Vintage and the Fashion Design Process

The Designer Showrooms at London Fashion Week. British Fashion Council/Agnese Sanvito

We all know how vintage can inspire our personal wardrobes but it’s also crucial to design research for many contemporary fashion brands too.

It’s no coincidence that vintage styles come back into fashion time and time again as design houses scour for prints, silhouettes and archive pieces from their own brands to incorporate into new collections each season. Not only do designers look for physical design elements in vintage clothing, but they often draw on certain eras to recreate the mood or spirit of the time in a contemporary collection.

Dilys Williams, Professor of Fashion Design for Sustainability at London College of Fashion explained, “Vintage is an incredible source of inspiration in many different ways. Not only in looking at fit, shape, colour, texture, but also what the culture was like at a particular time. There’s also incredible workmanship and skill in vintage clothes that you don’t necessarily find in contemporary garments.”

Enric Jober, a regular trader at Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair has sold to a wide range of designers from Ralph Lauren to Tom Ford and Gap. He said, “We always try to source pieces they can get inspiration from. Sometimes they ask us to keep an eye out for certain prints, or shades, or eras.” Currently popular among designers is French workwear, Enric has noticed.

Another regular trader at the fair and ex Parisian stylist, Chantal Quiquine, said, “Very early on in the design process I receive moodboards which give a glimpse of where the designers are at and that guides my buying. Right now we are already talking about SS17.” Chantal explains that it is important for her to keep one eye on the fashion world and one eye on all of the other inspiring things around her, especially art and music, to source something fresh that designers might not have otherwise thought about.

Once designers find vintage pieces, they then inspect them closely to dissect the pieces they’d like to use in a new creation. Researching vintage items includes trying the pieces on, either personally or on a model, and studying the construction of the garment. Sometimes this includes taking the garment apart and reconstructing it.

Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair headed down to the recent London Fashion Week to see some of this inspiration in action for AW16.

Erdem AW16

On the catwalk Erdem created a set inspired by a dusty old antique shop which complemented the muted tones in the clothes. The literary character Mrs Danvers from Rebecca (1938) was cited as an inspiration point, with doily-like lace collars and bibs, fishtail skirts and velvet bows making an appearance.

In the designer showrooms, emerging Scandi brand Teija drew on references from practical utility clothing using sumptuous cotton to create a beautiful collection of oversized shirts, coats and smocking (a key trend we noticed throughout) with attention to detail and craftsmanship, giving a couture finish.

Teija AW16

Designer knitwear and ready to wear label Sabinna’s vintage inspiration had a more personal touch. The prints used in her AW16 collection drew from her grandmother’s needlepoint work of Russian landscapes.

Vintage really is an integral part of the design process but Britain’s Grand Dame of Fashion, Vivienne Westwood, had the last say. Speaking, we feel, on behalf of all designers, we grabbed her at London Fashion Week for a quick quote on where she finds her inspiration, to which she simply answered, “Life!”

Words: Olivia Pinnock