WHETHER it is the latest couture or ready-to-wear runway show, innovative design is celebrated in a whirlwind of excitement and expectation.
Each new collection must build on the success of the last and bring something new that sets it apart from the work of other designers.
At this year’s L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Sydney, industry and consumers were wowed by the latest ranges from both established and emerging designers.
But what may not be evident to a consumer audience is the marriage of traditional skills and innovations in technology which enable the production of an apparently simple ensemble to the most elaborate and unique couture piece.
Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen unveiled a black dress and intricately structured skirt and cape at Paris Fashion Week in January this year. All three pieces were made possible by new 3D printing technology and an understanding of different types of fibres.
Innovations in technology bring greater possibilities for the new and experimental to emerge in manufacturing techniques but they do not entirely negate the need to understand traditional techniques.
Ricarda Bigolin, lecturer at RMIT University’s School of Fashion and Textiles, says the advances in both manufacturing and digital technologies are substantial and have created a very different landscape for the fashion industry over the last 20 years.
“Manufacturing technologies have changed heavily in that time and the accessibility of technology is quite a major influence,” she says.
“3D printing is a huge revolution in fashion and completely changes the notion of traditional cutting and making processes. This is where manufacturing technology will keep on progressing and will really change the types of things that are produced.”
Melbourne’s Textile & Fashion Hub Strategic Manager, Julia Haselhorst agrees that the fashion industry is in the throes of a revolution and because of this, it is important for designers to have access to the new technology and equipment that is available at the Hub.
“The concept for the Textile & Fashion Hub came from the fact that small to medium enterprises are the backbone of our economy, making up 86 per cent of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCF) industry,” she explains.
“Yet they are never supported enough.
“This project exists to help them develop their business.”
Haselhorst also represents the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries Australia (TFIA) and says that the Hub at Kangan Institute in Richmond has been well received by designers since its launch in March 2012.
Small to large enterprises are able to access the state-of-the art equipment, workshops and seminars in an atmosphere of collaboration and learning.
“They get very excited when they see what is now possible for them to explore,” she says, adding “New technologies are really fun. People love the digital garment printer and it’s so easy to use.
“Whole garment and seamless knitwear technology is fascinating, pushing innovation in all areas including design and efficiency and bringing new skills that will be in high demand in the future.”
However, the marriage of “traditional skills and artisan practices are crucial to being a good designer” according to Haselhorst.
Quality control and production standards rely on traditional knowledge around yarn and fabric awareness, fit, colour and the ability to assess quality; elements that are crucial to the success of a product.
“As a business, to have a creative and competitive edge, keeping your staff skilled in this area and encouraging them to explore their creativity will make you stand out from the crowd,” Haselhorst says.
Naomi Tettmann and Elke Doust of Melbourne based TETTMANN.DOUST share a traditional approach to developing shapes and silhouettes and are keen to explore the digital facilities and knitting programs at the Hub. Doust is also curious about the Hub’s 3D body scanner as a tool for pattern making.
“3D body scanning is another fascinating technology and companies are only in the initial phases of exploration,” Haselhorst says.
“There is such huge potential here with a strong focus for the TFIA being on re-establishing a sizing standard.
“This technology will be a huge help in being able to capture sizing more accurately than ever and will allow for very important data to be compiled which will help understand real body shape, how it changes over time, how to adapt to your target market and how to alter designs based on this data,” she says.
Doust expects that eventually the advances in technology will change the way she and Tettmann work. “But not just yet.”
“We are both very hands on style workers. We do a lot of draping and work on the mannequin and on the body because that suits the way we think about design,” Doust says. “We are very practical in that way.”
Despite this traditional approach to the design process Tettmann and Doust are an internet savvy duo. They have embraced the web and see it as an opportunity to boost their brand marketing through numerous social media platforms.
The last two seasons including their latest collection, Infinitum Autumn/Winter 2013, feature a style of digital print called Fractals which was done in collaboration with Dan Wills.
Wills is an artist who uses a computer program and mathematical equations to generate these fractured yet organic skeletal leaf-like patterns.
In contrast to a wholly computer generated textile design, Doust develops graphic images for printed textiles too but her process is a blend of hand work and computer software programs.
She collects images and objects that “work together.” From there, she paints, draws and then scans her artwork to generate a digital design using Adobe Photoshop.
The Adobe Creative Suite is a standard computer software program used by the fashion industry and which has been taught in RMIT’s fashion and textile design program for some time.
For the last three years, students have been taught more complex software programs such as 3D modelling, a program traditionally used by the architecture and interior design disciplines, and digital pattern making. Students also have access to laser cutters and 3D printers which are increasingly used to make sculptural accessories and jewellery.
“We are very progressive in the way that we teach design…and in what we even class as traditional design process” explains Bigolin of the four year program which has an emphasis on research and innovative design practices.
“In recent years there has been a huge focus in much more cross-disciplinary design processes where we have students working with interior design and architecture students. That is where we have introduced a lot of the 3D printing.”
With the advances in technology and manufacturing, it is important for students to be industry ready.
Bigolin notes that such advances in technology promote more inventive design responses.
Haselhorst agrees. She has observed that those who embrace new technologies such as Lui Hon, a graduate of fashion design at RMIT University, become excited about the potential and how to apply it and explore what it can do for them.
“Recently Lui Hon has been getting very inspired by wholegarment knitting at the Hub,” Haselhorst says. “This very innovative Japanese technology, Shima Seiki, really pushes design, allowing for 3D shapes and new techniques in knitting in ways that have not been seen before.
“Technologies like this which require high intelligence in the initial design but then cut out finishing processes like sewing and linking, things nobody wants to do these days, are very interesting.”
Others find it harder to overcome their fear of such advanced technology.
If there are fears that modern technology and the digital age of fashion limit skilled job opportunities and career paths then think again.
New equipment requires technicians to run them and Haselhorst says there is a skills shortage in this area and in the innovative knitwear production and digital printing technologies in particular.
“I still see that those who embrace change and remain flexible, who understand customer service and create exciting product, do stand out and will remain” Haselhorst observes.
“Nothing ever stays the same and that is good,” she says. “I think that there are many opportunities in leading rather than following. If you wait until everyone else is ready, you’re missing the boat.”