Fashion Week Insiders Call For Sustainability Clarity, Citing Confusing Brand Marketing and “Green-Washing”

Fashion month has come to a close and this season, more than ever, the industry has been under pressure to address its environmental responsibility. There are some steps being taken, whether it is the launch of the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion Initiative in London or Dior‘s zero-waste, plastic-free, fully recyclable set and tree replanting scheme at their Paris show, but what does that mean on the ground? What do the people attending the shows, working in the industry, buying the products and living their day-to-day lives think and feel about the role of sustainability in fashion? We took to the streets at London Fashion Week (LFW) to find out.

To delve deeper, Techstyler gathered a crew to find out exactly what people know about sustainability in fashion and how they integrate it into their daily lives, if at all. Continuing from our pilot research project back in February, this season we partnered with The British School of Fashion to develop a questionnaire that would capture individuals’ attitudes towards sustainability in fashion, consumer behaviours and personal views on the topic. We then interviewed hundreds of attendees of LFW, both inside and outside the official venues, over the five days. 

Image: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

This season saw pressure groups including Extinction Rebellion (XR) and PETA protesting against the environmental and ethical impacts of fashion, culminating in a “funeral” march by XR featuring a coffin inscribed with “RIP LFW 1983-2019” sending a clear message to the BFC and wider industry. While these groups were protesting outside the official LFW venue of 180 The Strand, Techstyler and “parent” company BRIA were inside presenting solutions, seeking to understand the current climate and calling for change, amongst other innovators. There are solutions and designers doing “good”, some of which were showcased in the BFC’s Positive Fashion space including Patrick McDowell, RE;CODE and the global movement supporting the UN sustainable development goals #TOGETHERBAND; but there is also huge consumer confusion which needs to be addressed before we can expect widespread change in sustainable consumption. We wanted to find out what’s actually going on on the ground, and this starts with you (yes, you).

Patrick McDowell at LFW. Image: Techstyler

The study found that the overarching sentiment when it came to sustainability in fashion was a resounding, and slightly concerning, “I don’t know”. When asked “which brands do you see as the most sustainable”, one respondent replied, “Tricky question. How do you define sustainability?”, and that, ladies and gentlemen, sums it up in a neat bow. This commentary could probably end right there, but there’s a lot at stake here. If we are out on the streets fighting for our future, we should probably understand what we are fighting for and our roles in the battle beyond the placards.

Image: Techstyler

After combining this past month’s data with our research from February, it is evident that there is a lot of miscommunication and confusion, and, let’s not forget, that the respondents are not regular consumers on the high street; they are buyers, designers, stylists, journalists and fashion students. In other words, they are those at the forefront of the industry. The answers were incredibly varied, showing a large gap in knowledge, but ultimately a desire to do better. Many simply don’t know how because the messaging is highly confusing; brands can say what they want around sustainability as key terms like “organic” and “natural” aren’t even regulated, never mind the word “sustainability”, which, to be honest, is anyone’s guess at this point. One respondent even said that the term “sustainability” is itself off-putting.

“There is too much negativity arising around the term “sustainable” and a huge part of it comes from the misunderstandings created when communicating it.”

Questionnaire respondent
Image: Techstyler

Respondents were asked to list the brands they see as the most sustainable, at which many reeled off those who are shouting the loudest but are not necessarily backing up their efforts up with facts. When telling us which brands they are wearing, high street fast fashion was ever-present, despite the interviewees claims to be concerned about the issues involved with fast fashion manufacturing and consumption. H&M was one brand that regularly appeared on both the “most sustainable” and “least sustainable” brand lists, thanks to their Conscious Collection campaigns. Eight respondents who said they were wearing Zara at the time of the interview then went on to list it as a least sustainable brand, which is sufficiently revealing alone. Five out of the eight claimed that sustainability was important to them, so there is a clear disconnect here which needs to be addressed. Overall many simply didn’t know what to believe. “I think there is too much green-washing going on with brands and the marketing teams confuse the sustainability message. They make it harder for consumers to understand sustainability,” said one respondent. 

BFC’s Positive Fashion Panel. Image: Instagram

Alongside the confusion there was also positivity around the growth of the sustainability movement and a recognition of our individual responsibility, with one respondent saying “I think [sustainable fashion] has a potential to be huge in the future” and another recognising that, “it is so important to think of your wardrobe and how to make it last longer than a season.”

Many are calling for industry change: for designers to implement sustainable strategies, brands to be truthful and transparent, and fellow consumers to make the “right” choices.  And this sentiment has grown slightly since last season’s research, showing a steady change in attitudes in just a short time; short, but impactful, with the rise of Greta Thunberg and her Global Climate Strikes, XR mobilising groups across the world to call for action, and 150 brands signing up to the G7 fashion pact after a highly publicised 45th Summit in Biarritz. 

“Is there really a place for fashion week anymore? Seems out-dated and pretty distasteful given the current climate crisis… It seems like a parade of excess that isn’t needed”

Questionnaire Respondent
Image: Techstyler

In response to London Fashion Week being well and truly under the microscope this season, the British Fashion Council hosted a panel to discuss the climate crisis and fashion’s role in both causing and, hopefully, reversing it. Panellists including Bel Jacobs representing Extinction Rebellion, Tamsin Lejeune founder of Common Objective, Cameron Saul of Bottletop, and model and activist Arizona Muse were moderated by journalist Tamsin Blanchard on the final day of LFW to debate the best way forward. In an open and honest discussion, Bel Jacobs reiterated XR’s warning that we are “in the middle of the 6th mass extinction”, going on to say “we called for fashion week to be cancelled to use this as a platform to broadcast the climate emergency. Everyone will stop and recognise (the emergency) if the BFC does that. It’s too late for incremental change.” Arizona Muse proposed that “fashion week could be harnessed for good [so that it] reflects a more humane approach.” Fashion Week’s role in this change was agreed to be pivotal and the time is now.

Image: Techstyler

Reflecting on our time at LFW, there was a palpable air of eco-anxiety both inside and outside the venue. Although there was consumer confusion surrounding exactly how they can be part of the solution, there was an encouraging desire to understand and do more. The public are looking to brands and the wider industry for clear indicators and evidence of widespread change, with one saying, “The industry is on the right track [it] just needs to gather momentum”. Experts joining the discussion are calling for major change for the sake of our survival as a species, nevermind the survival of Fashion Week as we know it. Following this initial research, Techstyler and The British School of Fashion will be releasing more detailed reports in the coming months and replicating the study internationally in 2020. The need for change has never been so urgent, and to make these changes sustainable we must understand the issues at a grassroots level. There is still a long way to go, but change is in the air and how these changes manifest next fashion month will be key, as, this time, the world is watching. 

Image: Techstyler

We would like to thank the research crew for volunteering their time over the last two seasons. Keep an eye out for more results from our recent study, and news of the international research on Techstyler’s Instagram, Techstyler.fashion and by signing up to our newsletter.

Ground-Breaking Augmented Fashion Experience by Steven Tai and ILMxLAB at London Fashion Week

It’s no mean feat creating a truly unique Fashion Week experience.  The traditional catwalk and presentation formats are tried (or perhaps tired) and tested and provide what could be considered limited scope for in-depth storytelling and effectively conveying a brand’s message in our tech-engaged world.  Considering the concept of engagement – capturing the attention of an audience and involving them in an experience and “moving” them – how does the traditional fashion show stack up?  Limply, it would seem.  The irresistible pull of digital content and taking part in online conversations on Instagram and other platforms pulls people in the front row of shows into the digital world, as if the physical one around them doesn’t exist.

In this hybrid physical and digital world, what does the fashion show of our (immediate) future look like?  Steven Tai and his collaborators for AW18 say it looks like this: a physical showcase of the collection on live models who intermingle with an augmented digital avatar being generated in real time using CGI, who is also wearing the collection.  It’s a true blurring of physical and digital worlds – a mixed reality.  But why is this important?  Why explore the bringing together of digital and physical realms?

We live in a world where we create constant digital representations of ourselves and share them with the world.  We augment ourselves with filters and we animate our faces to imagine ourselves as different characters – not unlike the way that Steven Tai’s collaborators ILMxLab, a division of Lucas film, tells stories by creating characters in contextual places using CGI.  What does this creation of digital characters in a physical world look like, and how can that be harnessed to present fashion?  What would that look and feel like?

In the case of the Steven Tai presentation, it involved an actor in a “mocap” (or motion capture) suit which tracked her movements while walking and posing in order to render her body movements in real time as an avatar on the stage screen, immediately behind the physical models.  Her avatar therefore appeared as though she was interacting with the live models on the stage, although she was physically not present.  Different garments were rendered onto her body in real time, creating a carousel of changing outfits as she moved through the space, around the physical models.  The presentation proposed the concept of layering a digital world over a physical one, which strikes me as a social commentary on how we live increasingly through our social media personas and online interactions and how we wish to augment how we are perceived in the digital, and perhaps soon physical, world.

Actor in mocap suit creating the digital avatar seen in the video below amongst the physical models

During the presentation, in order for the actor’s avatar to “wear” the Steven Tai garments they had to be digitised in advance and then rendered in real time on her moving avatar body, to demonstrate the realistic and accurate drape and movement of the fabric.  The process of designing and creating the collection was an interesting one from the point of view of designer Steven Tai.  His appetite for technology and experimentation demonstrates a rare trust and brave approach to fashion design, where his desire to use certain textiles and create certain silhouettes gave way to the technological limitations, allowing the rendering and appearance of the garments digitally to inform their creation physically.  It’s tricky to convey just how at odds this is with the way fashion designers have been trained.  I say this as a graduate of London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, where the teaching emphasises a dogged belief and dedication to achieving your creative and aesthetic goals and striving for your ideals.  Experimenting with new technologies and telling a fashion story that incorporates these new enablers requires a far more dynamic and collaborative attitude.  One that Steven clearly has and that has allowed him an unusual freedom to express himself through the use of the technology.

Another key reason to utilise the LiveCGX technology within the presentation was its capability to create an entire world within the digital and physical space.  Through the imagery on the screen behind the stage, we were transported to Steven’s native Macau by way of a CGI urban landscape, blending a street scene, complete with awnings, flowing gently in the digital breeze, flanked in jungle-like surroundings with softly falling leaves.  Macau was a pivotal inspiration for the collection, which as Matthew Drinkwater of the Fashion Innovation Agency – orchestrators of the collaboration – pointed out after the show, meant that the audience could experience Steven’s inspiration and see how it translated into the collection before them, rather than read about it on a press release.

steventai AW18 collection 

The presentation felt like an invitation to consider the future of fashion.  A chance to ask how fashion should be consumed and sold – and perhaps more importantly, worn.  Will we extend our augmented selves from mobile devices to our physical space through glasses that effectively overlay a digital layer onto our physical world?  Will we chose to change our clothing (or rather how others wearing augmentation glasses perceive our clothing) throughout the day at will?  If so, what is the role of the designer, and indeed of physical clothes?  How would we consume such fashion?  Would we buy renders of clothing?  What impact could that have on the wider industry and what are the potential environmental benefits of reduced physical garment production?  These are all interesting philosophical questions that steer us toward re-imagining the future of fashion.

It is worth noting that the Fashion Innovation Agency, based at London College of Fashion, disseminate the outcomes and discoveries of the experimental fashion presentations they facilitate to cohorts of fashion students whose concept of what fashion can and should be is still in the making.  These students are the future of the industry, so departing university with an affinity for, and understanding of, emerging technologies, suggests that their use will gain prevalence and move towards widespread industry uptake in coming years.

Mohen Leo and Vicki Dobbs-Beck of ILMxLAB, Steven Tai and Matthew Drinkwater of FIA

The question I arrive at after seeing the clear benefits of this mode of storytelling and audience engagement is, “How does this contribute to fashion business commercially?”  Can this content be used for online sales?  It’s likely true that such technologies and methods of presentation will take off when clear financial benefits for brands are proven.  Steven Tai hypothesises that he can reach a global audience by allowing viewers to attend his shows simply by wearing a VR or Mixed reality headset and entering his fashion presentation remotely.  Similarly, their avatars could ‘try on’ the collection using the same the technology and purchase through e-commerce.  Nay-sayers might comment that people would never purchase something they haven’t physically seen or tried on, but then isn’t that exactly what cynics said of Natalie Massenet’s bold concept for a web-based clothing store, which became the industry-changing e-commerce retailer ‘Net-a-porter’?

The team behind the show: steventai, London College of Fashion’s Fashion Innovation Agency, ILMxLAB and The GREAT Britain Campaign

Sabinna’s Pioneering “See Now Buy Now” Via Instagram Stories at Fashion Week

Fashion month has rolled around again, as it does every February/September, and once again I am contemplating the upcoming shows and presentations and how brands will navigate the month of Insta-frenzied reporting of the latest shows, street style and celebrity spotting.

Emails start hitting my inbox about upcoming shows and presentations, lookbook shoots where you can get behind the scenes access to and teasers of digital experiences that are set to break the traditional fashion presentation mould.  There was a time when if you were a fashion designer, you had to have the means and industry contacts to have a traditional catwalk show, and the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to finance it, or else present your collection behind closed doors in a showroom to industry insiders.  No longer.  With each season comes a new array of approaches to presenting and selling fashion, and these new ideas and business models are emerging from, well, emerging designers.  Those nimble and small enough to adapt quickly and harness the power of technology are bringing together the presentation and immediate sale of their collection during the buzz of fashion month.  

Sabinna s006 collection (AW18) is being presented digitally and sold immediately via Instastories during fashion month

What am I excited about as London Fashion Week approaches?  What’s new?  What will I remember from it as March rolls around?  Some stand-out looks, sure, but fashion month is so noisy, with hundreds of shows, thousands of brands and millions of Insta-likes.  How do designers differentiate themselves and make themselves heard, let alone remembered, once the product they sweated so hard to create and invested so much in, personally and financially, is available to buy (six months later)?  This is the burning question – the answer to which stands between surviving and shutting up shop.  You only need to look at the roster of emerging fashion talent that has been financially supported, promoted and awarded by the British Fashion Council over the past two decades under the NEWGEN scheme to see that only a handful of the hundreds supported are still in business today.  Fashion is broken, but frustratingly, it still works (sort of). 

I have spent the past hour talking to designer Sabinna Rachimova of womenswear fashion label Sabinna about her radical new approach to presenting and selling her fashion collections during New York and London Fashion Week.  The London-based designer has tried the traditional options – catwalks, presentations – and a less traditional VR see now/buy now fashion presentation in conjunction with the Fashion Innovation Agency and Pictofit – which won her and the team a Decoded Fashion Futures ‘Beyond the Runway’ Award, acknowledging their initiative to think outside the confines of the traditional catwalk format.  But how does an emerging designer, three years and in the business – at that critical point where many designers can no longer sustain their business and close down – achieve commercial success following the traditional business model?  Well, it appears they don’t. 

Reflecting on my own experience of running my label and presenting at London Fashion Week and selling at Paris Fashion Week I know the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of pounds of financial risk attached to following the traditional business model that most young designers follow.   Like Sabinna, I chose non-traditional methods, but Sabinna has developed a completely unique approach this season, by launching a presentation and sales campaign on Instagram for the duration of New York and London Fashion Week.   On the face of it, it sounds an obvious thing to do, but Sabinna has opted to work with 14 “influencers”, spanning the US and UK, and created 24 “looks” in her collection this season, giving all 14 the choice of look to reflect their personal style.  Sabinna has struck a deal to pay each of them for delivering one post to their feed and one Instagram story on their designated day, in their chosen “look”.  The styling and photography lies with the influencer and is a key element of them presenting the outfit in a way that resonates with their followers and presents Sabinna’s collection in a way that makes it easy to relate to and to imagine wearing.  These are real girls of all shapes and sizes – so the context is commercial.  Which is handy, because the looks are instantly shoppable, direct from their Insta-stories.  Herein lies the clever aspect of this strategy. 

Fashion Influencers @camillasentuti, @_jemmawade and @mimosasmanhattan

Sabinna can see the engagement generated from each influencer, view feedback from their followers, collect data on which outfits and garments generated the most interest and a range of other indicators that add up to powerful insights from which she can shape her future collections.  Of course this strategy requires investment upfront in production so that there is stock available to buy immediately, but Sabinna explains that this is simply redirected from budget otherwise spent on a traditional presentation format, which has no guarantee of generating sales and provides very little tangible feedback.  As the campaign continues throughout New York Fashion Week Sabinna alerts me to a similar strategy being adopted by New York -based brand Mansur Gavriel, who are selling their previous collection (just delivered in store) via Insta Stories, whilst launching their new collection at NY Fashion Week – capitalising on the collective “Insta-buzz”.  Their savvy approach to Instagram curation and marketing is well reported and has led to in-excess of 500,00o followers. 

Fashion Influencers @asliceopi, @saratoufali and @malloryonthemoon

It is absolutely true that everyone at Fashion Week is living their experience through Instagram, even if they are sitting in the front row.  Sabinna is smart enough to know that you can’t get people to put their phones away and stop staring at their screens, so why not present your collection directly, and make it instantly shoppable, on Instagram?  You could scarcely find a bigger fashion-obsessed and hungry audience, and the power of working with influencers in two of the largest markets – the US and UK – makes total sense.   

Emerging designers have traditionally struggled to expand their businesses on a global scale, but it’s easy to see that changing with e-commerce linked to social media.  The best bit?  It doesn’t cost a thing.  To use Insta-stories with the swipe-up function, taking the swiper straight to the brand’s e-commerce site, is free – you just need 10,000 followers to access this function.  And capturing and analysing the data generated?  That’s free too, with the help of Google Analytics. 

The key point to Sabinna’s adoption of this strategy is the vastly increased likelihood of her achieving profitability with this direct-to-consumer approach, both in terms of saving on inflated presentation costs and selling to customers without losing the retail margin of wholesaling.   Instead of following the traditional business and presentation model, where her success would rely on her PR agency and her contacts being able to bring the ‘right people’ to her show or presentation and create the right buzz, her success lies firmly within her own hands and is limited only by her creativity and commercial strategy.

What of the notion of exclusivity?  How do industry insiders – usually the first to see and critique the new season’s collections – view these non-traditional strategies that bypass them and deliver straight to the consumer?  Will they partake?  Early indications are that engaging press and buyers in this democratic manner is tough.  Those familiar with the Bloggers vs Vogue Editors furore, which I was also asked to wade into here , will know that the fashion industry is reluctant to embrace bloggers and influencers, despite the fact that their relevance to consumers and power to sell product is undeniable and trumps that of the established glossy editors – circulation figures prove this. 

Fashion Influencers Diipa Khosla and Dalal AlDoub and Blogger/Brand Ambassador Susie Lau

So does the fact that industry insiders are not giving focus to collections presented in this non-traditional matter even matter?  Materially, probably not.  But psychologically, probably.  Fashion Week has always been about who’s hot and who’s not – who is the next big thing – who is the one to watch?  Who is considered credible?  Who is intensely talented and creative and exciting?  Who is everyone talking about?  If by everyone you mean the consumer beyond the industry confines, it’s whoever wins the social media engagement race.  And that race is happening on Instagram.  

I am looking forward to the upcoming Steven Tai presentation which promises to deliver an immersive fashion showcase with LiveCGX Technology, in conjunction with ILMxLAB and the Fashion Innovation Agency, on 18th February.  Stand by for news of how that is set to shape fashion presentations and the use of new technology as a presentation and sales tool.

Ocean Waste, Spice Girls and the United Nations as Fashion Inspiration at KADK

On a recent trip to Copenhagen I paid a visit to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art (KADK), where I met a group of BA and MA fashion students working under the tutelage of Ann Merete Ohrt, Head of Programme at the Academy.

The visit resulted from an Instagram exchange between student Nina Balstrup and I, reconfirming the power of social media as a connector and entrepreneurial tool for switched-on creatives.  To the work…

Michelle Lyhne Schjerbeck dived, quite literally, into an underwater exploration of our littered oceans, recreating oil slicks and fish nets with locally sourced fabrics for her collection entitled ‘Beautiful Disaster’.  When quizzed about sourcing materials for this, her final collection before graduating, she explained  “It’s so hard for us to source sustainable fabrics”.  “In my process it has become clear how hard it is to make a difference as a fashion student and how hard it is to source materials in an eco-conscious way. Therefore, I have for now chosen to shed light on the matter of water pollution by using textiles and shapes that can represent the issue. I am however hoping that in the future I will be able to work a solution to the issue into my actual designs.”

Joining the discussion on textiles and sourcing, Nina Balstrup explains that there are only two quality fabric shops in Copenhagen, making options limited.  It strikes me that an alternative approach might be to source materials in general, rather than fabric shop textiles, and plundering neighbouring architecture and art student media might bear fruit.  In fact, Michelle has experimented with latex and mixed materials, portraying the idea of ocean waste adhering to the skin.  She did experiment originally with actual ocean waste materials, but they proved too soggy and un-salvageable for use in her collection. 

Michelle Lyhne Schjerbeck – “Beautiful Disaster” collection in progress

Morten Alberto Ishøy’s final collection ‘In desert, creatures appear telling lies’ began with an image that posed for him a philosophical question – how can something real look so manufactured – so unreal?  In the current climate of fakes (news being at the top of the list), this rumination led to an exploration of objects through a layer, or ‘filter’ – in this case, clay sculptures vacuum-packed and metamorphosed into other forms.  Morten’s design ideas are clearly driven by form, rather than textiles or materials.  The silhouettes of his collection were sketched from photographs he took of the trapped, skewed and partially melted vacuum packed clay sculptures which he had crafted.  At each step of his creative process a translation happens, making it an incremental design approach led by fine art.  

Morten elaborates on his process:  “Like in the Bible, Torah and the Quran, the prophet’s sights are that of  blurry human like figures. I have made my silhouettes for the collection by pouring sand on a human behind a plastic curtain and documenting it and then selecting the most interesting shapes.  From these I made clay figures and vacuum packed them, making them a blur once again. Out of these experiments I’ve drawn my collection – inspecting the vacuum packed clay figures closely for details that could be interpreted into garment elements such as lapels, cuffs, etc.”

Morten Alberto Ishøy’s ‘In desert, creatures appear telling lies’ 

Nina Balstrup’s work is a journey through her childhood and an exercise is search and discovery into what makes her so fond of bright colours and glitter.  She tracks back to her first toys, childhood outfits and even nursery school drawings to put together a collage of her design ideas that have been germinating since she was just a few years old.  She reads to me from her school report, which mentions early signs of creative talent and penchant for colour.

Nina’s inspiration includes her school report, childhood drawings and photos

In order to compile a final collection based on memories and nostalgia, Nina has undertaken a huge sourcing exercise, buying jars of Barbie shoes on ebay and dividing them into colour-ways for embroidery, as well as POGs for a Paco Rabanne-style sheath constructed with umpteen ‘o’ rings.  A myriad of 90’s vintage clothing and blankets are piled up on her desk, from which her four final looks for her collection will be crafted.  Her biggest challenge now, she says, is to navigate the garment construction process carefully to add refinement so that the end result is accomplished, yet youthful and fun. 

Nina ponders her journey through her BA studies, including the term she spent studying at Ravensbourne in London.  She says it opened her eyes to a fiercely competitive London scene and pushed her to her creative limits.  Access to all manner of heat transfer, prototyping and digital embroidery machinery at Ravensbourne kick-started her enthusiasm for experimental textile applications.  She hopes to intern at a fashion brand in London after graduating from her BA and before studying for her MA, which is virtually a right of passage in Denmark.  She elaborates by explaining that both BA and MA degrees are paid for by the Danish government, and students’ living expenses are also supported during their studies.  This means that the BA is taught almost as a precursor to the MA, rather than an end point leading chiefly to employment. Nina’s final collection is a bright and punchy textile, knit and embroidery adventure and I can’t wait to see where it leads.

Nina and work in progress for her final collection “REWIND”

MA student Alexander Marstrand is working on a UN-inspired brief for his final project, provoking some interesting political and social questions.  Alexander explains that from his research, he understands the UN to be, ostensibly, a unified group with equal representation and influence from all member countries – the UN flag looks down on all countries across the globe on an even plane.   However, five countries maintain the right to veto resolution votes, and communication is conducted in only six languages: Arabic, Chinese English, French, Spanish and Russian. “I see the project as a comment on the current condition of the globe as such with my personal mix of melancholy and playfulness” Alexander says, of his collection in progress, entitled “UNspiration”.

So how, fair and balanced is it?  There is a hierarchical seating structure at the UN, which he references in his visual inspiration and sparks his consideration of who truly has a voice and who does not.  He asks how the voices of those in Bangladesh, for example, are heard amongst the dominant voices of the west.  

His visual inspiration extended to Swedish artist Bo Beskow and Matisse’s cutouts, in addition to Picasso’s surrealist works, which have informed Alexander’s illustrations reinterpreting the flags and symbols of the UN countries.  The cutout theme extens to his garment silhouettes and pattern making techniques, where he has sculpted 3D shapes onto a mannequin before draping fabric on top.  He has then cut and pinned the fabric in a patchwork technique to use as pattern pieces for cutting and sewing his final garments. 

“UNspirational”, by Alexander Marstrand

Already making and selling a printed silk scarves, Alexander has a foot in commercial fashion.  He wants more platforms and opportunities, though, and explains his frustration at a lack of collaboration between music, arts and fashion in Copenhagen.  “It’s not like in London” he said.  “Fashion East (an emerging designer presentation platform during London Fashion Week) would never happen here”.  Why? I ask.  “It’s a small city” he explains, and cross-collaboration is rare and difficult.  In terms of creative scenes he says that “we don’t really have subcultures and underground movements don’t really mix.  We have been trying to create a street party with the music institute for years (he gestures out the window to a nearby building), but it hasn’t happened.”  

He also mentions what he believes to be a large gap between the fashion industry and fashion students in Denmark, seconded by Nina.  A ‘hands-off’ approach makes it difficult for students to break into the industry, and to be part of professional events, such as Copenhagen Fashion Summit.  Without a fashion week, or a platform to show their final collections (along the lines of Graduate Fashion Week in London, for example) the challenges are clear.   What these students do benefit from is immense support and work space, which is in very short supply at London-based fashion institutions, and the opportunity to study abroad, fully supported by the Danish government.  In the current climate, where creative degrees are under serious threat as tuition fees skyrocket and would-be university students feel under pressure to gain vocational degrees in order to justify fees, this freedom from financial shackles is golden.

Keep up to date with Nina, Michelle, Morten and Alexander‘s work on Instagram.

Header Image:  Nina Balstrup “REWIND” collection in progress

All images: Techstyler

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Sabinna Experiments With Mixed Reality Shopping for Fashion

For Sabinna Rachimova, her ‘brand DNA’ is, actually, familial.  It transcends ethos and aesthetics and runs deep into the past, through two generations of her family.  Her grandmother, a maths and physics professor in her native Russia, who during communist times made clothing on the side for neighbours and friends for extra income, inspired her to pursue a career in art and craft.

Sabinna’s parents were professional athletes, her mother a field hockey player and her father a footballer, which meant the family travelled regularly and she grew up in Russia, Spain and Austria, where her family finally settled.  Describing this experience as unsettling, she created her own fictional world of play to distract herself from being the new kid and not speaking the local language, at least initially.  Craft became Sabinna’s passion, so where communication with others lacked, she filled her time with what interested her – art, craft and languages.

Family photos, Sabinna’s studio, East London

Sabinna’s parents insisted she attend a languages and maths-focused high school, so unable to pursue creative subjects, she completed her studies under duress and then went on to enrol in a Slavic languages degree after a rejection from the University of Applied Arts Vienna, where she had hoped to study fashion design.  Struggling to find a route into a design degree, she sent her CV to every fashion designer in Vienna, asking for a part-time job and hoping to step inside what she described at the time as the ‘secret world of fashion’.

Schella Kann took her on and with a tough love approach, telling her to forget about the rejection from the University of Applied Arts Vienna and to look further afield to pursue her dreams.  By putting together a portfolio based on the way her maths and physics professor grandmother had taught her to present ideas, she applied and was accepted onto a foundation course at Central Saint Martins in London.  Not bad for someone who pulled together a portfolio in twenty four hours, assisted by her boyfriend and now long term partner, David, and sent it simply addressed to the ‘fashion’ department with a request to join a fashion course, of no particular specification.

Following completion of her foundation course, Sabinna went on to study Fashion Marketing and Design at CSM and interned in the knitwear department at Dior, which she describes as ‘the best and worst’ (experience).  She describes spending up to two days pondering yarn colours alongside the knitwear team, and working with Italian factories who would bring cases full of ideas into the ready-to-wear team’s studio for the knitwear team to use as inspiration from which to develop the seasonal designs.  Sabinna describes gaining an insight into the technical aspects of knitwear development and production with the scale of a luxury fashion house and this knowledge has clearly stood her in good stead for developing her own fashion business.

Describing herself as “terrible at maths but very good with numbers”, she explains to me how her business, which she launched eighteen months ago, works on a day-to-day basis, with the SABINNA team, consisting of herself and her partner David, co-founders and leading the design and IT and e-commerce respectively; Zula, Sabinna’s mum, who is head of knitwear, which is made in Vienna, Austria;  Scarlett, a long-term friend of Sabinna and pattern cutter, who develops the designs alongside Sabinna and is based in Hastings;  David’s sister Simone, who is in charge of taxes; Julia, who is based in Vienna and does research and marketing; and Asya, who creates the crochet pieces and assists Sabinna in London.

Sabinna’s studio 

All of Sabinna’s fabrics are from Europe and all the ready-to-wear, custom made pieces for private clients, crochet pieces and bags are made in the UK.  All of the knitwear is made in Austria.

Zula’s knitwear design notes, inspiration and hand-knitted jumper at Sabinna’s studio, East London

Having seen behind the scenes at Sabinna’s studio, I am eager to delve a little deeper into this season’s collection, show and mixed-reality presentation.  Having attended Sabinna’s catwalk show and seen the collection up close, I’m curious to know what prompted Sabinna to delve into using the Hololens and working with a mixed reality platform to present her collection virtually after having just presented it in catwalk reality.  When I ask how the fashion-tech collaboration came about, we spent some time talking about notions of innovation in fashion and the idea of ‘newness’.

Sabinna’s studio 

Fashion is highly resistant to change.  I have mentioned this paradox a number of times in my articles.  Sabinna puts it clearly, “the main problem with fashion is that it doesn’t communicate well with the outside world… Social media has divided fashion along commercial lines”.  She feels there is too much made of creative/experimental fashion versus commercial fashion, especially in London, and that designers are often placed in one box or the other.  Describing her collections as very wearable and leaning towards the commercial side, she sees the opportunity for innovation and creativity in presentation and storytelling, with Microsoft Hololens and collaborator Pictofit being the perfect collaborators for this, facilitated by the FIA and Fashion Scout.

SABINNA SS17, I Still Love You  – Photos and Styling:  Toni Caroline

Sabinna follows what’s widely termed as the ‘see now, buy now’ business model, which means her collections are produced in advance of her show and ready to buy immediately after they are presented, allowing her to capitalise on the buzz of London Fashion Week and engage her clients in a complete presentation and shopping experience.

SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

Setting the tone for seasons to come, where Sabinna plans to continue experimenting with technology to create new experiences rather than attempting to constantly re-invent her products, Sabinna chose to create the world’s first mixed-reality shopping event at the Freemason’s Hall as part of Fashion scout during London Fashion Week, following her catwalk show.


Behind the scenes at SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

Why mixed reality shopping?  With her collection available, she thought it would make sense to give the customer a creative tool to explore styling different pieces of the collection virtually before purchasing.

Top: Image capture by Pictofit in Austria, Bottom:  Sabinna’s mixed-reality shopping experience at Fashion Scout, LFW – Photos by Emmi Hyyppä and Sabinna

There was also an app available to download, allowing shoppers to use the Pictofit virtual fitting room and, instead of looking at virtual mannequins, try on the SABINNA collection, entitled I Still Love You, on images of themselves.  The clothes adapt to the user’s body shape in real time.

With a huge ambition for trying new technologies and exploring the potential of virtual and augmented reality, Sabinna passionately emphasises that designers need to experiment with new technologies in order to discover newness.  Sometimes something new is right in front of you, but you don’t see it because you are striving to re-invent something that may not need re-inventing, she says.  Newness can come in the form of simply working with a new piece of technology, while sticking to the same core aesthetics, materials and designs in terms of product.  For her, technology is the catalyst and an exciting tool for telling new stories in fashion, she states, mentioning the huge leaps in the technology’s image capture and render quality in just the six months since Martine Jarlgaard’s mixed reality fashion presentation at London Fashion Week in September 2016. Let’s see what next season brings.

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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

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Phoebe English’s Chapel of Tyranny, Unity and Hope at London Fashion Week

There’s nothing like forced contemplation to wipe away the London Fashion Week gloss and dole out a little reality.  After the Phoebe English presentation I received a message that my brother-in-law was in hospital (thankfully he’s fine) and as I write this I am sitting in my local pub charging my battery-sapped phone hoping my husband comes home soon (I stupidly left my keys at home this morning).  Reality bites.  Fashion week is a bubble largely devoid of reality.  But what happens when we let a little of the real stuff in?  What happens when fashion absorbs the zeitgeist and spits it back out, rearranged and transformed into the tangible and consumable?

Phoebe English opened one such sobering conversation at her AW17 presentation in the Fitzrovia Chapel – once a place of prayer and quiet contemplation for National Health Service staff and patients of the Middlesex Hospital, which delivered free healthcare to all, regardless of race, religion, nationality or wealth – making this is a fitting venue for Phoebe English’s collection, which was an exploration of tyranny, apathy, fear, voice, courage, unity, repair and ultimately hope – a commentary on our current political climate.   Phoebe English AW17   Images: Techstyler The collection was presented as a number of installations with each model/group of models embodying one of the emboldened words listed above and acting as symbols of strength and resilience, surrounded by flora in collaboration with Maison de Fleurs

Phoebe English AW17   Images: Techstyler

English used textiles to capture her sentiments – an example being trapped glitter between layers of tulle used to create jackets and bags.  She collaborated with heritage knitwear specialists John Smedley for the third season running and took to the knits by twisting and knotting them, lending them a tortuosity in keeping with the tensions of her theme.

  Phoebe English AW17   Images: Techstyler A large crowd gathered throughout the presentation, with Phoebe English amongst them discussing the collection.  The show notes state that the conversation between tyranny and unity throughout the collection “aims to explore both the fragility and the strength of our times”.  Here are the closing words: Tyranny oppresses Fear Divides Apathy rest Voice calls Courage braves Unity binds Repair cures Hope reigns Me.  You.  Them.  US.   Phoebe English AW17   Images: Techstyler My closing thoughts rest on the rising global voices in fashion that originate from vastly different cultures and belief systems, and that speak on behalf of under-represented groups.  I want to sit at shows and presentations alongside men and women representing all colours, faiths and styles.  Where are my hijab wearing sisters?  We know modest style is big business (see Dolce Gabanna’s recent hijab and abaya collection, which missed the mark in many ways but is recognition that the industry knows that women who wear hijabs also wear mainstream high-end fashion) but broadly speaking, this isn’t reflected in the fashion week crowd.  We need diversity, love and unity within the industry as much as we need it around the world.   IMG has just signed Halima Aden, a Muslim model who wears a hijab and this season threw some Kanye-tinged light on the subject of diversity as she was cast in his Yeezy season 5 show. Halima Aden: Top and bottom images by Mario Sorrenti for CR Fashion Book.  Middle image: Yeezy Diversity, unity, love – as long as we’re all represented and have a voice there’s no basis for fear.  Thank you Phoebe. Let’s keep the conversation going. Follow Techstyler on TwitterInstagram and Snapchat

Sadie Williams and Marta Jakubowsi Wield A Sucker Punch Of Colour at London Fashion Week

The ‘insta-fashion’ of today lends a kind of high impact then fast fade to fashion imagery – blink and you’ll miss it.  It occurred to me today that the presentations I have seen at fashion week so far on day one are highly condensed, stringently edited and high impact.  Jammed with colour and unwavering in focus, they are a visual sucker punch that makes for great images ripe for social media – saturated colours, bold sets, texture, drape and exaggeration.  They are a distillation of concentrated strong visual ideas rather than a gently rambling or winding journey.  Kind of like the meat of the story, without the preamble or rounding-off.

Sadie Williams presented a glimmering gang in a folk art disco, mixing old and new on the textile front – 70’s glitter vibes set against retro-reflective ‘high viz’ trousers and corduroy accented with crystals by Swarovski – a pioneer in new technologies with an eye on robotic manufacturing, according to a recent interview with Nadja Swarovski for the McKinsey report on the State of fashion report,2017.  The collection was styled with Converse Chuck Taylors and elastic layered tights and socks smattered with holes by Wolford.  This collection was a fun textile and colour mash-up underpinned by textile mastery.

Marta Jakubowski‘s collection was understated and seriously focussed on turning childhood nostalgia into grown-up elegant tailoring.  The colours were rich and deeply attractive.  On the tube on the way home I considered researching the psychological effects of the deep, warm shades of purple and red in the collection to understand how they somehow ‘fill out’ the aesthetics visually – making the sum of the parts (tailoring and colour) so much greater than either individually.  I bet there’s enlightenment to be found, alas the scope of this piece is short given the gazillion words I want to write about all I have seen so far at London Fashion Week.  Suffice to say, it was beautifully elegant and desirable, not unlike Sade, who not doubt provided aesthetic inspiration for the cutaway polo necks and much of the soundtrack in the form of Sweetest Taboo, Chaka Khan and Tina Turner.  Sometimes simple is best.

Below is a list of the people involved in creating and presenting these collections.  I include these credits, which are on the designer’s printed show notes along with the back story of the collection, because the teams and talent required to realise these collections is huge and diverse.  I type these names to recognise their input (we’ve all been there, working behind the scenes and during the months of preparation) and to show the diversity of backgrounds of London’s fashion creatives.   Long may this diversity continue.

Presentation credits Marta Jakubowski:

Set Design: Gary Card; Styling: Tati Cotliar; Casting: Emilie Astrom; Make-up: Lucy Bridge @ Streeters; Hair: Mari @LGA Management usiing Bumble and Bumble; Nails: Imarni Ashman using Elegant Touch; Music, Elton Gron; Press release: Daryoush Haj-Najafi; Shoes: Jimmy Choo.  Special thanks:  NEWGEN Panel, British Fashion Council, Sarah Mower, Ash Smith, Ella Dror, Jade Willson, Laura Fairfax, Gillian Horsup, Vintage Models, Butler & Wilson.   The Marta Jakubowski team is: Zuzanna Szarlata, Alexandra Sipa, Ines Vilas Boas, Ashley Lee, Ellie Carless, Ash Chari and Audra Kreivyte-Krajewska

Marta Jakubowski showroom:  1-7th March, 3Rue Portefoin, Marais, PARIS, 75003

Presentation credits Sadie Williams:

Styling: Poppy Kain at Intrepid; Casting: Frances Odim-Loughlin; Set Design: Sean Thomson assisted by Warwick Turner-Noakes; Hair: Syd Hayes using Babyliss Pro assisted by Paula McCash and Josh Goodwin; Make-up:  Lucy Bridge using Mac Cosmetics; Nails: Pebbles Aikens at the Wall Group using Nailberry assisted by Brigita Backtye and Lyubomira Koukoutar; Soundtrack: Jackson Holmes.  Special thanks:  NEWGEN team, Topship, the BFC, Nadja Swarovski and team, Sarah Mower, Nora Wong, Arabella Williams, Eden Loweth, Francis Williams, Frida Agren, Jackie Lyall, David Lyall, Jess Kerntiff, Joe Williams, Joseph Horton, Justin Mansfield, Rachel Pelly, The team at IPR and all my family and friends, Stephanie Achonwa, Flavia Abbud, Emily Collier, Emily Coveney, Maddie Denman, Jennifer Drouguett, Florence Hutchings, Nadria Khan, Danielle Kidd, Lola Odumosu, Natalia Niclau, Clara Ormieres, Esther Richardson, Justin Rivera, Christina Ryu, Raiesa Salum, Aasia D’Vaz-Sterling, Nick De Vine, Sophia Messina, Dave Olu Ogunnaike, Hetty Mahlich and Eloise Andrews.

Marta Jakubowski and Sadie Williams are recipients of the Topshop NEWGEN award.

Header:  Marta Jakubowski AW17

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Raw Talent, Polished Just So at Central Saint Martins MA Fashion Show

Hello to the dreamers and freaks.  To singular vision, lawless ‘taste’ and committed, distilled design.  For everyone in the room who was once a fashion student, this show probably took them back to that time.  I know it did me.  It’s difficult to comment beyond the point that something about much of the work in this show felt like the work of students with unbridled creativity and devotion to their ideas – almost religious in its nature – and that was what made it moving.  It’s then that I realised what sometimes is lost in the rigour, perfection, slickness and ‘professional’ outcome of some student collections.  

I thought about how sometimes dramatic, oversized swampy shapes perfectly pattern cut can pass without impression, washing over us pleasantly enough but leaving no impression behind.  These collections had a rawness that left a lovely aesthetic and creative grit in their wake.  Enjoy the religious offerings of the MA Fashion Central Saint Martins students, 2017.  As judge Iain R. Webb, Fashion Features Editor-at-Large at Rollacoaster magazine and Professor of Fashion and Design at Kingston School of Art said in his closing remarks before announcing the winners of the L’Oreal Preofessional Creative award, which went to Stefan Cooke and Gabriele Skucas, “these are clothes created by individuals, for individuals”.  Fashion is about self-expression and we all want to be heard.

Students in the MA Fashion Central Saint Martins Show, 2017:

Markus Wernitzig, Robert Wallace, Emma Chopova/Laura Lowena, Li Gong, Johannes Boehl Cronau, Amir Khorasany, Stefan Cooke, Peter Movrin, Joshua Walters, Gabriella Sardeña, Qiying Fang, Gabriele Skucas, Oliver Thame, Tim Guy, Robert Sanders and Joshua Beaty.

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Peter Jensen’s Greatest Fashion Hits – At Sweet Sixteen

Peter Jensen opened my London Fashion Week round of presentations, events and shows a day before the schedule kicks off in earnest in a behind-the-scenes invitation to see his lookbook being shot, which culminates the creation of the AW1 7 collection and opens the wholesale business selling season.  Peter told me that this open presentation style takes him back to the birth of his label, mirroring his first ever presentation back in 2000.  Peter set up at the Shacklewell Lane studios, just down the road from where today’s shoot took place and was the first of a number of designers to move in ‘when it still had a Vietnamese sweatshop in the basement’ and ‘you had to step over drug addicts to enter the building’.  Long gone are those days, but it’s surely a business that has solid foundations that is still based in the same studio post- East London gentrification, sixteen years down the line. 

Illustrations: Peter Jensen

Peter talks me through the collection, including a hand-illustrated female muses print, including Jodie Foster, Nina Simone and Shirley Kurata by Julie Verhoeven that adorns shirts and dresses, alongside his favourite corduroy, which he just can’t depart from due to his Scandinavian roots and the nostalgic memories the fabric conjures up.  His strong grasp on the commercial silhouettes that work for his brand, and explanations of the fabric compositions and weights that sell well demonstrate the maturity that comes with sixteen years in the business.  Hence this collection being entitled “Greatest Hits”.

Photos: Amy Gwatkin

This collection marks the Peter Jensen brand‘s sixteenth, and he’s not showing any signs of giving up the playful thread that has run through his collections to date.  I ask if adulthood in two years time will spell a grown-up direction, to which he laughs before introducing me to these pieces designed in collaboration with Nickelodeon to mark another birthday – SpongeBob SquarePants eighteenth.  Peter Jensen’s signature rabbit logo takes centre stage, alongside SpongeBob and his pet Gary.  Nickelodeon collaborated with a number of designers, including Jensen, for the 27 piece range which is part of the SpongeBob Gold brand, launching commercially in May.

Photos: Techstyler

The chance to see the team working on the shoot, the mood-boards informing the styling and photography and the collection details and textiles up close, as explained by Peter, helps to understand the entire commercial and creative aspects of the fashion business.  Fashion week often serves up one without the other, which isn’t bad, it just isn’t whole either.

Photos: Techstyler

Happy sweet sixteen Peter, and many happy returns.

Lookbook Credits

Photographer:  Amy Gwatkin

Stylist:  Alice Goddard

Models:  Maria Loks-Thompson and Sanne Bakker

PR: Village

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