It feels like an vague statement when I waffle on about my search for innovation in fashion. In the latest issue of Elle Collections, I think I may even have said that we're at a point in time when true innovation and revolution is lacking in fashion. Blame that hasty statement on late-night email bashing and one too many energy drinks. The truth is, it's difficult for me to get into specifics when asked what exactly do I mean by innovation in fashion? It involves an intelligent and an intuitive aesthetic-based application of technology. It should feel completely new. Minds need to be blown. In short, I'll know it when I see it.
Unsurprisingly, this year my own personal award for innovation goes to Nike, who seem to base their entire design philosophy on that i word. For Nike, it's expected of their design team that innovation and functionality should go together hand in hand. Perhaps it's to their detriment that they have innovation coming out of their product lines, left, right and centre so much so that, we the consumer take it for granted. I really think that any person with an ounce of design appreciation skewing towards any style-genres cannot fail to be impressed by Nike's debut of their Flyknit product, whether you're a Nike fan or not. If you're not a trainer/sneaker-freak or sportswear geek, you might have only seen flashes of Nike neon shoes zooming across telly screens during the Olympics. It's only if you get right up close and zoom in with your eyes and macro lenses on to the Flyknit shoe that you truly see why I'm writing this jumping-up-and-down-yeah-yeah-yeah post.
The specifics might read like tech-speak fluff (like beauty ads that confuse you with made-up words) but it's all in the wearing of the shoe where it make sense. Nike Flyknit is essentially an engineered knit created specifically for running. It was inspired by the feeling of a snug-fitting sock and so Nike embarked on a four year programme to search for the right yarn and structures to create the upper so that it supports the runner and gives them flexibility and breathability. In fact a custom-made machine with spools that knits to specification turns out one singular piece that forms the upper of the shoe, which can be likened to an inkjet printer, making 3-D printing something of a real working reality now in apparel. It's a technology that also cuts waste because of its ability to knit the upper as a one-piece, cutting out excess material.
Looking at it from a purely design perspective, it's up close where the knit patterns varies at different areas of the shoe that gets me really excited, especially when you see two different colour yarns criss-crossing its way in precision across the upper. This is the apex of design – where aesthetics, functionality and sustainability comes together as a harmonious trio.
The fact that it took Nike four years to create this technology only goes to highlight the lack of time that is missing from our current fashion system's infrastructure and schedule. It's an unrealistic design utopia alas to think that this amount of time would ever be a feasible reality within say houses like Dior or Chanel nor is it every house's remit to create technological advanced innovative products. Still, think about where the marriage of say a knit-to-spec machine and the vision of design luminaries could potentially lead us. It's a mind bogglingly good possibility in my mind.
My enthusiasm for Nike Flyknit managed to extend to proactively getting involved with their Flyknit Collective project, a worldwide series of workshops to introduce people to the principles of the shoe and to have fun with it at the same time. In London, the workshops were held at the 1948 concept store over June and July and participants were selected through a design competition, resulting in a group of young peeps aged 16-24 yr olds, coming from all sorts of discplines and backgrounds. They took part in workshops centering around the Flyknit themes of Sustainability, Lightness, Performance and Formfitting and it was in the last workshop where I got to work with these "kids", helping them realise their vision of a customised football/basketball jersey.
The other workshop masters for the Formfitting workshop were Anna Murray and Grace Winteringham of one of my favourite design resources Patternity, Carri Munden of Cassette Playa, Nike apparel designer Jarrett Reynolds whose talk I found infinitely inspiring and menswear up-and-comer Astrid Andersen.
First they experienced the movements required in their jerseys, playing footie and basketball themselves. I erm… just watched…
Then with the Patternity girls, they had a go at seeing how their surroundings could inspire their designs…
Every participant definitely had a clear idea with what they wanted to do with their own specific jerseys and so it was realising their designs that probably was the most challenging part of the workshop given that they only had a day or two to do it. I was really impressed with the way people coming from a non-fashion background approached the task at hand and the way they thought about the functionality of their jerseys and how a garment ultimately changes your state of mind.
I was tasked with helping with the styling and photographing of the resulting jerseys. Jamie Stoker photographed this "class of 2012" modelling their own jerseys in front of a school photo backdrop. Whilst the treatment was uniform, the garments were anything but with anything from PVC panels, side-panel bungee cords, mesh sections and vinyl patterns making them and injecting their own personality and design goals within what was an ambitious garment to produce within a week. Dazed Digital created a series of GIFs for some social-media friendly results of this Formfitting workshop.
My own more selfish and less-community based relationship with the Flyknit centres around the fact that essentially, it's a deliciously wearable shoe, available in a ton of colourways and feeds my obsession with wanting to keep my feet firmly on the ground even if I'm wearing an overload of nonsensical layers. The attitude of "Fuck it, I'm just going to wear trainers" harks back to years of not wanting to be shackled to the prescribed idea of wearing a pretty dress with a convenient pair of pretty shoes. It helps that I'm currently a multi-tasking fiend, often physically running about town to get things done and that a pair of decent kicks is the only way of faciliating this.
If you haven't zooooooooomed in to the shoe, I'll do it for you here. Look into the knit, look into the knit…
My final bit of reasoning for being obsessed with everything the Flyknit stands for is that I'm *draws breath* about to embark on what will be the toughest physical challenge of my life. I'm taking part in the half-marathon at Nike's San Francisco Women's Marathon on October 11th. I have begun training and the process is believe me, fucking arduous. To throw in the extra twist in the plot, I'll also be training whilst fashion MONTH is going on. I'm going to be sweating it out on the Highline in New York, in and around Holborn/Somerset House, around the Principe in Milan and along the Seine in Paris, attempting 10k+ runs – all of that before shows begin at around 9/10am everyday. Pah! It will be a breeze! This is all going to go to go according to plan! I'll be boshing out 20k runs without even so much as a huff and a puff AND get changed into some janked-up layered ensemble for shows. Just you wait and see…