Playing on our collective love of nostalgia, the word “archive” seems to have popped up quite a bit lately in a bid to perhaps look back in order to go forward. Topshop launched their Archive Collection back in July and Jigsaw’s current autumn winter campaign pits nineties Jigsaw pieces with current ones, to emphasise the longevity of their wares. For United Colors of Benetton, looking back at their archive is the first step in their strategy to get the brand back on track as they seek to define and pronounce their core values so that it once again has visibility in an increasingly crowded sphere.
And so it is that Benetton once again asserts its ties with social campaigning.As part of their Collection of Us campaign, that sees five women of varying ages sharing their personal stories, Benetton will be donating EUR2 million to its Women Empowerment Program to support United Nationa’s development goals for 2030.In the first part of this campaign, the women wear pieces from a reissued archive knitwear collection, featuring designs that span from the beginnings of the Italian company in 1965 to the noughties.It’s a celebration of both the exuberant physical colours that defined the aesthetics of the brand in its history and also of course of its ongoing commitment to issues of equality, unity and compassion.From graphic inlaid knits inspired by the architect Tobia Scarpa to trompe l’oeil tie designs to eighties new wave triangles to rainbow stripes of the euphoric acid-fuelled nineties, it’s a collection that goes hand in hand with Benetton’s recent reveal of its headquarters in Treviso, where its history is exposed through a museum-esque display of archive pieces on mannequins and vitrines of designer sketches, ad campaigns and swatches.
One simple Google trawl yields not just those controversial Oliviero Toscani campaigns that feature zero product, but also the happy-go-lucky, colour-saturated images that also define Benetton’s visual identity. As Benetton begin their rebranding journey, it will be interesting to see how their primary-hued, rainbow-fuelled past contributes to its future.
One of my favourite stores to browse slash research for young Japanese labels is Wall in Harajuku’s La Foret (part of the H.P. France boutique group in Japan), not least because it’s right by the entrance on the ground floor and because the staff are always so brilliantly dressed. On this last trip, the thing that caught my eye was an installation by Tokyo-based designer and textiles artist Yuki Fujisawa and her delicate ombre and foiled Aran knits. UK’s Katie Jones isn’t the only Aran knit nut in the world as Fujisawa has for the past few years, been taking vintage Aran knits, mending and then re-dyeing and printing them in colours that she calls “invisible”.
“I believe in the power of hand making textiles, as it adds strength to materials. Through this strength, the material is able to possess with in the quality of invisibility,” says Fujisawa on her bio page. The hand is evident in the way that she carefully creates hand-dyed colour gradiations, exploring every subtlety there is in the combination of pastels, brights and the natural cream of the Aran knit. On top of these sublime colourscapes, Fujisawa highlights the relief patterns of the knits, with just the right amount of screen printed metallic foiling, which is all done by hand at her atelier.
It seems Fujisawa believes in gestating one solid idea and developing it to its full potential as this “Sweater in the Memory” project has resulted in a series of sweaters that fully explore the dream-like colour schemes of Fujisawa’s imagining, inspired by both the natural and the unnatural world. Some of the earlier incarnations where Fujisawa dip dyes fluffy angora knits reminds me of the homespun knitwear that used to be sold in a shop in Camden called Stitch Up that existed in the late 90s, where I would go and coo over brightly coloured hand-dyed thermal vests. Fujisawa’s work evoke that same feeling of a well-loved, well handled piece of knitwear – something that you would want someone else to inherit.
Fujisawa’s output doesn’t end with her fixation on altering old Aran jumpers. A quick look at her past work and Instagram and her eye for magical colour combinations extends to nostalgia-tinted installations and limited edition accessories. In particular, Fujisawa has worked around the theme of Aurora (Borealis) to develop both art projects and fashion pieces, constructed out of diaphanous ombre chiffon that look either like the digital texture of Apple screen savers or all the nuanced colours of a sparkling sea or a vivid sunrise. For instance, she’ll dye the colours of a skirt and call it 4.00am, as she seeks to “confine the moment before the morning” in a garment. Or she’ll be inspired by the hues of vintage photography and try and colour her work in similar faded tones. She pits the man made against the natural world with deft observation and it makes for the sort of eye candy that you could see gracing countless curated Tumblrs and Instagram accounts.
Unfortunately, Fujisawa’s work, like most Japanese designers that I lust after, is stocked solely in Japan. Oh well, that’s what social media is for isn’t it? Indulging in the act of obsessively admiring from afar, sending hearts and likes, thousands of miles away.
For the last leg of my Asia tour (which yes, I realise makes me sound like I’m a has-been pop star milking it out in Far East), after a two year absence, I finally made it back to Hong Kong.Actually, “back to” makes it sound like I’m very familiar with the place.I’m not really.My Cantonese felt croaky and incorrect.My snail’s pace walk felt out of step in the bustle of Hong Kong’s winding streets of Soho.I’d wander around into trendy cafes and juice bars (raw pressed juice has arrived like a kale and spinach tidal wave in this part of town…), feeling a bit displaced.
It’s just as well because I was there for three fleeting days to attend the awards ceremony of Yoox.com’s inaugural Y.E.S. Awards in collaboration with Esthetica.It was a perfect time to feel a bit discombobulated, because in essence, the idea of a sustainable fashion competition being held in Hong Kong in itself feels like an incongruous dichotomy.Years of associating this city with insatiable consumerism has perhaps blinded my horizons.Once upon a time, I was hard pressed to name five Hong Kong-based designers.Now there’s an array of them and they’re finding unconventional ways of working, which also happen to be sustainable.
It’s significant that Yoox.com and Esthetica decided to centre the competition around Asia, with the six nominated designers each being from Hong Kong, Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and China.As the founder of Esthetica and the person who I would defer to on all things sustainable Orsola de Castro puts it, “the ground here is fertile, the industry is ever present, aware of its damaging effects and its huge potentials to innovate sustainably.”With seeds of fast fashion relatively close by, designers here sometimes witness this mode of production firsthand and perhaps are more likely to react.
And if sustainable fashion is to be a new fashion frontier of sorts, where better to find a new generation of designers, willing to charge ahead in this relatively unchartered territory.The interesting thing about the selected designers for this Y.E.S. award is that by and large, most of them don’t label themselves as “sustainable” as such.Instead their practise is slow by virtue and their approach towards production and sourcing materials is bound by necessity and an appreciation for traditional techniques and excellent craftsmanship.That instantly puts them on the track, without them even trying.
More often than not, they’re looking to their immediate surroundings for inspiration. Ken Samudio from the Philippines was a biologist before turning to accessories and so his designs intuitively sensitive to his environment with beautiful anemone-like bags made out of recycled bottle tops.His rucksack design for Yoox.com is constructed out of recycled newspaper and constructed by female prisoners in his area, adding a social enterprise aspect.Suzuki Takayuki, being from Japan, of course has the luxury of pre-eminent fabric manufacturers as well as a tradition of wabi-sabi aesthetic to draw from.His look from his S/S 16 collection ‘Brilliant Shadows’ utilises poetic silhouettes and considered materials that are naturally harmonious.
The roots of each designer take precedence in different ways.Renli Su, who is based in London, looked to an ancient Chinese technique of dyeing organic silk with yam to achieve her Yoox.com look, and thus revives and sustains a worthy craft.I’ve never been happier to wear a shade of brown that I normally shun. Thuy Duong Nguyen of Thu Thu, who I’ve featured on the blog before, of course maintains her love of the brilliantly vibrant woven fabrics of the H’mong tribe in Sapa, Northern Vietnam.Her Yoox.com piece pits touches of these textiles with traditional Chinese watercolour paintings.
Re;Code from Korea is an up cycling brand of a unique nature, being part of Kolon Industries, which owns popular Korean brands like Lucky Chouette.Re;Code takes the unwanted and surplus materials of its sister companies to create its collections.It’s a model that feels like a solution for every multi-brand conglomerate.
All the nominees of the Y.E.S. Award had distinctive design approaches that it was hard to compare one with another.But there could only be on winner and finally, the cash and mentorship prize went to Hong Kong’s own label Ffixxed.Technically designers Fiona Lau and Kain Picken are based in Shenzhen but they initially started their label in Hong Kong.Having visited their wonderful in-house production studio slash haven in Wutong Village at the foot of the idyllic Wutong Mountain, I can attest to Ffixxed’s naturally sustainable working practises.Again, they don’t describe themselves as such but the way they merely function as designers, suggest otherwise.Their winning designer is about the utopian act of “pottering around” – slowing down and looking at greenery in order to be productive.That is something I can certainly relate to.
When I announced Ffixxed as the winner at the awards ceremony, I said that at this particular time, when the industry is pondering about its relentless (and punishing) pace, it felt right to be celebrating six designers who are trying to do things differently and slow it right down.Here’s to feeling displaced, pottering about and thinking hard before making.
The pieces of all participating designers of the Yoox.com x Esthetica Y.E.S. Awards are still available to view and buy at unit H307 at Hong Kong’s primary creative hub PMQ until tomorrow as well as being sold on Yoox.com (in Asia-Pacific countries only).
>> The last time I did a style swap experiment with somebody with entirely opposing personal style traits to my own, I wound up thoroughly miserable in plain grey cashmere, very ordinary jeans and … mother of all nonchalant slash supposedly chic scarf nightmares… a pashmina. I emerged, ever lucid about the things that I like and, well, the things that I definitely don’t.