I recently came across the young fashion designer Xiao Li as I was working on the second edition of a book I first wrote in 2008 “Textiles and Fashion”. I was researching modern future fabrics and the work of designers who are developing new fabrics for performance qualities or for aesthetic/visual or tactile qualities. New fabrics can be created at many levels, from the base fibre content through to the type of construction ie knitted, woven, 3d printed. Also through the application of surface treatments like printing, embroidery or lazer cutting which can be applied to transform or enhance them.
Xiao Li graduated from womenswear MA at the Royal College of Art. (There is a study visit to the RCA on Sunday 29 June to see the work of the MA students, which would be well worth a look) Li studied knitwear but as her MA progressed she started to experiment with the perception of knit. In these shots you can see that although the garments look like knitwear they are in fact anything but knit, their qualities have no stretch, no soft tactile feel, no natural warmth. They are made from a contemporary and exciting new type of textile. To create these garments Li first designed and knitted pieces and then used them as moulds to cast Silicone garments. They were then lined to make them more wearable. The structure of modern architecture and the shapes and volumes created by the fashion designer Balenciaga were an inspiration for this collection. By creating her new textile Li can sculpt shapes that can stand away from the body in a way knit would not do on its own. The soft pastel colour palette ties the whole collection together creating a range of textural, sculptural contemporary outfits.
The challenge as a designer surely is to create something that has never been seen before, something unique. It is important to push boundaries and be innovative and contemporary. But what does that mean, surely everything has been done before? Does it mean creating work that is relevant to 2014 or is that too safe, should it be more directional and forward looking?
So how can you create work that looks new? One way is to experiment with the way you create art and design, the media and techniques. Ask yourself are you using the same medium because you know it will get good results? Do you use a trusted technique because you don’t have time to experiment? You might need to learn new techniques, which will take time, but it will be rewarding as you start to apply them to your work.
It might not mean rejecting what you already know and do but instead thinking about how you can reinvent your approach to an idea. Li used her existing knowledge of her craft (knit) to inform and then react against to create her new silicone textile. For example if you draw with a pencil try drawing with a line of stitch, if you work in colour try limiting yourself to shades of black? If you are a textile designer think about what your fabric is made of (fibre), how it is constructed (for example knitted or woven) and also the finishing processes (for example print/embroidery) What stages could you reinvent to create something new.
Often something new and unexpected comes from mistakes, so let them happen and record the results. This might take a lot of experimentation, failures and revaluations but keep going.
Finally it is important to look at all that you have created and see how you can refine your experimentations to make them relevant to you and your discipline. Maybe you will need to make your pieces more wearable, functional or beautiful. Keep asking yourself does this feel new have I honestly seen this done before? Challenge yourself. Innovation is exciting, have fun and good luck!
Jenny Udale is an OCA textiles tutor