Leafing through vintage fashion magazines, dress-making and knitting patterns are referenced as much as ready-to-wear. Even as late as the mid-1980s, Elle magazine published a monthly knitting pattern. I remember falling in love with one: a John Galliano design of fiendish complexity. Its intertwining sections, intricate patterns and scalloped edging were the hardest thing my mother had ever knitted. The huffing, puffing, sighing and other exclamations were worth it though. I still adore it and would never dream of parting with such a special, hand-crafted piece. I also know for a fact that there is no desire on the part of my manufacturer to re-supply that particular order.
Today knitting remains as popular as ever, especially with chunky, hand-knitted items a strong trend. DIY clothes-making, however, is on the verge of technological revolution as 3D printing (additive manufacturing) continues to evolve. Iris Van Herpen, a Dutch designer who worked with Alexander McQueen before starting her own label, has used the technique to produce pieces of haunting beauty that manage to look organic and space age simultaneously. Her SS2015 collection was inspired by a visit to CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and is absolutely beautiful.
Other designers have been producing open-source programmes to enable anyone with access to a 3D printer to make their products. The problem so far is the materials – various kinds of synthetics that can make incredible shapes but provide no thermal insulation for the body. As more designers experiment with the medium and as the costs of the technology fall over time, new techniques and materials will emerge and when they do, the fashion industry could be facing significant disruption. Small designers could produce unique or small production runs more cheaply. Customers could produce their own goods, perhaps with a more direct relationship with designers. The technology itself will open up entirely new design possibilities.
One thing is certain: technology development and roll-out rarely proceeds without hitches or a backlash. There will always be a place for the hand-made artisan item and pressing the “print” button will never be as much fun as knitting your own sweater. But I think I know someone who might just vote for the printer.