, but if fashion and tech are to advance there has to be some latitude where the end result is concerned. It makes no sense to judge this by the same standards as a show at London Fashion Week, for example, which exists for an entirely different purpose and is part of a totally different creative and commercial conversation. The YouTube comments demonstrate an attitude that demeans the validity and power of fashion that I have seen previously hinder cooperation between fashion, science and tech sectors, but we will forge forward regardless.
‘Couture in Orbit’ designs
‘It is inevitable’, said Ravensbourne students Farid Bin Karim and Sam Martin-Harper of the fusion of fashion and technology in clothing to come. Their view was the same of space travel – we know for certain there will be inhabitation of other planets and commercial journeys to space, so we need to design clothing fit for space life. The brief provided to the students by the ESA included an array of materials for them to use in their garments and accessories, including Sympatex, woven fabrics by Bionic Yarn and 37.5. Being presented with a fixed set of materials is challenging from a design perspective, as fashion design often begins with selection of a fabrics to complement an aesthetic or theme held by the designer. Removing this from the designer’s creative point of view throws up further challenges and provides experimental opportunities. Karim leads me into a discussion about Design Fiction, a framework based on critical design which is the foundation of his speculative design approach on the Wearables MA course at Ravensbourne. The modelling of future scenarios using design fiction provides a robust outline for predicting what fashion design could be in an age of commercial space travel, for example. Karim selects three modes of technology – one that exists but he can’t access, one that exists that he can access and one that we can reasonably deduce will exist in the future – with which to begin to form a fashion tech product design scenario. This Design Fiction framework and critical design, attributed to Julian Bleecker and Dunne and Raby respectively, and adopted widely in London as a modelling tool, begins to give me insight into how design for a future that we can’t yet imagine is conceivable and believable.
Farid explains that his self-closing helmet and kilt are inspired by sojourners travelling to space and creating their own exoplanet. His concept hinged on the sojourners creating protective barriers around themselves that responded to atmospheric changes to give visual notifications allowing them to react and adapt. His self-closing helmet is powered by muscle wires and his kilt, printed in collaboration with print designer and MA fashion student Laura Perry, has heat responsive ink which disappears at certain temperatures – a useful visual notification when things are hotting up. Farid also used a UV responsive pigment – another useful visual alert. Karim’s work is inspired by an array of creatives including artist Lucy McRae, writer HG Wells and movement artist and coder Nicola Plant.
Heat applied by the palm of the hand causes the ink to temporarily disappear
UV source applied to printed fabric
Visual alert to excessive UV rays
Farid Bin Karim’s self-closing helmet and reactive ink kilt, in collaboration with Laura Perry
Sam Martin-Harper presented an altogether more nostalgic proposition in which she expressed her belief (and hope) that we will always remain rooted to earth. Her love of biology and particular interest in the techniques for growing plants on the International Space Station, including the work of astronaut Tim Peake, drove her to create a 3D printed neck piece containing plant life. Admitting this is a conceptual piece, Sam explained how she used inspiration from the ingenious folding joint sections of space suits to inform the shapes and details of her design. Sam is completing her BA and is still exploring career options. One thing is for sure, she cannot see a future of fashion without the integration of tech.
Sam Martin-Harper’s 3D printed plant-filled neckpiece at ‘Couture in Orbit”
A discussion on the future work of Farid centres on his passion for data as a tool for creating responsive and adaptive design. He has been learning coding and electronics as part of his Wearables MA and sees future fashion as an extension of the individual – as ‘body centric’. On graduation, Karim is hoping to work with a multi-disciplinary research facility to conduct collaborative research and design. When I ask if he would consider a traditional design job (he is a fashion graduate, after all) he reflects on how he has had to unlearn and relearn aspects of his design approach through his Wearable MA training in order to realise his part industrial, part fashion creations. It’s clear he’s happier in unchartered territory.
The discussion turned to couture and obsolescence. Karim is curious about the possible inclusion of technology in couture techniques in order to aid their survival, but this is completely at odds with the fact that couture means made by hand. This meaning of couture would therefore need to change for this to happen. I ponder a possible alternative in the form of technologies so specialised, rare and unique that they create a techno-couture instead. Here we begin to think about fashion and design being driven by technology, rather than the other way around.
In these discussions, as Alexa Pollmann, Course Leader of the MA Wearable Futures course, points out, it is important to consider the designs of Sam, Farid and the other students from Ravensbourne as proposals and prototypes – not final ‘fashion products’ per se. Ask any fashion designer working in the industry today their opinion of fashion tech and they will overwhelmingly tell you that it is gimmicky, ugly and not desirable. Herein lies the chasm between tech and fashion. Looks really count, and so does magic. Fashion designers bring an ephemeral quality to their creations, says Alexa. Fashion designers dream up and articulate experiences better than any other design discipline. They create magic in a way that is often so difficult to define it just feels ‘right’. Fashion is entirely subjective and indisputably powerful. For these reasons, Clive Van Heerden, co-founder of vHM Design Futures studio in London, which develops materials and technologies for a host of Wearable Electronic business propositions in the areas of electronic apparel, conductive textiles, physical gaming, medical monitoring and entertainment, insists on having a fashion designer in his creative team on all projects.
Designs by students from Politecnico di Milano
Designs by students from Ravensbourne
But why are fashion designers resistant to incorporating tech into their designs and what is slowing down the advancement of the fashion tech fusion? One factor is that the development of tech-enabled/collaborative products takes considerable research and development, and therefore time. It requires dedication to solving specific problems related to firstly a single concept or product, which is at odds with designing, sampling and creating whole fashion collections which are visually cohesive within a strict time frame (weeks or months at most), which then have a finite sales period before the next collection is created (making the current one obsolete, for want of a better word) and the cycle continues. The traditional cycle of two main collections per year for high end fashion labels has switched to four in recent years, meaning there is even less time for research and development. Knowing this, it is easy to see why the work of fashion designers is at odds with the research and development required to incorporate tech, and vice versa. In a previous interview with designers Fyodor Golan, they pointed out that fashion tech collaborations often have a required fixed outcome within a tight time frame, limiting the amount of integration possible. This goes some way to explaining why sometimes fashion tech looks more ‘stuck on’ than cohesively and meaningfully designed and produced.
Read more about the technologies involved in the Couture in Orbit project here
Header image: Farid Bin Karim’s self-closing helmet and adaptable ink kilt at ‘Couture in Orbit’
To chat to Paul Sohi is to geek out over all things 3D printed. He takes me on a journey from 3D printed mannequins (the subject of his PhD) to a new polycarbonate composite prosthetic leg he is developing with a team spanning half a dozen countries but centred at Autodesk in San Francisco, for an Olympic cyclist bound for Rio later this year. It’s a helluva ride, so buckle up!
What initially prompted me to get in contact with Paul was a question I’ve been pondering whilst working at the fringe of fashion and technology for some time. Why aren’t there robot models? And why don’t I create the first robot modelling agency? It makes sense for so many reasons, but more on that in a later post.
Paul’s research and development at the Royal College of Art in conjunction with the Makerversity at Somerset House centres on solving an immense problem in mannequin manufacturing. Mannequins are currently sculpted by hand before being moulded and cast – a time consuming process which imposes mass standardisation. As someone who has hired mannequins for London fashion week I can attest to the limited offer currently on the market. Consider a museum requiring a custom-sized mannequin to display historic clothing, and then consider a new technology allowing such a mannequin to be 3D printed in days rather than laboriously hand made in months. Then consider that currently, the best way of creating mannequins to display such costumes is to 3D scan the clothing to determine the volume inside of them when worn on which to then base a mannequin shape – requiring reverse-engineering of the mannequin to mimic someone that did actually live and wear those clothes at a point in historical time. It’s on consideration of these weird truths it’s possible to begin seeing the benefit of Paul’s creation of an algorithm designed to transform actual body (or garment) measurements into 3D printed mannequins, rather than relying on artistic creations inspired by – but anatomically untrue to – the human body. The key here is that measurements entered into Paul’s program are manipulated and represented visually in line with actual metamorphic landmarks. For example, height has an impact on body proportions. It is incorrect to simply scale a mannequin up or down directly proportionately – there are intricacies in height ratios that Paul’s rigorous algorithm takes into account so that the mannequins he 3D prints are true to the human form, rather than a sculpted representation of an imagined ideal. Shorter people’s legs are proportionately longer than their torso compared to taller people, for example, but you would not detect this by looking at them – both body proportions simply look ‘right’. Herein lies the difficulty in artistically interpreting the human form where size and fit are concerned.
Paul’s 3D printed scale mannequins being printed in parts for later assembly
The motivation behind Paul’s PhD was to find out if he could create a 3D printed mannequin using mass customisation algorithms built upon an immense amount of research underpinned by the International Standards. These standards provided all the necessary body measurements to create a digital mannequin which can then be 3D printed.
An important point made by Paul during our conversation is that mass customisation via 3D printing is now possible on a production scale – it has evolved beyond prototyping. This means that standardisation of mannequins is no longer necessary and the skilled work required for each fashion retail market does not have to be localised. Since a ‘standard’ size small in Asia is nothing like a ‘standard’ size small in Europe, mass customisation shatters geographical boundaries and means standardisation – at best badly sized and limited in terms of body shape and at worst pushing damagingly unrealistic body ideals – is no longer necessary. The mannequins Paul is developing can be tailored according to cultural specificity. Regional cuisine radically effects body shape, size and proportion and genetics also has a considerable impact. These factors can be taken into account in Paul’s algorithm.
A complete 3D printed scale mannequin
From an aesthetic point of view, every fashion brand has its own ideal mannequin which in some cases may be seasonal. These are made from master moulds and if done by hand using current methods, take months. 3D printing takes a fraction of the time, allowing greater flexibility and mannequin diversity.
Components of a scale model printing whilst Paul and I chatted at the Makerversity
Paul describes his work as creating avatars and body forms. He is currently working with the Victoria & Albert Museum, London to find rapid solutions for mannequin making for display of historic costumes. As an extension of this revolutionary development for display mannequins, Paul is looking at how the current mass standardisation of garment making mannequins relates to sizing within the fashion industry. There is no datum on mannequins – no system for sizing and no standard approach to it across the industry. When creating clothing, we have anatomical landmarks (nape to waist, for example) but the way this is measured is still variable. Paul is determined to standardise measurement taking and sizing to put an end to what is a slow, laborious and repetitive process. He makes the point that, for example, three people in the fashion industry will measure the same dress and get three completely different sets of measurements . Compare that to Architecture – or any other creative industry – and you would be laughed at for not having and applying a set of standards. He makes a strong point and I have personally dealt with this often painful aspect of sampling and production in the fashion industry. Paul is confident that a set of standards can be extrapolated from the points mapped in his algorithm.
Interestingly, Paul tells me that the standard nape to waist measurement of garment making blocks used routinely in the fashion industry came from 1920’s military uniforms. Today’s approach to garment sizing and pattern proportions has only marginally evolved since then. ‘Standard sizes’ are in truth specific to each individual fashion house and are not related to any actual standard, which to me makes sense because each fashion house/brand has it’s own silhouettes and ‘fit’ which are part of its aesthetic, but I can see how this isn’t customer friendly and how in an increasingly e-commerce driven industry sizing standardisation would reduce returns and help consumers make better style choices.
Returning to museum mannequins, the Alexander McQueen exhibition Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was one of the most successful exhibitions of all time but despite this, when it ended it was not picked up immediately by another institution. The hand-sculpted mannequins, made specifically for the garments they displayed were destroyed. Shortly after, the V&A took on the exhibition, and set about hand-making the mannequins all over again. Almost a year later they were complete. If these had been created using Paul’s 3D printing method this would have been simpler, quicker and less expensive.
The exception within the Savage Beauty exhibition was the Plato’s Atlantis 3D printed mannequins which closed the exhibition. See the 3D rendering by Asylums FX and a photo I took at the exhibition below:
Plato’s Atlantis, Savage Beauty, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
When I ask Paul about the response so far to his work he says it has been met with distrust and caution from a number of museum curators and fashion designers who feel things are working just fine as they. The fashion industry is famously and paradoxically resistant to change (the out-of-synch seasonal cycles and some luxury brands still refusing to sell online are just two examples) but why isn’t the way things are done being challenged? Why can’t we do things better? Why can’t we explore technology to do things in a better way? As long as we pose the questions, it appears technology will provide the answers.
Paul and I leave the Makerversity disagreeing over the recent Batman V’s Superman film (he’s a fan, I’m not) and agreeing on the amazingness of The Hulk. I wish him well on his bumpy but worthwhile journey to fashion mannequin disruption.
Header image: Paul Sohi
For more about Paul’s work, click here and follow him on Twitter
“I wasn’t exactly top of my class, my techniques were a bit out there.” Edda Gimnes confirmed what I feared when lecturing recently – that in some institutions, students were being moulded, polished and judged according to a narrow set of guidelines where a certain ‘aesthetic’ prevails and is thought of as ‘good design’ and all else is less than acceptable. Want to design shiny ballgowns? Tacky! Want to scribble on blank canvases then slash and top-stitch them together a la’ paper doll dress? No way! Fashion design is almost entirely subjective, but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you listen to some schools of thought in fashion education (no pun intended).
What makes a good design? What makes a great designer? Does it have anything to do with taste? Does it matter? The question I prefer to ask is how does the designer’s work make me feel? What does it inspire in me? If the answer is nothing, then subjectively, it’s not for me. In the case of Edda Gimnes collection it filled me with happiness, excitement and wonder. I think fashion is largely about magic… and clothes. Edda’s clothes are sprinkled with a childlike fun that came from her abandon and wit in scrawling across vast sections of cloth with her non-dominant hand in an effort to return to a time when she was learning to draw – to return to being a kid. The charming naivety leaps off the fabrics which are stiff cotton ‘canvases’ that showcase her monochrome illustrations to great effect. The jagged seams and raw edges suggest an immediacy of design realisation – it’s like she created the pieces with fervour before their essence could be lost. She admits to struggling with pattern cutting and finding a way around that limitation by creating cutouts roughly in the shape of a dress sketched flat on a piece of paper. Rather than being held back by her limitation, it fed into the quick, naive mood of the illustrations and brought them to life in an honest and ‘fitting’ way.
The slow and at times laborious nature of refinement and re-working in clothing design and creation can mean that all that is human about the design is smoothed away, leaving a perfect but impersonal result. The ‘hand’ in the creation – the personality – is lost. Edda’s clothes are theatrical and honest – not unlike her. Edda’s personality shines boldly throughout the collection and I want to wear it all. I was in and out of tops and skirts and shoes and lived for a little while in her world. It was fun, personal and compelling.
To hear Edda talk about receiving a warm and positive response to her work was a joy. She was still beaming from meeting Jimmy Choo earlier that day. He took a huge shine to her and her collection. He adored her mis-matched and customised high street shoes. I can’t help but think of Quentin Blake‘s illustrations when I look at her black scribbles atop the pointy toed shoes. She beams with the recollection of reading Roald Dahl‘s books as a child and initially couldn’t remember where her inspiration for this illustration style came from, until she dug deep into her memories and saw the connection.
I’m delighted to bring the passion and energy of Edda’s designs to the ‘pages’ of Techstyler. Her garments are digitally printed and cut and sewn in London and when I spoke to her at Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week she was taking private orders. Sara Maino from Vogue Italia stopped by and Edda had interest from boutiques in Japan while I was chatting to her, so get your orders in fast, before everyone’s chasing a piece of Edda Gimnes magic.
Edda Gimnes AW16 Lookbook
When rounding off this post I read a completely unrelated (but brilliant) article and realised that the success of Edda’s collection lies in its authenticity. It offered this:
“When you’re not trying to hide away the real version of yourself, people will respond’. When you’re demonstrating authenticity, not some contrived personality, that’s when you find a way to reach out and connect with other human beings”
In continuation of London Fashion Week‘s Films, Fraying and Frizz, the second instalment of my fashion week roundup starts at with Belstaff, in collaboration with (an elusive) Liv Tyler.
The Belstaff presentation could scarcely have been more different from the others I have experienced. It occurred to me that a show format would have made it easier to see the clothes. Being a bigger brand with a larger captive audience, it was in a basement sauna of winter woolies and leathers with a biker-lite /polar vibe and a melee of guests enjoying the wares and fizz. The show notes stated that the collection was inspired by ‘female pioneers venturing into the earth’s most bleak and hard-to-reach locations in the most challenging of conditions’. Polar pioneer Christina Franco was named as a special guest, which I only discovered after re-reading the show notes for this article. I can think of at least a dozen questions about protective clothing and design I’d have fired off in her direction. I bumped into a couple of old friends and had a chat with Jonathan Saunders (whose mate designed the collection) on the way out, so it was suitably fashion-y and fizzy.
Huishan Zhang offered up the most elegant and serene of presentations at The Connaught in what felt like the coming together of two perfect halves – the romantic decadence of the location and the gently elegant and luxuriously refined clothing. The clothes screamed, or rather elegantly asserted, a grown-up ladylike appeal and I passed Linda Fargo on my way out, further confirming their level on the elegance stakes. Look out for Huishan Zang in Bergdorf Goodman next season?
The highlight of the day came in the form of Sid Neigum‘s mathematics-inspired and mostly monochrome collection. Chatting to Sid I learned that the starting point for silhouette development for the collection was a measurement of a shoulder line, say 30 cm for example, which was then multiplied by Da Vinci’sgolden ratio (1.6), applied rigorously by Le Corbusier and a hallmark of his modulor proportions, to determine the opposite shoulder line length, creating a harmonious set of measurements that formed naturally aesthetically pleasing proportions.
The best way to describe the experience of seeing the collection is to say that it all felt “right”. It was at ease. The lengths, the volumes, the textiles. Not forced, but lovingly calculated and evolved from a series of applied multiplications, which led Sid to his final silhouettes. Sid is a patter-cutter who designs in 2D by working back from a 3D ‘mental rendering’ of what he’s imagining he will make. He rarely sketches his designs, but rather sketches pattern piece shapes which he can mentally assemble before doing so physically. Brilliant. I plan to talk in more depth with Sid and bring you a more studied summation of his technique, but until then, enjoy the collection images.
Finally, we dashed to the 100 Club on Oxford Street for a slice of Mary Benson magic, only to discover we’d missed the show and caught the party. Here are the post show leftovers and gif-ified show images thanks to Village PR:
The format of presentations versus catwalk shows has changed the consumption of collections at London Fashion week. Presentations give designers on smaller budgets with big ideas the platform to express all the ambition and concept, without the frantic pace and crippling cost of a seven (or so) minute show.
A show is fleeting. A presentation distills and simmers, offering an entire crafted and installed concept, not just clothing, As seen at the brilliant Wolves PR presentation spaces in the Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, the designers and their teams built a world around the clothes using the set, sound and architecture of the space. Compared to a show, a presentation offers more to grab onto in terms of the story behind the collection and the clothing itself.
During the presentations at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms there was time to be consumed by the building and the designer’s visual storytelling. Not having show notes to read through while sitting, waiting for a show to start means no advance intro to the clothing and seasonal theme, however a presentation offers less pretence and puts the experience above all else.
Viewers are invited to interact with the space, the models and the clothes. Want detail pics? No problem. Want to engage with the models for a beauty shot? Sure. Paradoxically, by allowing viewers to take a greater part in the presentation the designers are able to present their story more strongly. A show can be distracting and the format detracting. There’s so much looking around, flash bulb mania, show guest antics and FROW chat that the show itself doesn’t always feel like the main event. If any kind of fashion presentation or show is about engagement, it seems more effective and sustained in a presentation format.
I wandered backstage at Gabriel Vielma’s presentation where Gabriel guided me to the area with the best light to photograph the models as they exited to join the presentation. His hair and make up team were just as sweet and friendly as he was. See, that’s the side of fashion hidden behind the facade of a show. The designers, the production teams, the hair and makeup team, the assistants – so many sweet, creative people working their butts off. The story on the other side in the front row is so very different. Distance between the fashion machine and the consumer (buyers/press/stylists attending fashion shows) makes sense, sure, but my curiosity (possibly nosiness) means I find the story behind the story so much more interesting, and presentations bring the viewers closer to the inner workings of the collection and the designer and their team. Designers presenting rather than showing get the chance to interact openly with their models and the set throughout the presentation – you see them working. They can also openly chat with press/bloggers/plucky civilians and in a relationship and social-media-led industry it feels like a great way to go about building a loyal brand following and grab column inches. Did I mention how photographable presentations are? There’s time to compose shots that represent the clothing and set and (hopefully) do them justice.
Behind-the-scenes – Gabriel Vielma’s AW16 Presentation
Gabriel Vielma’s website lured me in with cut and paste animated graphics and x-ray imagery. The invitation was illustrated with instructions on how to wear a life jacket. The promise of tech and lives saved materialised in the form of a constructed pipe rig with tablets affixed showing doe eyed graphics with a distinct manga quality. The presentation literature cited the inspiration as Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic’ and nautical notes expressed via sailors braids and flocks of seabirds on jacquard knitwear, a first for the designer. The entire collection was made in the UK, including the knitwear which was made in Leicester. The evolution of knitwear in emerging designers brought about by accessibility to machinery via Stoll and Shima in the UK is heartening and inspiring. What used to be such a tough category created at arms-length in far flung factories is now bubbling up with creativity and cohesiveness alongside the woven and print elements of collections.
Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’
Gabriel Vielma – ‘Beside the Seaside’ AW16 collection
Another collection integrating knitwear with woven textiles plus a moss-driven biological and futuristic sci-fi leaning was by Minki Cheng. The set looked like an about-to-be-electrified urban moss-scape – a kind of techno / bio patch for his hybrid texture clothing. I’ll be zooming in on the details again tomorrow at the Designer Showrooms and getting to the bottom of the incredible soundscape documented visually (sort of) below, with Minki snapped alongside the composer in one shot.
Peter Lindberg for Vogue, 1999 – From Minki’s Instagram feed pre-LFW
Minki Cheng – AW16 collection
Chatting to Justine Fairgrieve, founder of Wolves PR (who I met years ago during her Relative PR days) she was buzzing with excitement alongside her Wolverines. Inspired by visiting a space created by a PR company offering a potent metaphor for the hunger and ambition of emerging fashion designers means I’ll be stopping by to chat to the Wolves again soon. Justine’s pack held engaging presentations with punch and polish. More where that came from!