Exhibition at The Cass Bank Gallery 10 – 31 July 2015
The Cass, London Metropolitan University presents Fabric of the City, a major contemporary textile exhibition celebrating the legacy of the Huguenot Weavers in Spitalfields, coinciding with the Huguenots of Spitalfields festival, taking place during the summer across London.
Cass 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.
Curator Gina Pierce comments: “It’s surprising how few people have heard of the Huguenots, as their influence on craft and design was incredibly widespread, with the legacy of the weavers in Spitalfields having a lasting effect on the local textile industry. This exhibition highlights the creativity of designers who still thrive in the city, continuing the tradition of working with fabric and fashion in the Spitalfields area.’’
A number of workshops and talks will run throughout the exhibition. These will include a Fabric of the City Symposium at The Cass (14 July), featuring talks by speakers from the V&A and the Royal College of Art, looking at different aspects of fashion-making in the area of Spitalfields, from 17th Century uses through to today.
The exhibition also forms part of the Huguenot Summer Festival – which runs from May to September to celebrate the lives and talents of the Huguenots – and accompanies further student engagement with the heritage of Huguenots at the Cass Summer Show and Soho Create.
Fabric of the City runs at the Cass Bank Gallery from 10 -31 July 2015 www.thecass.com
Fabric of the City Exhibitors
Flora Mclean, House of Flora www.houseofflora.net
Alison Willoughby www.alisonwilloughby.com
Lucy Rainbow (Cass alumni) www.lucyrainbow.net
Rentaro Nishimura www.rentaro.co.uk
Jane Bowler www.janebowler.co.uk
Barley Massey, Fabrications www.fabrications1.co.uk
House of Harlot www.houseofharlot.com
Rebecca Hoyes, Freelance designer & consultant
James Hunting (Cass staff) www.jameshunting.com
Sam Wingate (Cass staff) www.wingateprint.com
Lisa Bloomer (Cass staff and alumni) www.cockpitarts.com
Karen Coughlan (Cass staff and consultant for Louis Vuitton and Edward Crutchley)
Gina Pierce (Cass staff) www.ginapiercedesign.co.uk