We often underestimate the power of decorative surfaces in a collection, considering them exclusively from a visual or tactile point of view. But, if we ponder about fabrics a bit more and consider their structures, the materials they are made in, prints and surface effects, we easily realise that textiles are woven not just with threads, but with historical references and cultural codes.
A specific material may indeed bring us back to precise historical times when it was fashionable, while the signs, symbols and prints characterising it may point at manufacturing processes and at companies who may have introduced innovative types of decorations.
It is true that most fashion collections designed and manufactured nowadays mainly feature commercial products unworthy of in-depth comments, but there are a few designers interested in taking some aspects further while creating experimental decorations and patterns charged with meanings or reflecting scientific and technological discoveries.
Issey Miyake's S/S 17 collection, entitled "Microcosm", introduced for example on the Parisian runways a new technique, dubbed "Cut & Stick". It consisted in cutting materials freely in any shape and sticking them together using heat.
So a stiff fabric was cut into geometric shapes and the latter were then bonded onto lighter and more fluid fabrics, resulting in a dichotomic contrast between hard panels and soft lines.
But there were also other applications of this technique with trench coats in bright shades of pink and mint characterized by a pattern formed by ordered geometrical figures, or jumpsuits and functional separates with a trellis-like pattern.
Yet this was just one aspect of the collection that also featured garments made with the "3D Steam Stretch", a technique that allows to weave creases into the fabric using heat reactive thread which shrinks when steam is applied to the garment.
This technique was applied to jackets with sculptural concentric squares created by the peaks of the pleats and resulting into a block-like dimensional texture.
The third aspect of the collection was the tribal print produced using the technique called "Baked Stretch" and consisting in creating pleats by printing a special glue on the fabric and baking the garment with heat. A motif is then added to the pleats, letting in this case a dynamic tribal pattern emerge.
All the designs were matched with architectural block-heeled shoes, a collaboration with United Nude, but the footwear wasn't the only unifying element in this collection that seemed therefore to develop into three directions: some of the models carried indeed an "EB" (Electronic Bag) developed in collaboration with Sony's Fashion Entertainment unit.
This is actually not the first time Miyake collaborates in with Sony: the brand's holiday 2015 collection ("Record") and a range of accessories developed last year for Shinjuku ISETAN were indeed inspired by staff photos taken in every city it has a headquarters (including London, New York, Paris and Tokyo).
The images were then manipulated via the "omoiiro" system that extracts colours from an image by researcher Alexis André at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, so that the palette was extracted from the photos to create four different colour schemes for the brand's accessories.
In this case instead the bag incorporated a panel that can actually change: it features seven patterns and uses electronic paper (interwoven with leather tape). This is the same technology of e-book readers and Sony employed it a couple of years ago for the FES Watch U, a smartwatch with a changeable face and strap.
In a way transformation and mutability have always been themes at the heart of Issey Miyake's collections, with the trademark pleats opening up to reveal more colours or unfolding to generate variations in shapes like in the successful and widely imitated (with rather disastrous results…) Bao Bao bag with its trademark triangular structure (recently updated with an assortment of new shapes, including lighting bolts and arrows...).
The collection was showcased in a sort of geometrical set built at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris with rhythmic music played live by Ei Wada's Open Reel Ensemble. For the occasion Ei Wada added to his trademark electronic sounds generated by analog recorders with reel-to-reel magnetic tapes, a new instrument called the Jigakkyu, or Bamboo Bowed Tape String.
The music brought to life the themes of mutability and transformation interpreted in the collection by creative director Yoshiyuki Miyamae.
During Paris Fashion Week we have seen experimental collections employing AR or devices to activate, trigger and project hidden messages and feelings. In this case we had instead a functional bag and a series of experimental textile processes both characterised by "decor-active" surfaces.
While the former proves that wearables can look stylish, subtle and timless even in our age of constant digital inventions and reinventions, the latter remind us that the textile industry with its spinners, weavers, knitters and dyers, can offer great results when matched with the latest technologies and with outstanding designers and researchers.