New designers to watch: Michelle Lowe-Holder & Partimi
July 19, 2010 by Mandy Barder
London College of Fashion’s enterprising program for ethical designers The Centre for Sustainable Fashion occupied a central space at estethica this year with two of its participating designers exhibiting some of their pieces. Mandy Barder finds out what drives them and the affect the innovative program has had on them.
Michelle Lowe-Holder’s SS10 collection ‘Summer Smock’ looks back to the ‘labourers embroidery’ of the Middle Ages and is an appropriate follow-on from her AW09 collection ‘Smocking’ of a darker, more sensual nature.
The collection is modeled around the concept of ribbon work, which is an appliqué clothing technique, where different ribbons are traditionally layered on top of each other with pieces cut out to form a sort of optical appearance. “It’s taking old techniques and reconverting them and trying to modernize them. I use end-of-line ribbons and hand crochet and everything is super labour-intensive,” she says.
Michelle has taken this simple craft and given it her own modern and provocative twist, from fitted black dresses with central layering giving the overall LBD a sumptuous redesign, to floaty smock dresses with the Lowe-Holder ribbon print cascading down the oversized sleeves. A celebrity favourite are the leather chokers and cuffs, cut into exaggerated ribbon pleats. Eco enthusiast Livia Giuggioli wore some to the Elle Style Awards in February.
Print design is a big part of the brand, where the focus lies with stunningly intricate and feminine floral and ribbon designs, which are almost always delineated in a smoky black that hardens the delicacy of the patterns. Handicraft plays another important role in the designer’s process, where she deems craftsmanship to be more important than material.
As a designer, working with vintage and reusing materials has always been a very organic process for her and without putting a deliberate green label on it. “The seminars have been a really good match for me and it’s something that I don’t have to work too hard on because it is what I am. It’s not something I associate myself with particularly, its just stuff I do”.
As Michelle’s designs follow an unconscious green path, Partimi does the opposite. Eleanor Dorrien-Smith is a recent graduate from Central Saint Martins and since the summer of 2008, her label has been slowly revealing its sustainable identity, from raising awareness about over-fishing to constantly on the search for eco-friendly fabrics. As a new comer to the world of ethical fashion Eleanor has found the workshops hugely encouraging in helping her push Partimi into the limelight.
The AW10 collection is a preview for her main collection for SS11, giving her plenty of time to grow her workforce and concentrate on discovering new ways to express her ideas.
Art that has an interesting story attached to it is a hard abstraction to disengage from and fashion has often been accused of dismissing a deeper narrative. Partimi certainly doesn’t fall into this category. The collection pays homage to Eleanor’s grandmother who collected costumes from the Ballet Russes, an avant-garde Russian ballet group that ran from around 1909-1929. Some of the pieces have been sold to the V&A and are due to be showcased in an exhibition dedicated to the famous ballet troupe in September.
“What’s special about what I’m doing is I’ve grown up being able to look inside the garments, to handle them and to see all the mistakes that the public could not. I’m concentrating on all the repair methods, looking at the labels inside the garments with all the dancers names in, the sweat patches and areas that really show that the garments were actually worn and danced in and travelled in; the history” she says.
The Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909–1929 is at the V&A and starts in September 2010 until January 2011.