International Fashion Showcase Takes London Fashion Week Global

There’s a huge amount to see at London Fashion Week every season, but pausing and pondering regional design talent and forces in countries around the world that shape its designers was a hugely rewarding and enriching experience at this year’s International Fashion Showcase.  IFS was housed in Somerset House, a stone’s throw from the main LFW venue and encompassing the work of over 80 designers from 26 countries, with the theme Local/Global.

The showcase blurb poetically states that “Fashion finds its origins in many places – the agricultural, the provincial, the industrial, the urban – these places deeply influence materials, techniques and the creative process.”  This exhibition’s beauty lies in the fertile ideas and context in which the work is presented and how the local culture and influence is maintained in the presentations of the work.  Once fashion is taken out of its original context and is placed on a generic runway, for example, such a context is lost, so this is a wonderful opportunity to view the work of the designers with their heritage being showcased too.  This exhibition served as a strong reminder of the power of being immersed in the whole story of the work and the designer and understanding how the work had been shaped by its geography and culture.

At the top of my agenda for this blog is finding and unearthing new developments in fashion and technology and exploring materials technology in a fashion context.  This exhibition presented a plethora of stunning design, impossible to cover within the scope of this article, but visible here.

Delving into materials, the Polish designer cohort adopted the theme ‘Waste Not Want Not’, mixing local traditional Polish crafts with global trends such as up-cycling and slow-living.  With Poland being one of the largest European markets for the trade of second-hand clothes (largely sold by the kilo – not the curated Vintage fare Londoners are used to) these designers from Poznan’s School of Form found resourceful ways to re-appropriate second hand materials and garments, aiming to find a balance between contemporary luxe and the communist kitsch rejected by their parents.

Designs by Kasia Kwiatkowska, Natasza Rogozinska, Anna Kujawska, Agniesta Tomczak

Jagoda Fryca is a graduate of Poznan’s School of Form and a current MA Contextual Design student at Design Academy Eindhoven.  She states “I am a designer and a qualified musician.  Often I don’t design, but rather observe the world of objects and the world itself.  I work in between the fields of textile, fashion, scenography and performance’.  To that end, Fryca created up-cycled shoes under her open source DIY initiative named PRYMITWY.

The Polish IFS presentation was supported by the Polish Institute London and coincided with the launch of Chrysalis, An Anthology of Polish Fashion, from the 1930’s to the present day.  Beautifully collaged pages by artist and graphic designer Tymek Borovski fill the book, which charts 90 years of designs, including those of Lola Prusac, who designed for Hermes in Paris between the wars and infused the fashion house with traditional Polish folk designs and created Modrian-inspired prints ’30 years before Yves Saint Lauren’.

Chrysalis

Post-communist fashion is experiencing a renaissance on a global stage, the most famous expressions of this currently being Demna Gvasalia and Lotta Volkova via Balenciaga and Vetements, and Chrysalis offers a view into the origins of these designs and the social and political climate in which they were created.  This newly launched Polish Fashion Stories website accompanies Chrysalis, presenting current and past Polish fashion creatives, including stylist and costume designer Hanka Podraza.

Styling by Hanka Podraza – more on her Facebook fanpage

Transfashional Lab is an exhibition including the work of Polish artists and fashion designers, in collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Forum London, running until 4th April.  More info here.

Chilean architect and designer Elisa Rodriquez created a seaweed textile entitled ‘experimental skin’, which was handmade from seaweed typically found along the coast of Chile: Cochayuyo.  Elisa and her co-founders of brand Sisa seek to utilise natural materials and develop them in an intuitive way: “We believe that this seaweed, which grows along the Chilean coast, exposes the value of our territory, and has an aesthetic potential which we find really inspiring… Collections are born out of concepts that in turn are born from investigations which don’t necessarily have to do with fashion. That’s why we believe SISA does not follow trends. We believe in designing from within, and not in response to what is imposed by the world”.

Chilean Fine Artist Jon Jacobsen, currently an artist in residence at ShowStudio, was a collaborator on the Chile presentation at IFS and introduced me to Elisa, who explained the process involved in creating the seaweed pieces.  The seaweed was collected from the shores of Santiago then thinly sliced and laid in strips alongside each other, placing them on a form to create the final shape before the seaweed dries and hardens.  This process results in a solid final structure which Elisa believes in its current form is most suitable for accessories.  There is potential to develop it into a softer composite material which she is interested in exploring.

Cochayuyo on the beach, collected and sliced cochayuyo, Sisa’s cochayuyo cape

Jon Jacobsen’s arresting fashion film provides an organic and colourful compliment to Elisa’s cultivated and organically shaped seaweed pieces.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my IFS coverage on Techstyler.fashion

 Follow Techstyler on TwitterInstagram and Snapchat

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. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.13.34Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.14.12Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.19.06Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.14.46

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.26.55

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.27.49

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.28.26

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.28.59

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.29.36

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

20140510004311-angelique

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

Header Image: Techstyler

Follow me:  Twitter @Thetechstyler  and  Instagram @techstyler

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.

tmm_hacked_1_foto_johannes_schwartz tmm_hacked_3_foto_johannes_schwartzImages: Johannes Schwartz

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.

DSC01456 DSC01457 DSC01458

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

DSC01466 DSC01468

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. 

DSC01470DSC01473DSC01472

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.

DSC01481DSC01479DSC01477

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!

Header Image: Techstyler

Follow me:  Twitter @Thetechstyler  and  Instagram @techstyler