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The Fine Print
Text by Sohiny Das
Published: Volume 19, Issue 2, February, 2011
Every few years, a fresh coat of textile print makes the fashion world take notice. Referred to as the ‘boundless’ medium, the only limit that it poses to creators is imagination. Print is not print anymore; it is now surface art. It is textured, layered, masterfully illusional, customised to shape, fit to be framed. Sohiny Das takes note of five nouveau talents from across the globe, who are painting the haute Meccas red, blue and vivid

The luxurious screens of Gianni Versace and Hermès, the psychedelia of Emilio Pucci, the ethnic medleys of Dries Van Noten, the blooming jungles of Kenzo Takada, the graphic quirks of Eley Kishimoto. If you see a tweed suit and go “Chanel”; you may see a pop-kitsch pattern in neons and exclaim, “Castelbajac!” No logo or monogram, just plain distinctive artwork that is an instantly recognisable fingerprint of a house – even without the initials. A picture is worth a thousand words.

The old school-ers set the DNA,the new millennium artists took a more aggressive approach. Over the last few years, Jonathan Saunders, Basso & Brooke, Erdem and Alexander McQueen have made more intense statements – somewhat primitive and futuristic at the same time, and very, very graphic. For them print is no longer a two-dimensional medium; it is now 3-D. The term ‘print’ has also transcended the technique and has come to encompass a visual surface on the whole. So we have holographs, foils, washes, screen and digital mixes, texturing and the layering of treatments that create multiple ‘levels’ and a complex illustrative language.

Of late, a set of new names has burst into the scene, creative cauldrons bubbling in their mental laboratories. They have, very quickly, stepped under the scanners from the peripheries and are being eyed as the gen-next of textile print. Correction – textile art. Some have more apparently distinctive aesthetics; others are subtler – deceptively detailed. What they all seem to commonly possess is a freshness of perspective and the determination to create an impactful and indelible image – in more ways than one.

Peter Pilotto
London’s current sensation is having a golden time. Checked out, name dropped, and best of all – sold out. Every woman wants a piece of the brand that creates ‘magic’ dresses to suit all body types. Not a ‘safe’ classic, this. But something more of a statement. Drape meets digital – you wear art and sculpture both at once. Almost like a space-age Renaissance.

The so called ‘magicians’ are the multi-cultural duo of Peter Pilotto (Italian-Austrian) and Christopher De Vos (Austrian born in Libya), who met while studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Pilotto, wizard of the digital arts, and De Vos, drape prodigy trained at Vivienne Westwood, have separate specialisations but a synergy in their visions. Which is why, the synthesis of two strong talents is seamless enough to create a single brand aesthetic.

Pilotto and De Vos began their two-pronged assertion with their SS 2009 range. What appeared to be solid iridescent areas were actually pointillist prints. In the collections that followed, textural to graphic prints featured marble washes, Byzantine mosaics, volcano craters spewing lava, rock-climbers, outer space and spacemen, time machines and auto-kinetic illusions. Pilotto is not about ‘frame’ options – where a central placement uses the garment body as a display case. Instead, he and De Vos break up the artworks; print and fabric undulate as a single entity.

Rocketing sales in a difficult economy is not the only remarkable feat of the young brand. In 2009, they were acknowledged as the Best Emerging Talent at the British Fashion Awards. They have also collaborated with Belgian accessory brand Kipling to produce a range of ‘galaxy’ printed bags. They have gotten to fiddle around with the famous ‘Liberty’ prints, as a project to inject their own ‘otherworldly’ sensibility into the renowned London store’s product. And now, with Michelle Obama in their list of fans, they are clearly nearing the major league.

Michael Angel
His front rows are peppered with the likes of Sean Lennon and Kelly Osbourne. Devotees include A-listers like Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyonce, Rihanna and the Olsen twins. Former star stylist and current designer Michael Angel is one of Amercia’s favourite fashion imports from Down Under. The New York-based apparel artist, since his styling days, had been building his own print library in the hope of showcasing them on the runway, and his 2008 debut canvassed the first set of his digital arts. Ever since, Angel has been a noted name in the new chapter of textile print, and the current neo-minimalist shape trends are allowing artworks to take centrestage.

Inkblots, cubism, mosaics, free-flowing colour and muted psychedelia have all featured in his print palette. Cosmic has blended with watercolour has blended with tribal, but harmoniously. Angel likes to experiment with material – the same print on different weights of fabrics produces varying results in terms of colour tones and textures. Controlled colour – rather than an overdose of brights – infuses a sense of maturity in his clothes, making them striking, rather than jarring. Angel has often stated that rather than simply putting a print on a dress, he tries to envision a dress worthy of a print. And that the product is worthy of the woman who wears it.

Mary Katrantzou
At one show, in the midst of the toned-down neo-minimalism that defined the Spring Summer 2011 runways, flowers bloomed vividly – in vases placed on dining tables, in the lawns outside marble-columned patios, on tapestries and upholsteries of living rooms. In the times of ‘cleaning up’, someone stood by excess. Photographs of ostentatiously decorated homes in the 1970s inspired a young designer to present her stunningly refreshing perspective of a simple concept. “Why had no one else thought of this before?” was what instantly came to mind.

The superb success of this season’s show has put Mary Katrantzou firmly in the premier league of fashion’s emerging set. The textile and print designer (who also creates jewellery) has been eagerly watched since her Central Saint Martin’s Master’s presentation. Showcasing at London Fashion Week since early 2009 (A/W 2009 range), the Athens-born Katrantzou has rocketed up the editorial charts for her distinctive planning and presentation of graphic artwork.

Enlarged images of perfume bottles, blown glass in free-flowing forms, ornamental Rococo patterns and now stylized interiors – trompe-l’oeil has been the only recurring element in her collections with distinctly separate print themes. Shape is the assisting feature here, but rather than limiting it to being a canvas, Katrantzou has made rather clever use of it. Print has created the illusion of shape, and shape has given print life – sometimes a larger-than-life character.

September 2010 saw Katrantzou’s first standalone runway show. In November 2010, she became the proud recipient of the prestigious Swiss Textiles Award, which made her richer by 100,000 Euros (in terms of funding, not as a cash prize). In a matter of months, “Mary Kat…erm…something difficult to pronounce” has become the new ‘cool’ name to spout. You may as well memorise the correct spelling.

Holly Fulton
Deco doll Holly Fulton is being eyed as the new face of graphic decadence in London. The Scottish designer, who started showcasing in early 2009 through Fashion East via Royal College of Art, has quickly grabbed the attention of stylists and editors for her distinctive, high-impact aesthetic – “surface decoration”, as she likes to call it. Linear, symmetric designs in monochrome are jazzed up with bright inserts; Deco is a firm favourite and is teamed up with other art genres from various decades. The combination of print with PVC cutouts, Crystallized Swarovski Elements and exotic skins results in an urban-tribal-retro-futuristic mash, which has found patrons in the Brit fashion set – always partial to a bit of quirk in design.

But what Fulton is trying to do, is to reintroduce couture techniques in high-prêt, as more customers turn to niche labels, ready to pay a price for unique designs. Hand-work is of prime importance – a lot of the linear cityscape and aboriginal motifs which are predominant in Fulton’s collections are actually hand drawn, with the precision of a screen. Each garment is meticulously planned – shape, placement and the execution of a pattern require a hawk’s eye finesse in method. Avoiding the ‘digital déjà vu’ of many print artists of our time, Fulton is exploring an old technique in a new setting. While high-street rip-offs will continue, only true connoisseurs will get to experience the luxury of fine body art – all done by hand.

Christian Cota
It has not been long since he started showing his line in New York, but the Mexican-born designer is already one of the newer celebrity favourites in America. Television stars Leighton Meester and Jane Krakowski, teen pop sensation Selena Gomez and a host stylish society ladies have graced many fashionable events in his creations. ‘Polish’ is a word that has been associated with him from the start – soft tailoring combined with drape and a measured addition of embellishment have instantly befriended the buffed lot. But the element that has added an edge to Christian Cota’s ‘glam organic’aesthetic is his print palette, a noticeably important feature in his work.

The city boy that he is, Cota takes inspiration from both urban and natural forms. Mineral textures in geometric shapes, metallic components in holographic-kaleidoscopic pixellations, colour-blocked placement areas, foil, screen and digital – he has already experimented with all these, ever since he stepped solo with his A/W

2009 range, after training with designer Angelo Sanchez. His interpretation of our lives in metropolises – gardens enclosed by steel railings, a view of flying birds and feathers through electric wiring, car headlights on a rainy evening – very everyday, but requiring observation.

Cota has chopped printed areas, created placements and re-attached them with other surface texturing methods, sometimes on another printed area, to achieve a gamut of results. He has yo-yoed between romantic, lady-like, red-carpet and assertive arty, so it is still not easy to define his true aesthetic. His signature is yet to be stamped, his work is neither cutting-edge or avant garde, but can be safely called experimental. It is still ‘work in progress’, but we are not in a hurry to see a completely packaged and sealed product – not just yet.

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