High-end interior fabric supplier Alcantara launched a fashion exhibition in London this week, in collaboration with UK-based designers hand-picked by global design network Not Just A Label (NJAL).
The idea behind the free event – which runs every day until Wednesday 20 July at Protein Studios’ ground-floor space in Shoreditch, east London – was to test the high-tech luxury faux-suede material’s versatility away from its usual trimming role in cars, yachts, aeroplanes and furniture.
NJAL CEO and founder, Stefan Siegel, whose network he describes as a bit like “LinkedIn for fashion designers” told Car Design News: “We were contacted by Alcantara in January and they told us they were keen to see if their material could be applied to fashion. I thought the only way to find out was to have some of our best designers fly to Italy and understand what Alcantara is all about and how it’s made. Then they can give us the answer as to whether it’s interesting or not. So we launched a public competition for UK-based designers and selected ten to go to Italy in late spring.”
An openness to new materials was a key criteria for Siegel, and NJAL went on to choose designers most likely to be creative with the fabric. Those selected also pushed Alcantara’s team hard to get the type of material they wanted for their specific project pieces. It was an approach that Alcantara CEO, Andrea Boragno, embraced: “This is something new and different from the usual uses for Alcantara, which is good. We needed to be challenged, as without challenge there is no innovation.”
The strong results range from dramatic clothing and accessories to artistic-leaning furniture, often with new twists in how the material is used. For example, Sadie Clayton made a boldly-angular structured full-length coat with copper mesh woven into the Alcantara, while Jule Waibel used the fabric to make what appeared to be a beautiful flower-like objet d’art or perhaps a complex light, and exhibited it suspended in space above the ground.
However, further investigation with the designer actually revealed it to be intended as furniture when back on terra firma, as she confirmed: “I call it an unfolded seat or folded pouf. It’s meant to be a firm furniture piece, where you’ll be able to sit on it. Shaped like a wheel, inspired by an accordion and simple geometric objects.”
Manchester-based designer/maker Liam Hopkins from Lazerian was influenced by the way Alcantara is made for the construction of his interlocking modular dress, as he explained: “One of the things I found out was that Alcantara kind of explode one of their raw materials into multiple particles and then bring them all back together to make the fabric strong. So I wanted to take a form of a dress, explode it and then bring it back together as one. My idea was to potentially 3D-scan someone to capture their form and through this process alter the shape of each section.”
NJAL’s Siegel says that none of the chosen designers were paid to be involved, but were given much more Alcantara fabric than they needed for just this project, to use in future pieces. He also suggested the process was refreshing for both him, the designers and Alcantara, as many of the designers were not particularly aware of the product beforehand and thus came to the project fresher as a result.
“Some designers knew the brand really well, because their dad is into cars or they are,” he explains, “but I think about 80 percent had zero idea what Alcantara is about. I knew because I’m Italian and love cars as well. There was little awareness of the potential variation possible in the material either. Three months ago, if someone had told me that it’s this dark grey suede-looking fabric you see in cars and racing cars, I wouldn’t have thought you could take it to these kind of levels [seen here in this exhibition].”
Asked if the show itself indicated Alcantara’s imminent entry into the fashion business, Boragno did not rule out the fabric’s use in that industry in the future, but saw the event’s role in broader terms for now, as he concluded: “I believe the automotive industry is very synergistic with fashion and lifestyle. Alcantara has a wide range of applications beyond interior car design already, for example in consumer electronics, for headphone and tablet covers.
“And the automotive industry is moving towards a more lifestyle approach – look at why Mercedes sponsors various fashion week shows, and why Toyota has opened up lifestyle spaces in Tokyo – while fashion wants cool, new innovative things too. So this show offers a different standpoint and an opportunity.
"London is a very international place – and [he smiles in recognition of the recent Brexit decision by the UK], I hope it will stay so! It’s a design centre and we have a lot of business here. There are a lot of fashion designers in London so communication here is very important. We have some wonderful automotive customers in the UK too, from Aston Martin to Jaguar, Toyota and Nissan.”
- Alcantara presents Made in Italy | Designed in Britain is on at Protein Studios in Shoreditch, London, until 20 July