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.”
2007年秋季，缪西亚•普拉达(Miuccia Prada)一如既往地掀起新潮流。她不以精细的剪裁取胜，而是以大胆华丽的面料让人叫绝：塑化和煮过的马海毛、设得兰缎子（一种足以让人下巴掉下来的缎子，整张面料从带褶皱的华美丝绸过渡到稠密的毛绒），还有手绘的精制毛皮。其后她延续这一风格，并加进艺术家詹姆斯•吉恩(James Jean)设计的具有浪漫风情的透明硬纱印花，今秋的人工蕾丝依然体现了这一特点。
蕾丝得到彻底改良。普拉达使用了由瑞士蕾丝工匠制作的人工蕾丝，从厚羊毛到轻薄棉质，轻重各不相同。香奈儿(Chanel)的作品中包含了莱卡蕾丝制成的精致绑腿。亚历山大•麦昆(Alexander McQueen)的蕾丝则印有手绘的孔雀图案，由巴黎蕾丝制造商Solstiss生产。扎克•珀森(Zac Posen)采用高科技的透气的日本蕾丝，用聚酰胺（使面料具防水性）制成。Chloe和纪梵希(Givenchy)在上衣、裙子和配饰中均用上了特级蕾丝。
除了蕾丝，印花、纹理和丰富的配饰也是设计师着意开拓的元素。德赖斯•范诺顿(Dries Van Noten)采用了上世纪20年代瑞士人奥比斯•沃斯(Orbis Wirth)发明的一种印花工艺。该公司委托Jakob Schlaepfer制作，利用一套精巧的体系，用一个圆筒将多层彩蜡印到湿布料上，生成令人不可思议的大理石花纹。巴黎世家(Balenciaga)的尼古拉•盖斯奇埃尔(Nicolas Ghesquière)以手绘风景画、配饰和涂过漆的橡胶缀满衣服令人惊叹。
巴尔曼(Balmain)缀满金属片的新装十分像lamé风格。芬迪(Fendi)甚至发明出将黄金应用到毛皮上的工艺：将24克拉黄金加热后喷洒到毛皮顶端。还有巴宝莉-珀松(Burberry Prorsum)的克里斯托弗•贝利(Christopher Bailey)，他用小片绒面革做成整件衬衫。
“设计师们正变得不耐烦。”海伦•伍德(Helen Wood)表示，“到H&M，你能看到设计师的衣服，它们甚至还没有摆到Harrods或 Harvey Nichols。这是因为从订货到交货的时间不同所致。设计师们正付出更多的心力，设计出独特、不可模仿的衣服。”
Sophie Hallette与Riechers Marescot的创意总监皮埃尔•阿兰(Pierre Alain)表示：“面料已经成为实现这个目标的一种方法。”这两家公司负责为普拉达、扎克•珀森以及香奈儿制作花边和布料。
内森•詹登(Nathan Jenden)就是其中一例，他用蓝色的别针密密织成了一条蓝色的长裙；克里斯多佛•凯恩(Christopher Kane)用柔软透明的雪纺纱与稠密的斜纹丝带缝成了巴洛克式螺旋状的轮廓线（效果近似一层厚厚的带花纹的毛毯）；约翰•罗查(John Rocha)的秋冬服装采用了手工钩边与织机编织相结合，并大量使用了金属饰品和沉重的固体珠饰；与此同时，Rodarte将厚厚的蕾丝宽松地织在了长裙、紧身裤以及鸡尾服上。Rodarte的外套上饰有蓬松柔软的棉线，长裙上镶嵌着不对称的雪纺褶皱，并且晚礼服上会有密密的镶边。