The Exhibition

Made in Italy | Designed in Britain: The Exhibition

Alcantara S.p.A., the luxury Italian material manufacturing company and Not Just A Label have collaborated on an innovative project that provides ten designers from the NJAL platform with the unique opportunity to design their own exclusive pieces using Alcantara® material. To mark the fruition of the project, an exhibition of the designers’ work will be hosted at the Protein Gallery in London from the 12th to the 20th of July.

The Made in Italy | Designed in Britain exhibition acts as a celebration of the creative artistry behind each artwork showcased while simultaneously highlighting the potential of such a high-tech luxury material in fashion. On the 12th of July, the Protein Gallery will be transformed into a centre for creative collaboration, a place for the designers to connect with each other, with journalists and with industry influencers to discuss new modes of working, innovations in fashion and to forge new creative relationships. Designer Ali Abdulrahim of the label Mai Gidah is looking forward to meeting the other designers again, seeing how they got on with the project and comparing notes; "it was so nice to see everyone bound together by something as basic as material." Although, judging by the designers' thoughts on the project, the Alcantara® material is far from basic.

Each designer involved in the project was chosen for their forward thinking sensibilities, innovative approach to design and desire to work outside the enshrined structures, ultimately pushing the boundaries of fashion. The designers have all spoken with great enthusiasm and vigor about the potential for Alcantara® material in fashion. In the words of designer Kay Kwok, “we are never short of surprises and ideas with it.”

Kay Kwok is greatly concerned with the quality of the fabrics from which he crafts his collections and has been highly impressed by the tactility and durability of Alcantara® material. The inspiration for his artwork came from nebulous galaxies and the cosmos, realised in a laminated Alcantara material.

High quality materials are also central to Ali Abdulrahim’s design ethos, "in previous times, fur and exotic skins were the ultimate luxury but now-a-days a high-tech material like Alcantara, with so many possibilities, can be just as desirable." Abdulrahim, who was born and raised in Ghana, has been heavily influenced by his exposure to a range of different cultures and traditions and has been exploring how art and culture are catalysts of change. He explains, “I wanted flat images to be translated into 3D reflections using Alcantara textures.”

The textural qualities of the Alcantara® material were also what captivated designer, Martine Jarlgaard, "the ivory, coated material reminded me of old, cracked porcelain and of the philosophy of Kintsugi; the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold lacquer. The golden lines of Kintsugi highlight cracks rather than disguising imperfections." Her Alcantara project inspired her to re-evaluate the human relationship to materials, causing her to question,  "what if we saw beauty in wear and tear? What if objects became more valuable with time rather than disposable?" She found that the potential of Alcantara® material lay in its power to re-define how something gains its value, helping us to "wise up and shape our future in a more interesting, intelligent and sustainable way."

Accessory designer Cat Potter points out that the versatility of Alcantara® material "lends itself perfectly to making accessories." Since Potter's inspiration always starts with the material, she was fascinated by the "enormous customisation possibilities which could be used in combination with the Alcantara material." During her trip to the Alcantara production plant, she was particularly drawn to the Electro Welding technology, "which gave the fabric body and volume, making it perfect for accessories." With this technology in mind, she “made countless maquettes to determine [her] patterns and where to strategically place the wadding material. The main body of [her] bags are made from a single piece of fabric, held together by a single stitch, making the accuracy of the pattern crucial."

Qi Zhang, who specialises in jewellery design, was similarly taken by the suitability of Alcantara® material to the sculptural forms of his accessories, allowing him to explore "future-oriented ideas of what the human body shape might look like while making these distinctive pieces wholly wearable in a fashion context." The Alcantara® material allowed Qi Zhang to pursue “an unattainable sense of otherness” in his design, creating “a sense of abstraction and fluidity to explore the physical evolution of mankind as we know it today.”

In a similarly sculptural vein, the designer Jule Waibel has explored the Alcantara® material for pleating. “I’ve used felt and leather for my previous folded furnitures and Alcantara is something in-between those two materials,” she says. “I’m really excited to use it for further collections and I'm already planning an unfolded sofa, cushions and a rug!” Waibel also experimented with printing the Alcantara® material, resulting in a “pastel printed gradient popping out of the folds.” The designer had hitherto never combined the two disciplines of printing and pleating so the project has opened up entirely new avenues in her design process. Waibel’s designs seek to playfully combine art and fashion through an avant-garde approach to geometric shapes, transformation and aesthetics.

Like Jule Waibel, sculptural designer Sadie Clayton seeks to “integrate both fashion and art as one element.” Having been given complete free reign to create whatever she could construct within her imagination, Sadie concentrated on “really pushing the boundaries.” Her larger than life 3D coat with a train drew inspiration from the ideas of “headspace, mindfulness and the use of crystals which can allow your mind to imagine a plethora of feelings, shapes, textures and forms.” Sadie explains how she moulded the Alcantara® material to her signature design practices: “Incorporating copper wire in the material I chose enabled me to produce a sculpture that stands alone, makes a statement and hypothetically states independence of the mind and soul.”

Liam Hopkins (of the label Lazerian) found the possibilities of Alcantara® material when combined with the nature of his practice to be endless. “One of the major advantages for me is it can be cut and transformed easily in house using digital and traditional fabrication techniques such as flat bed cnc cutting, laser cutting and thermo forming.” He continues, “Taking this as a starting point I took the form of a dress and split this up into a network of individual components that are then connected back together to create a visually stunning, organically manufactured dress.”

Each designer has been taken aback by the adaptability of Alcantara® material to their own design processes, the project has opened up infinite possibilities in terms of combining innovative manufacturing process with traditional handicraft methods, while the green credentials proposed by the material make it a sustainable choice for the future. The designers have risen to the challenge of melding this material of the future with sharp, forward-thinking fashion sensibilities and as a result, The Made in Italy | Designed in Britain exhibition marks a foray into fashion’s future. Not Just A Label and Alcantara look forward to seeing how the designers will employ the high-tech material in collections to come. Made in Italy | Designed in Britain is just the beginning.