---------- FashionFirstLunchLater: Designers fed up with Knock-offs

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Designers fed up with Knock-offs

Interesting Article from the Financial Times.
Cut from a different cloth
By Lucie Greene
It was two seasons ago that Miuccia Prada set the ball rolling in her usual way. For the autumn of 2007 she wowed crowds not with elaborate cuts or silhouettes, but with a textiles extravaganza: plasticised and boiled mohairs, Shetland satin – a jaw-dropping fabric that fades from puckered rich silk to dense wool in one sheet – and hand-painted treated wool coats. It’s a path she’s continued on in subsequent collections via romantic organza prints by artist James Jean, to this autumn’s artisanal lace.
“For me fabric is 90 per cent of the mental work in design,” she says. “It’s where I spend most of my time because the quality of the fabric is fundamental. When I get the fabric done, the show is done, I am at ease.”
And while most of us are still enjoying our summer wardrobes – most that is unless you happen to live in London where unseasonal conditions have led to a show of thick black tights and cashmere sweaters, fast forward to the coming season where technicaly advanced fabrics come to the fore.
For autumn 2008, other likeminded designers have increased emphasis on fabrics and invested large sums of money in their development. A flurry of designers – big names and independents – have revived age-old painstaking techniques and introduced new rich and innovative materials akin to fine-art textiles.
Lace, in particular, has been revolutionised. In Prada’s collection, hand-made pieces were created in varying weights, from thick wool to light cotton by Swiss lace artisans. Chanel sent out intricate leggings made from lace woven intricately with lycra. Alexander McQueen had lace pieces in a hand-drawn peacock pattern by Paris-based lace manufacturer Solstiss, while Zac Posen in a modern take used a high-tech, breath-able Japanese lace using polyamide (which made it water-resistant). Chloe and Givenchy too, incorporated superfine lace pieces into blouses, dresses and accessories.
Prints, texture and rich embellishment were other avenues of exploration. Dries Van Noten revisited a 1920s printing technique created by Swiss inventor Orbis Wirth. With producers Jakob Schlaepfer, the label created incredible marble-ised patterns using an elaborate system of printing layers of coloured wax from a cylinder on to wet fabric. Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga meanwhile (remember the chain-mail leggings from last year?) drew gasps for his collection of dresses covered in elaborate hand-painted landscapes and embellishments and varnished latex.
Balmain explored fine chain-mail – that looked almost like lamé – and Fendi even developed a technique for applying gold to fur, by heating 24-carat gold and spraying it on to surface tips. And that’s not counting Christopher Bailey at Burberry Prorsum, who created whole skirts from miniature suede sequins.
“Designers are getting fed up,” says Helen Wood, international designer buyer at Harrods. “You go to H&M and see a designer dress there before the real thing has even hit the floors of Harrods or Harvey Nichols. It’s because of the different lead times. Designers are upping the ante, making pieces so special they can’t be copied.”
Part of the investment in fabrics also mirrors a general shift in the luxury market. As the price of high fashion and luxury continues to climb, so designers are upping the de luxe factor in every aspect of a garment.
“Fabrics have become a way to do this,” says Pierre Alain, creative director at Sophie Hallette and Riechers Marescot, which produces laces and fabrics for Prada, Zac Posen and Chanel, among others.
“They are investing a lot more in this area and we are always exploring new techniques,” he says. “Next season we are working on combinations of cashmere with lace, different overlays and interweaving. We’re doing much more laser cutting, and extreme fine detail work but also lots with heavy fabrics such as chenille. Designers are interested in the extremes of textures.”
Such is the case with Nathan Jenden, who created an entire blue dress entirely out of densely woven blue pin cushions. Or at Christopher Kane, where soft diaphanous chiffons and tulles, were combined with dense ribbon cross-grain stitched on contoured lines in baroque style swirls (the effect is like a thick pile patterned rug, almost). John Rocha too for autumn winter used hand crochet and loomed knits, dense metallic embroideries and heavy solid beading on fabrics. Rodarte meanwhile, applied loose-knit thick laces to dresses, leggings and cocktail jackets. Its coats came overlaid with quilted, shaggy string, dresses bore asymmetric pleated chiffons, and evening coats came densely embroidered.
According to Laura Larbelestier, designerwear buyer at Selfridges, customers are prepared to pay over the odds for unique pieces. “I think that now, more than ever, customers want and will pay for strong and individual pieces. We have a long waiting list for the evening items from Balmain. Its complicated mixes like chain-mail and lace are very hard to produce and copy. As a result, we have a long wating list for evening pieces from this particular label. Meanwhile, the Dries Van Noten marble print skirts, which are instantly recognisable, have sold out in several colours.”
Erin Mullaney, women’s wear buyer at Browns, notes the lengths some designers will go to. “Designers and consumers want to be different from the high street. They want fabrics created specially for the season, pieces in limited numbers, and of a quality that reflect the price point. It’s all moving in a very couture direction. Designers are even taking time to hand-stamp pieces, and label them carefully with the name of the season. Look at the butterfly print by Alexander McQueen this spring. It’s totally iconic. No one could copy that. We sold out instantly.”
photo: Polyvore.com