From handwrought screen printing to computerised digital textile printing, designers have been laying art on fabric forever. It's a technique that's always been used to express the personal and political – think of the Sex Pistols' subversive 1977 "God Save the Queen" T-shirt, or more recently, Supreme's collaboration with cult photographer Nan Goldin and JW Anderson's partnership with artistic duo Gilbert & George. The new slew of photo-printed collections are no different.
From Acne to Burberry, we saw the technique used throughout SS19 fashion month. Philippa Holden, designer womenswear buyer at Selfridges, sees it as a reaction to the particularly fraught political and social landscapes. "Designers are using the advances in printing technology to express inspiration and emotion in its purest form," she tells Refinery29. "It serves as a visual and nostalgic way to present a statement as well as encapsulating feelings towards current affairs."
There's something special about this technique. A photograph can mark out a collection as a slice of the zeitgeist, something that can be looked back on in years to come as a signifier of what was going on at a particular time, in a particular place.
"Like a mood board you'd pin your favourite images to," this technique, says Holden, "champions the notion that fashion is art." Think of Vivienne Westwood, who marked her return to London in 2017 by printing her own screaming face onto dresses and shirts, or Raf Simons, who used his SS15 menswear collection to explore memory.
Photo met fashion in plenty of places this season, too – from MSGM's David Lynch-esque flowerbed denim two-piece to Marni's objet d'art skirt, via Riccardo Tisci's traditional portraiture printed onto punk trousers at Burberry. For Holden, SS19's highlight was Simone Rocha's offering. "We loved Rocha's show. Inspired by her Hong Kong heritage, key pieces from the catwalk were adorned with portraits from the Tang dynasty and printed on rich silks."
Whether you go DIY and take to the screen printer or wood block yourself, or you invest in one of spring's chicest pieces, wearable art is the most elevated trend of the season.
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