Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Innovation In Textiles

Textiles - Innovation and Design

Nune Hov

I had the opportunity a while back to be interviewed for a documentary as a fashion expert. One of the questions I was asked was what inspired me as a designer and what inspires innovation in design in general. My answer was, "Everything!".

I feel like I failed. I wasn't wrong, but I failed because I did not describe why everything inspires innovation in design, specifically when thinking about the innovation in textiles. So I would like to make up for it now.

 Innovation in textiles is provoked by many things, some of those I can briefly summarize. They will be:
  • Art and Pop Culture Movements
  • Socio-economic need
  • Cultural roles
  • Technology
  • Functional needs
  • Cyclical trends
 Art movements and pop culture, throughout our history, have been an integral part of every design industry. As stated in previous posts; clothing is what we wear, but fashion is a form of self and group expression. Since many designers create textiles specific to their seasonal lines it goes without saying that collaborations with local or popular artists will yield innovative prints or styles of textiles.

Throughout history art movements like, art nouveau, dadaism, futurism and many others directly affected fashion as they were the top of mind cultural influence. We will never forget how during the pop art movement Andy Warhol created the Campbell Soup mini dress (1966) or how during the abstract movement Yves Saint Laurent created a mini dress identical to Mondrian's painting.

On a more recent note I think we can all safely agree that when Frozen came out (and the year after) every fabric store "magically" began to carry every possible blue fabric interpretation of the "ice dress".

What happens in our economy largely affects our art movements, our film and pop culture and also what we wear. The golden era in the United States was a time for frivolity and color and social progression with the women's rights movement. But during the great depression in the early 1930's fashion changed dramatically to reflect the deflated economy. We live in a multi-trend society now where fashion cycles very quickly. But that was not the case back then. It was only after the mid 1930's that, even during the great depression, society at large seemed to want to fill a void with opulence. There was a need and a drive to experience something royal.

There were many designers that jumped at the opportunity to provide opulence to a depraved society, but Elsa Schiaparelli was the leader in textile innovation during this time. From what was a dull filled decade she brought textile innovations to the world that were rich like sequins and rhodophane. This was a huge technological advancement in the textile industry. Soon matelasse fabrics became popular and so did perma-pleating textiles. Largely embroidered velvets became popular as the trend to be inspired from the artistic movements in China began to influence Western culture as well. Fabric was being stamped, burned, crinkled, pleated and chemically processed.

Our world and what happens in it affects our lives and our roles. Women used to lead sedentary lifestyles until men went to war in the 1940s. They wore pants for the first time to fulfill the roles at home that their husbands could no longer do. Women began to work in factories and on farms doing hard labor that required durable textiles and freedom of movement.

It was shocking (maybe not to the world, but to me) how quickly women's roles took decades of steps back when the men came back from war. With Christian Dior's New Way women went back into the home and began to experience a life of luxury and leisure and had taken back the corset (even though the bra was already invented in 1936).

Technology affects all industries as it also affects the textile industry. There are almost a million examples of this. The most fun for me are the spray on textiles that were created by the medical industry. Textiles that are hydrophobic and never get wet are the latest sensation thanks to technological advancements and are used in everything from shoes to shirts. Several years ago Chinese scientists created a textiles that would bend the light around it and would appear 'see-through' when looked at through a camera. Laser cutting created a new way for designers to manipulate and design fabrics. Our latest 3D printing brought forth creative innovations in fashion like the designs of Iris Van Herpen. And who can forget the memorable Hussein Chalayn 2007 show where digital wires were woven into the textiles so that the garments could move on their own?

I think that touches the tip of technological innovation in textiles, but I think it is good enough.

While a lot of designers create textiles because of aesthetic needs, many create textiles specific to functional needs. Most significantly this happens in the performance wear categories in fashion, but is not necessarily limited to it. Airplanes have luggage bags that are created from a material that is considered one of the strongest. Hot air balloons are made from nylons that are light but sturdy, and yet these same nylon materials are taken and adjusted in performance wear to be light to wear, breathe while exercising and perform other complex tasks.

However, these functional innovations in textiles also transcend into the fashion world. For example, when Balenciaga used neoprene to create gowns for the red carpet and skirts and sweaters.

I could probably write ten pages about these two categories alone.

Lastly, in design we cannot ignore the existence of cyclical trends. Some textile and design innovations keep coming back and continue to be cycled and re-cycled throughout our history. For example, the striped blazer. The striped blazer was first introduced as cruise wear in 1890s and then would disappear and reappear again in 1930s, 1970s and most recently in 2010.

I think that this more or less appropriate to the summary I was referring to in the introduction to this post.

I can now feel like I answered that original question several years ago to my satisfaction.
Can't wait to post more later!


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