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BEHIND THE SEAMS

Often, the genius of design is that which is not immediately visible. Taking a look behind the seams of six of this season’s most intricate creations reveals the breadth and depth of handcraft in a context dominated by face value. 

 

Photography by Mikito Iizuka Styling by Holly Bartley Text by Augustine Hammond

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Alexander McQueen 

An oft-repeated claim is that the late fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen could draft a jacket pattern freehand. While that remains unconfirmed, his life’s work was indeed guided by the sentiment, “You have to know the rules to break them” – a maxim derived from the Savile Row training he began at age 16, which saw the designer subvert expert tailoring with irregular gashes, paint splashes and even tyre track prints.

Fusing traditional menswear tailoring with corsetry, this grain de poudre wool jacket, commonly used for Scottish highland wear due to its tightly woven, snag-safe and water-resistant surface, is backed with canvas to exaggerate the hips and has cups that are spliced from small pattern pieces. Behind the pitch-black veil of dense wool, a constellation of hand stitches perfectly hold the entire edifice together – even if they are something only the atelier might see.

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Erdem 

For Spring/Summer 2024, Erdem Moralıog˘lu was given access to the Chatsworth House archive – specifically, the late Duchess of Devonshire’s personal wardrobe. There he found, nestled amongst the corseted ballgowns, needlepoint lace and elaborate tapestries, a box of block-print chintz furnishing fabric used as curtains and throws in the Duchess’s apartments throughout the 1950s. Erdem enlisted Cecily Lasnet, the Duchess's great-granddaughter, to hand-embroider new floral motifs over the top of the sun-faded pink blooms, which mirror the Buff Beauties and Felicias of the pruned rose garden at Chatsworth House.

Taking 120 hours to complete the work, Lasnet applied thin black threadwork, hand-cut and appliqued tulle leaves and jet-black beads to create her bouquet. This dress will remain a triumphant relic of a bygone age in the Chatsworth House archive. 

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Mame Kurogouchi

In the Early Imari Japanese porcelain-making tradition of yokoku – which directly translates to “relief” – intricate patterns are created using pressed moulds and surface scraping before ceramics are fired in the kiln. In an attempt to “transform porcelain into clothes,” as she put it, Maiko (Mame) Kurogouchi found a team of artisans to create similar three-dimensional reliefs for her Spring/Summer 2024 collection.

The fabric is rolled out over giant metal plates, which are mechanically heated to emboss flowers resembling lilies. Achieving this effect on natural fabrics is rarely practised as they lose their shape more quickly than synthetics, especially when washed, but Kurogouchi located the only factory in Japan specialising in applying this technique to cotton and denim. The exact process is kept a mystery to even the creative director herself.

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Y/Project 

Y/Project’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection posed more questions than it answered. Loyal to his playful experimentation with the avant-garde and the everyday, creative director Glenn Martens sought to defy dimension, shape and form with a run of looks that lifted away from the body. But the whorls and peaks of fabric that twist like cyclones and ascend like ragged mountain tops are not starched and solid as one might expect. Rather, they are made from a malleable material, lifted by stiff wire hems and lined with scrunchable silvered backing. 

Flat rolls of fabric like denim, jersey, poplin and wool are given a new three-dimensional form when fused with a thin layer of metal foil, which can be warped and twisted by hand in any given direction. Backstage, painstaking tweaking perfects the shape, then on the runway – living sculptures.

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Standing Ground 

Ten years ago Michael Stewart, the founder of Standing Ground, invented a unique beading technique. Filling long, thin channels of jersey with individual beads in an ascending scale, Stewart created a rippling, bulging effect, more like vertebrae than decoration. For Spring/Summer 2024, as part of the Fashion East incubator, the designer revisited this approach, letting the beads coil and snake around his gowns.

With draping central to his design process, Stewart’s work is by nature organic and intuitive, following only the lines of the body and placing tucks and seams in atypical places. Ribbed grosgrain ribbon – generally used in millinery to create stiffer brims on hats – was applied as backing on the heavy gathered skirt, and additional zips running up sleeve seams prevent the construction from “growing” or stretching out of shape. 

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Cahaya Studios

After being tipped off by a pattern-cutter friend who worked on Savile Row, the founder of Cahaya Studios, Rain Chan, made a trip to Tottenham to meet craftsman Kyriacos Hadjikyriacou. A practitioner in the art of hand pleating for nearly fifty years, Hadjikyriacou works alone in one of three remaining pleat factories in the UK; these institutions have dwindled as the textile industry has left Britain, mostly for the Global South.

Hadjikyriacou’s tools are cardboard, sticks and string, and his work is powered by steam. His densely packed hand pleats are made by sandwiching a garment – perhaps two or three times the size of the final item – between two intricately folded absorbent paper moulds. Once in place, the fabric is rolled tight and steamed for over an hour, before being left to cool. No two outcomes are quite the same, and the distinctive folds remain permanently in the fabric’s memory.  ◉

Art director: Otomi Larcher / Hair: Akari Matsumoto / Make-up: Azusa Matsumori / Casting: Millie Roberts / Model: Violet Threlfall at Present Model Management