Assignment One: Project 2:  Digital Printing: Research Point 1.3 and initial thoughts:

Project 2:  Digital Printing

I wanted to start this project by thinking what equipment I have available and outlining this for assessors and my tutor.

I have:

–          A4 Scanner (at home)

–          A relatively good understanding of how to use Adobe Photoshop but not Illustrator.

–          Internet and computer access and a printer (A4) at home.

–          Paper to print out my designs, with possible prospect of ordering fabric to try too.

–          I know a printer in Edinburgh who has printed fabric for me before.  Thus when I get designs in order, I can contact them and get some samples done onto fabric.

–          I have done some research and find that it is possible to get a free trial of Adobe Illustrator, so I can explore this possibly too.

–          I have worked for Art Van Go at the knitting and stitching shows, thus I know their products well and can comment on them or may use them in the future, such as their printer friendly cottons and silks.


Research Point 1.3:

This is a large point of research; thus for want of a large blog post, I am highlighting a few key pieces.  The rest can be found in my large log book Microsoft word documents and also printed out as a research folder.  This will be clearly marked.

I had the privilege of visiting the Alexander McQueen show at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year, so I have first-hand knowledge of the collections.  I have also been able to borrow the catalogue and other books on his work from my local library.

I felt it may be beneficial to remind myself of the show, so I have pasted in my notes from it and scanned in my sketchbook pages which I had with me at the show.  Included in this is the Plato’s Atlantis collection which is said to have had a great effect on digital printing of the time…………

So many designers and artists list McQueen as their main source of inspiration.  To be honest I was quite cynical about this.  I have always admired his work, but did not want to follow this “worship” trend.  However seeing his work a couple of months ago at the Victoria and Albert ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition…..well, let’s just say I finally understood his magic.

There is no way I could give an entire overview of his work justice here; it is simply too extensive.  So I have decided to concentrate on one collection, my favourite from the exhibition.  I felt that this would be best, as I have visual experience of this, observing it at the exhibition in person.  I paid special attention at the time to draw parts of the dresses and make notes about them.  I now realise how important it was to do this, as no photographs were allowed through the exhibition.

I will first give an overview of the exhibition ‘Savage Beauty’ and then focus a little on my favourite collection within the exhibition.  I will also supplement my study with my own illustrations.

Above:  My own scanned in notes, made on site at the exhibition.  I focused on certain quotes which resonated with me, as well as key pieces within his collections, even down to tailoring detail.

The focus here should be on his last collection, which at the time was ground breaking, due to the digital technology.

Plato’s Atlantis

‘Plato’s Atlantis predicted a future in which the ice cap would melt, the waters would rise and life on earth would have to evolve in order to live beneath the sea once more or perish. Humanity would go back to the place from whence it came.’
– Alexander McQueen

Nature’s influence on McQueen’s work is most clearly reflected in Plato’s Atlantis (Spring/Summer 2010), the last fully realized collection the designer presented before his death in February 2010. Inspired by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), it presented a narrative that centred not on the evolution of humankind but on its devolution. McQueen utilized complex, digitally engineered prints inspired by sea creatures and introduced the towering ‘Armadillo’ boots.

With its mixture of technology, craft and showmanship, Plato’s Atlantis was considered to be McQueen’s greatest achievement. It offered a potent vision of the future of fashion.

See the image next to illustrate this collection…


Honing in on the Planto’s Atlantis collection, I wanted to research it in further depth…

I found some interesting info on the V and A’s website:

‘McQueen’s final runway presentation was widely acclaimed as his finest collection. Fittingly, he returned to what inspired him most: nature. McQueen merged Darwin’s nineteenth-century theories of evolution with twenty-first-century concerns over global warming. Plato’s Atlantis – a reference to the legendary island described by the Greek philosopher, which sank into the sea – prophesied a future world in which ice caps would melt, seas would rise, and humanity would need to evolve in order to survive. It was pure fantasy.’

Here McQueen perfected the use of digital printing techniques with each design engineered specifically for individual garments.

Alexander McQueen’s Spring 2010 collection, Plato’s Atlantis, put digital printing on the fashion map. The mastermind created 37 looks of scaled-serpent prints that seemed to sliver with the motion of the models.

The McQueen website tells us more about the collection, some in McQueen’s own words:

“This collection predicted a future in which] the ice cap would melt… the waters would rise and… life on earth would have to evolve in order to live beneath the sea once more or perish. Humanity [would] go back to the place from whence it came” LEE ALEXANDER MCQUEEN

Circle-engineered to the body, there were 36 prints in Plato’s Atlantis. Though he was to abandon his reference boards in order to “create something completely new”, McQueen named one of the digital prints ‘Abyss’ after the James Cameron film of a diver’s spiritual awakening at the hands of an alien living in the deep ocean. One of his favourite films, The Abyss provided much inspiration for the colour palette of the collection, with the eponymous print emulating the aqueous forms of the film’s benevolent alien. Images of rusted, seaweed covered shipwrecks inspired verdigris neckpieces, riveted metal shoes, and the ‘Rusty’ print – used on a fluted, ruffled chiffon miniskirt created from thousands of circles of fabric in an age-old couture technique to mimic the movement of jellyfish as they throb through the sea. Elsewhere, puffed sleeves were folded and pleated like the forms of a fish’s gills in order to convey the idea of devolution, and cameras mounted on robotic arms panned up and down, inspecting these hybrid beings and projecting details of the garments on to the screen at the back of the catwalk.

Here is one example, from print sample to wearable garment:


Seeing images like those above, is very useful for my practice at this stage.  It becomes a visual conversation, an explanation.  It enables me to picture in the future, how I may convert my designs onto fabric.

Reflection on my own visit to this exhibition, I have to say because this was right at the end of the show and there was a security Gard warning me the gallery was closing (time is non-existent in there, it just goes) I did not pay enough attention to these as I should, having spent so much on the previous collections.  However I took good photographs and have read a lot since about the collection and the others.  Yet it is only when researching for this course, that I can fully appreciate the skill and thought gone into the digital printing of this.

Yes, it is inspired by creatures, space age feel etc., but it has the quality of something which has been thought out, manipulated, played, cropped etc etc.  To my eye, it looks almost like a kaleidoscope view.  The patterns, colours and shapes.

After the research I have done for this course so far, I realise the processes which have gone into this.  The pattern that we see on the dresses has not appeared by McQueen just looking at his subject matter, doing a few drawings and then getting them printed onto fabric.  It has been a long process, a lot of digital remastering and isolating to define shapes etc.  Through this course, I can now understand this to a greater level.

There were a few comments about this body of work which I did not understand.  One of these was the term “circle engineered to the body” when talking about the clothing.  Thus I did research on this.  Alexander McQueen:  Savage Beauty (catalogue) tells us: 


This form of digital printing onto fabric was risk taking.  It was so individual that it was literally measured to the model who would be wearing the garment.

Now my own digital printing seems slightly put in the shade….

To see how much McQueen used digital printing, I put this into my search engine.  Immediately it is the collection I have just looked at which comes up.  Thus I will stick to having looked in depth at this particular collection and also my review of the show visited too.

What has this vision into McQueen’s world done for my learning, in line with this course?

Previously, I tended to accept digitally printed fabrics, wearing them without thought.  Of course most fabrics I view would not be made as complicated as McQueen’s, or have as much thought gone into them.  However when I now visit exhibitions which have digital printing involved, such as The New Designers, I now tend to ask the students about their design concepts and how they came to reach their final outcomes.  Sketchbooks are often great ways to get a full understanding.

Thus having had a glimpse of the thought gone into digital printing, I will now give much more thought to my own textiles and try to take more risks, while focusing on themes which interest me, like McQueen did.  I find that is key, to go with themes that you really enjoy, as you are prepared then to really dig in, take them apart and run with them until you feel you can’t get any more out of them…or leave them to come back to.

What can I say personally about this artist?

One of the journalists who visited the exhibition described the process of viewing it as being ‘Transfixed’.  That is honestly how I felt.  I constantly felt the need to capture each moment in my head.

One thing that I felt was missing?  In the Romantic Naturalism room, which I decided to study further here, there were no labels telling the observer what each garment was.  Thus I had to research it all at home.  Within the other rooms there was more information available to read.

I have my memories, my research and my sketchbook and notes that I wrote at the time walking around the exhibition.  I have put these together here.  I hope I can use them to inspire my future work.

The fact is, we can see he was a future visionary.  He looked to new methods, new technology and abused and used them to his every fantasy.  We can only imagine what would have come, in digital design form, if he had been alive now.

Other artists I looked at:

Jessica Nielson

Sam Osbourne

Louise Gardiner

Sarah Benning

Zara Day

Charlotte Linton

BeFabBeCreative Printing Studio

Kristi O’Meara

Karen Mabon

Rowan Leckie

Grayson Perry

Sophie Collom

Printed and Co

PLEASE NOTE:  The above list has been extensively researched and conveyed in paper form within my work and as a Microsoft Word Document.








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