The students' creation next to the Roland Klein original. © Lynne Webster
Fern Ross visited the University of Leeds International Textiles Archive to see the creations of a group of fashion students tasked with remodelling classic garments using modern 'non-woven' materials.
Mention Yorkshire and many people would think of rolling countryside littered with now-defunct mills and manufacturing outlets. In the mills' heyday, the area was known internationally for the high quality of its wool and cloth.
Although the industry is much leaner nowadays, it is still worth millions to the British economy, and its significance is being celebrated by design students from the University of Leeds in a little museum tucked away inside an old church on campus.
Running until June 11 2007 at the University of Leeds International Textiles Archive (ULITA), Fashion Synergy: Vintage Clothing Re-modelled Using ‘High Technology’ Fabrics is an exploration of the uses of non-woven fabrics such as carpet and felt.
Under the supervision of Lynne Webster, 48 level two students selected items including vintage Mary Quant and Ossie Clark pieces from the School of Design’s Fashion Archive and set about re-creating them using non-woven fabrics.
Laura Ashley remodelled. © Lynne Webster
Lynne explains: “The object of the exercise was not simply to replicate the archive garment, but instead to use this as an inspirational source from which to develop a collection of garments which were visually appealing in their own right and also exploited the innovative practical properties resultant from recent advances in textile engineering.”
“This exhibition was quite a surprise, as it wasn’t actually planned,” says Lynne. “It came out of the blue. We’d always been looking to work with ULITA and the archive garments held here, but it is sometimes a struggle, as fashion doesn’t necessarily fit into boxes, into a museum environment. But with this it just seemed to all come together.”
Non-woven fabrics were typically not used in the past for extensive use in outerwear fashion manufacture, but recent advances in textile engineering yielded the fabrics with favourable draping properties, soft handle, stretch and recovery, all of which are now considered essential in everyday garment use.
The students were encouraged to make strong reference to garments from the archives, but had to rework the pieces with the new materials. As Lynne explains: “They had to completely re-engineer the designs, rejigging the style. When something is woven it has a natural drape – non-wovens are different.
A classic Mary Quant design reinterpreted. © Lynne Webster
This re-working of the original fabric patterns is evident in the final designs. Take the Frank Usher-inspired piece, a boxy, Jackie O-esque shift dress. The students overcame the difficulties of working with stiff fabrics by slashing darts and sewing them across the front of the piece, instead of inside the garment.
“The cutting was much cleaner as they had to actually engineer the garment to sit across the body, and to make a button hole you just have to slash it with a scalpel knife,” remarks Lynne.
The students also dipped the hem of the dress in coffee, creating an upwardly-creeping stain effect on the skirt. “We encouraged them to try out anything they wanted,” says Lynne. “It was very much a case of 'anything goes'.”
Students were also encouraged to modernise the garments and to make them contemporary, very much evident in the reworking of the black Mary Quant ruffled mini-dress - remade in white Colbond with a clear plastic zip and full-length skirt - and the Comme des Garcons jacket, brought bang up to date with a Fybagrate hood and toggles on the jacket giving it a modern parka style.
The Frank Usher-inspired creation. © Lynne Webster
Yorkshire’s rich textile history was duly noted throughout the project, with non-woven fabrics sourced from local manufacturers like Rochdale based Anglo Felts and Bolton firm CCA. The students even reworked an original 1950s dress from the now-defunct Bradford department store Brown Muffs.
“Brown Muffs was a very influential store in Bradford back in its day. It was very exclusive – all the ladies used to go there,” explains Lynne.
“We thought it was very important to include a piece of Yorkshire history, and encourage the students to take an interest in it, especially since most of them are not from around this area. We actually had a map on the wall when they were making the pieces, and they would stick pins in it everywhere so they could keep track of where the garments were from.”
The budding fashionistas were also encouraged to keep a research journal throughout the project, documenting their journey from start to finish.
“We’ve really encouraged them to chart their journey and research the brands and fabrics they were using, to really understand the ethos of the brands. We really got them to document everything. They had a great time doing it.”