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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From Delivering Louboutins to Devising an Injury Detection Suit – This is Fashion Tech

It’s a refreshing start to the day to chat to an entrepreneur with two startups on the go just six months after graduating from an MA in Global Innovation Design at the Royal College of Art.  Dan Garrett is a do-er – and a resolutely practical one at that.  His recent collaboration with fashion designer Mary Benson is testament to his dynamic and collaborative approach to design.  ‘Fashion design is magical’ he says, reminiscing about his job as a bike courier ferrying Louboutins to devotees in London.  He recalls seeing women trying on the shoes in the store and paying handsome sums for what he describes as an uncomfortable and impractical object that paradoxically is utterly desirable.  Yep, that’s fashion!  Magical, sometimes confusing and utterly spellbinding.

We talk a little more about the magic of fashion and why Dan and his collaborators Elena Dieckmann, Ming Kong and Lucy Jong worked with Mary on their fascinating piece of wearable tech – the Bruise Suit. 

static1.squarespaceMary Benson’s graduate collection, University of Westminster, 2014

The bruise suit was borne out of a collaborative project at the RCA which saw Dan and his team find a problem that needed to be solved and then design and make the solution.  The project, supported by Rio Tinto, had an open brief.  The team decided to design a piece for use at the Sochi winter olympics and interviewed disabled athletes with the hope of devising a solution to a problem.  Paralympic sit-skiier Talan Skeels-Piggins complained of being injured but unaware of his injuries due to his disability and that’s when (after rejection of a number of wearables related concepts) the ‘bruise suit’ concept was borne.  The concept was that on sufficient impact likely to result in an injury, the suit would respond with a visual notification for the athlete.  Weeks of R & D in conjunction with a specialist research team at Imperial College London and collaboration with pattern cutter Raj Mistry resulted in a suit with removable sections of a polyurethane coated textile containing microcapsules of dye that shattered on sufficient impact, therefore signalling a chance of injury.  It’s best demonstrated by the video and images below.

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Bruise suit 1

The design won additional funding from Rio Tinto and the James Dyson Foundation, leading to a second phase which saw the team collaborate with fashion designer Mary Benson whose work incorporates vinyl applications on a multitude of textiles.  Dan explained to me that having researched (and launched a startup in product manufacturing for the healthcare market) he remains frustrated by the ugliness and lack of design in healthcare equipment.  There is little if any consideration for aesthetics in the creation of products for those with disabilities and the complicated process of procurement for such devices (usually by councils on behalf of those with disabilities and without their direct input) means those using the products aren’t choosing them.  The cold, beige hallmarks of medical devices and institutions carry through, he says.  Why? He asks.  Having worked in the NHS for over a decade and being a designer myself I have asked this question (in my own head and audibly) countless times.  Dan is determined to do something about it.  I sense this comes from a fascination for design, in particular fashion, having completed a stint at the Pratt Institute alongside studying at the RCA, however Dan confirms that his practical problem-solving brain’s hard wiring prevents him from moments of Mary Benson-like magic.  He delights in seeing designers, like Mary, create imaginative aesthetics but remains focussed on primarily solving problems with his design and engineering projects.    

output_xAfuF9Mary Benson’s AW14 Cruise collection

Mary, Dan and I live a stone’s throw from each other in Bethnal Green, East London, but it proved impossible to get together due to scheduling conflicts, s0 Dan explains to me that Mary devised the surface design for the Bruise suit by exploiting her much used technique of vinyl applications, which takes the suit into a different (multi-coloured) realm.  Mary’s surface design turns the suit into a fashion object in addition to a piece of technical clothing with a serious purpose.  The process of creating the microcapsule filled polyurethane strips that slide into discrete pockets strategically placed on the most at risk areas of the body (the long bones and knees, for example) was complex.  It utilised newspaper print press roller technology to ensure the two layers of film with the microcapsules were correctly structured to function on sufficient (injury causing) impact.  What Dan worked on specifically with Mary was creating pockets with teflon in between the vinyl and the film which could then be filled with the microcapsules.  Dan explains the satisfaction in developing design that serves the body and cites biomimicry as a motivator for his particular approach to such design projects.  Mirroring the structure of the body and supporting human anatomy is at the core of another of Dan’s projects, for which currently has an advisory role – Aergo, the pioneering modular disability support system. 

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Azure-DX-SmarterFasterTougher-15The Bruise Suit in collaboration with Mary Benson

Dan’s other projects have included TasteWorks, a VR sensory study focussing on appetite and dementia at Keio University and his most current undertaking, Farewill, which launches in earnest soon.  For now, I leave Dan with a buzz and heightened curiosity over what problems he might propose to solve through design next and hope they incorporate the magic of fashion.

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Fashion Data: Calculating the Cost of the Fashion Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

youasme_measyou_pilgrimage_photo_j.w._kaldenbachImage: J.W. Kaldenbach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faye Toogood’s “The Cloakroom” at LDF: an Icebreaker and a Furnace

London Design Festival serves up a huge array of exciting and unexpected treats every year. Faye Toogood’s “The Cloakroom” is a perfect example.  Faye is a designer of a strongly academic and artisan persuasion who collaborated with a number of British-based makers and craftspeople to create a wonderfully immersive installation and tour through the V&A museum as temporary custodians of one of her 150 “Oilrigger” coats.

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The experience goes beyond that of a viewer. It starts with entering the cloakroom and being met with a circular continuum of coats – each the same but different. The invitation is to select a coat, each with a different hand-painted motif on the back, that appeals to you. I choose one that strikes me as akin to the Quentin Blake drawings in the Witches – a profile painting of a pointy-nosed character – very angular. I sign for my coat, number 97, and set off on a journey throughout the museum to locate ten coats installed amongst the permanent museum collections.

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The “imposters” are sometimes obvious, other times not. There’s effort required and coated in Faye’s foam and silicon garment it gets warm, intensifying my desire to find them all! The sculpted coats showcase British craftsmanship and take on a number of forms in materials ranging from wood to fibreglass and metal.

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They sometimes sit comfortably within the surrounding works, at other times they jar, like the earthy kiln-like coat against a shifting LED light backdrop. The beauty of this experience (it’s more than an exhibition or installation) is that it takes you to parts of the museum you may never venture to. It reveals quiet corners and oddities, which become just as striking and important as the ones you’re actually looking for. I took snaps along the way of rooms and objects that captured my imagination as much as the coats.

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I managed to locate 8 of the ten coats using the hand-drawn and printed fabric map that fastened back into my coat at the end of the experience. There’s a sense of achievement in finishing the tour and I feel I have been on a journey. The coats are a definite bonding tool and I chat to others on the same journey as we head towards the common goal of finding the next coat sculpture. I also had some enquiries from other museum-goers wondering if there was a new coat trend sweeping London. It struck me that the coat was at once an ice-breaker and furnace (I was wearing a boiler suit underneath it, so partly my fault). It was definitely worth the heat.

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The final coat is a ghostly construction of English embroidery woven from a delicate mesh, then stitched with thousands of pins.

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Meeting Faye at the end of the experience and receiving a pat on the back for finding nine of the ten sculptures was a delight. She explained the process of cutting, sewing and hand painting each coat with silicone. Toogood’s work spans clothing, furniture, textile art and sculpture. Her work is rooted in materials. The exploration and hybridisation of materials underpins her work and the garments she creates in collaboration with her sister Erica are manufactured from a broad range of textiles including primed canvas, baked latex, rot-resistant canvas and hand-painted rubberised oil. The coats were made from Highfield, an organic compressed-foam upholstery textile by the manufacturer Kvadrat, constructed using Tevira CS fibres and technology to achieve high durability, low pilling and fireproofing. At 620 grams per square metre I now know why I’m feeling the heat. The coats were then hand-treated by Toogood and her team to render each one unique.

Kvadrat is Europe’s leading manufacturer of design textiles, pushing the aesthetic, technological and artistic boundaries of textiles for private and public spaces.

As I leave The Cloakroom it continues to become a shrine to previous custodians of the coats – full of photographs of visitors in their coats, some of whom elected to buy their coats for cost price at the end of the exhibition. It’s great to be part of an installation that invites the viewer to take part and then take a piece of it home.

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Oilrigger header image from Toogood Outerwear

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