In an ever-shifting, worldwide fashion industry, Haute Couture remains an almost magical platform for designers and Fashion Houses to realise their most outrageous ideas – and in so doing, progress their practice. Such is the offering from one of the most well-established and well-known sartorial brands: Chanel, who this week, developed the dialogue of 3D printing’s place within the fashion space through the introduction of SLS within the production of their exclusive garments.
Despite a number of sceptical and misinformed articles bouncing around the web since the Couture showcase in Paris on July 7 (from 3D printing and fashion industry commentators alike), there is no doubt that this presentation stands as a key moment for the development of additive manufacture’s wearable application - along with it’s own public image. The acceptance of its use as a material within Haute Couture as well as Ready-To-Wear began a few years ago, but although the discussion of 3D printed materials has been consistent, the real-life fashion integration of it has been limited. Admittedly, there’s still a long way to go until the print-on-demand wardrobe fantasies of sci-fi sartorialists can be achieved. But what’s critical to understand here is that the subtle use of such a new technology in high fashion is an incredible step forward for a part of an industry that, despite it’s rapid trend cycles, actually moves very slowly in terms of production technique.
"..there’s no question that the use of SLS Nylon embedded into a multi-material textile should be celebrated here."
First and foremost, not all, or even very much, of the sixty-seven look collection was actually 3D printed. But among the wildly extravagant dresses and accessories, the signature Coco Chanel box suit remained – respectfully unchanged in some ways, and dramatically updated in others. Like the technology’s namesake, 3D printed material (a simple SLS lattice) can be found layered alongside the more recognisable textures of sequin brocade and silks in one particular garment. This multi-material is then stitched together into the tailored skirt suit, and finished with rhinestones on the material grid. Another example garment stands more like a 3D printed shell suit, under which vibrant, conventional luxury textiles are placed. The effect is striking and undeniably modern, and has made me personally interested in the forming and finishing processes involved.
According to Chanel Creative Director, Karl Lagerfeld, who spoke with AFP after the show: “The idea is to take the most iconic jacket of the 20th century and make a 21st century version, which technically was unimaginable in the period when it was born. The vest is one piece, there is no sewing, it is moulded. What keeps couture alive, is to move with the times. If it stays like sleeping beauty in the woods in an ivory tower, you can forget it. The women who buy couture today are not the bourgeoisies of the past; they are young, modern women.”
Whilst it’s doubtful that Lagerfeld himself is a 3D printing specialist, there’s no question that the use of SLS Nylon embedded into a multi-material textile should be celebrated here. Despite privately using additive manufacture for a number of decades, the Luxury Industry in general has found it difficult to publically embrace the technology for fear that it will undermine the handcrafted brand appearance. I’m intrigued and amused by how Chanel, in this week’s Couture collection, have instead embraced the technology’s material ability – and in so doing have helped the public recognise 3D printing as a new luxury material within the fashion context. But despite this kind of industry discussion, the real sign of success will be seen in how many units of these remarkably expensive 3D printed garments Chanel will shift. Judging on the stunning aesthetic, coupled with the brand reputation, my guess is a lot.