BA Textile Design course leader and curator, Gina Pierce, invited 14 leading East London-based textile and fashion designers – including CuteCircuit, House of Flora, Jane Bowler and Alison Willoughby – to respond to the rich heritage of the Huguenots silk weavers that made Spitalfields a leading textile centre in the 17th Century, and create original work to be displayed in the Cass Bank Gallery.
With first-hand access to archive material from the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Museum of London, the designers have crafted unique exhibits, carrying the legacy of the Huguenot Weavers to their contemporary practices – from the choice of materials to the use of cutting-edge techniques – in a display that will celebrate the skills and creativity in fashion and textile design of East London, as well as the continued influence of the Huguenots on the textile courses run by the Cass.
Between 1670 and 1710, up to 50,000 Huguenots fled to the UK, and particularly to Spitalfields, bringing with them their exceptional silk weaving skills. Spitalfields had always had a silk weaving industry but the influx of such skilled craftsmen, along with the increase in the availability of silk, made the area a leading fashion production centre for the British upper class.
One example of the stunning designs created for the high society by the Huguenots is The Fanshawe Dress, on display at the Museum of London. An exceptional exampleof their highly skilled workmanship, this piece features signature silver thread and lace – distinctive features in the Huguenots’ designs, which have served as a startingpoint for the new designs exhibited in Fabric of the City.
One such piece is Jane Bowler’s Copper Dress, which draws inspiration from the use of metallic thread. The Copper Dress has been constructed using hand-cut plastic multiples in combination with soft metallic strips, hand-woven throughout the garment, allowing the material to organically grow over the body of its wearer. Bowler’s fascination with material innovation, process and craftsmanship – practised by applying traditional techniques with a modern twist – also mirrors the Huguenots’ inventive choice of materials and skilled craftsmanship.
Innovative use of materials is also a key aspect of CuteCircuit’s work. The Shoreditch-based design studio creates haute couture clothing that has micro-electronics embedded into the fabrics, pushing the boundaries of wearable technology to create beautiful, interactive garments. For Fabric of the City, CuteCircuit continues to push the boundaries of this technology by presenting the K-Dress, a ready-to-wear version of the bespoke CuteCircuit creation worn by Katy Perry to the 2010 Met Gala. The delicate pleated silk chiffon seamlessly merges with the micro-lighting smart textile to create a magical garment that can change colour controlled by an iPhone App.