Next week, Collect, the international contemporary craft fair, returns to London’s Saatchi Gallery – and it chimes perfectly with one of this season’s key looks: craft.
Take Marni’s super-soft crepe runway pieces embroidered with multi-coloured raffia, brass, glass, wood, stones and white PVC discs; Bottega Veneta’s blood-red silk dress with dazzling tribal mask print, hand embroidered with black and white beads, plastics and perspex squares; Burberry Prorsum’s earthy parkas with raffia trimmed detachable hoods, raffia caps with pom-poms and raffia boots; or Proenza Schoulers’ block printed raffia sweaters, knitted multi-coloured striped raffia skirts and hand macramé’d dresses. Or see Roksanda Ilincic’s oversized, handmade raffia coat and Michael van der Ham’s bricolage cotton dresses. They all demonstrate, in the words of Ruth Runberg, buying director for Browns, the fact that “craft and handwork gives fashion a sense of preciousness”.
“It’s guaranteed exclusivity,” agree designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. “It’s a reaction to the mass-produced high street stuff. Copying these looks would be prohibitive for many brands.”
“The labour-intensive workmanship means that there won’t be many such items,” says Natalie Kingham, international womenswear buyer for Matches.
For McCollough and Hernandez, who also hand-embroidered eel-skin skirts: “We were attracted to things that looked like one thing from afar but were completely different up close. Leathers were waxed eels, suitings were piled up jerseys, and prints were hand embroidery. The juxtaposition of handmade things made up in really hyper technical materials brought the whole thing into the 21st century.”
By contrast, Mark Fast eschewed his knitting machines for the first time, adapting old-school handmade macramé to fringe his body-con dresses for a “three dimensional effect around the body,” he says.
A similar quest for tactile effects drove London based designer Holly Fulton to use “bugle beads to create height and trompe l’oeil effect, building up from the digital print which I used as a basis,” and new design duo Ostwald Helgason, who hand threaded multi-coloured wooden beads on dresses and tops to “cling to the body,” says Ingvar Helgason, co-owner and CEO.
Elisabeth Agro, curator of Craft Spoken Here, the first major international craft exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (May 5-August 12) points out that crafty touches make fashion “special”. She says: “In our age of Facebook and Twitter we are part of a group, so choosing something individual allows us to step out of that group and express ourselves.” And that’s what fashion should be all about.