While scientists are hard at work in the lab mixing the chemicals and programming the codes that create wondrous innovations, Fashion Designers have picked up on these breakthroughs and are taking them in exciting new directions.
Neoprene, also known as scuba fabric, is the textile trend that’s been appearing in most contemporary fashion collections. Invented by DuPont scientists in 1930, Neoprene ( or polychloroprene ) is a family of synthetic rubbers that is durable, flexible, insulative, wrinkle, water and UV resistant and to top it all off the wonder fabric also lends itself very well to digital print and colour.
As a wearable fabric Jack O’Neill of the Californian surfer brand was the first to use Neoprene in 1952 selling his first wetsuits, a few vests he made from gluing together pieces of neoprene rubber. The material that was then being researched at UC Berkeley for deep sea diving.
However, fashion designers are always on the look out for new innovations and, thanks to their creativity, Neoprene has leapt from the water and onto the catwalk to become a regular feature in contemporary fashion as designers embrace the possibilities of working with this smooth, sculptural fabric.
“Neoprene is body sculptural. It adds shape to the garment and moves with the body…It adds an element of sport, taking basics and making them modern.” Jane Chung, executive vice president of design for DKNY
However this is not the first time we’ve seen Neoprene in high fashion. Let’s take a look at some of the designers who’ve used Neoprene over the years and helped bring it to this developed stage.
Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto received world recognition in the early eighties for challenging traditional notions of fashion and utilizing fabrics such as felt and neoprene. In his Autumn Winter collection in 1996/97 he created this dress made of structured turquoise neoprene draped in a fine sheer black net.
In 2001 Yamamoto presented another display of his masterful skills with fabric and cut using Neoprene fabric in his Autumn/Winter collection showing how this new fabric can be just as elegant as traditional fabrics…
YohjiYamamoto – F/W 2001/2
In 2002 Nicolas Ghesquière’s sport influenced creations for Balenciaga Spring Summer 2003 showed seamed scuba suits and sculpted mini-dresses. The designer researched the fabric intensely to understand how best to tailor it.
Also in 2002 Marc Jacobs featured neoprene in his collection for Louis Vuitton. In a fusion of retro nostalgia and modern pop culture, Jacobs used the scuba fabric to create cherry-red polka-dot pencil skirts, macs, suits and elegant ladies jackets.
IN 2004 Comme des Garçons’ collection boldly merged tough leather and neoprene jackets, crude saddle-stitching on rolled up sleeves with elegant and almost punk, ballet tutus. Founder and designer Rei Kawakubo said “I thought about the power of the motorbike, the machine itself, and the strength of a ballet dancers arms”
In 2007 the late, great Alexander McQueen brought a villain character to the runway, dressed in dark structural scuba that was tailored in McQueen’s unique way and conceptualizing the play between the natural cloths and technical textiles.
2008 saw MiuMiu’s collection using Neoprene as a sort of galactic jockey uniform styled in jumpsuits and chunky jackets.
In 2009 Karl Lagerfield designed these sleek moulded jackets in Neoprene mesh for Fendi’s Spring Summer collection
In 2010 Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy incorporated Neoprene into his collection stating that he “…was thinking of the ski world, and the scuba world and the colours of the Bauhaus”, yet his working of the fabric combined with knits and traditional alpine patterns reengineered into contouring bodysuits, joined with neoprene lower garments was a more glamorous result than could be found in any sporting category.
In 2011 Jean Paul Gaultier joined the now accelerating Neoprene trend in his own cabaret show style presenting a type of James Bond character in neoprene tuxedos and jackets with metallic finishes and colour contrasts.
In 2012 Alexander Wang’s Autumn/Winter Menswear collection introduced his first men’s suit in a smoothly cut and slighty boxy style that took inspiration from the street style of skaters as neoprene itself is starting to be spotted regularly on the street…
In 2013 Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren made a return to couture after 13 years with a beautifully conceptual collection of 20 neoprene* pieces in black.
Now we’re up to date let’s explore the more adventurous styling of Neoprene in the last year
London designer Sadie Williams has innovated her own unique development of Neoprene during her MA Fashion course at Central St. Martins from which she graduated last year.
Williams technique in creating this new embossed fabric, involved layering sheets of neoprene between metallic yarns and polyester tracksuit fabric and then heat-pressing to bond the materials together. The resulting textile was a wonderful shimmering metallic that had a firmness that allowed it to be sculpted into statuesque shapes. Williams then added print by using hand collaged heat-transfer papers and a dye-sublimation printer, which also uses heat to transfer colours to textiles. For her inspiration of old images of Harley Davidson riders and Japanese bikers with their glittery motorbikes she placed leather panels and patches either sewn into the dresses or appliquéd on top “I really love the graphic, masculine print arrangement found in biker clothing, helmets and panelled satin racing vests,” said Williams. “I incorporated leather elements into my collection as a nod to bikers.”
Ukrainian designer Irina Dzhus’ latest collection “Archetype” 2014, has the feel of high art not only in the iconographic styling of it’s presentation but also in the simplistic treatment of the lines in each piece. Dzhus has used neoprene to translate a strong and simultaneously elegant aesthetic.
Any designers considering using neoprene will be pleased to know that it is an easy fabric to work with mainly because it doesn’t fray or slip and neoprene also doesn’t need lining. Creating structure and form is made easier by the fabrics innate properties, a kind of soft firmness.
If you are using a neoprene that is thicker than 4mm it’s recommended that you use an industrial sewing machine.
Neoprene varies in thickness from 0,5mm to over 7mm.
Using fabric glue to hold your seams together before stitching can help you keep control of the fabric.
You should experiment with different needles and stitches for the type of neoprene you’re using and what type of garment you’re making.
Some recommended stitches to try are:
Single-needle stitch, the simplest one used on neoprene garments.
Zig-Zag stitch is the classic O’Neill stitch for their wetsuits.
In this stitch, the edges of the neoprene are butted or overlapped together, and two or four needles punch all the way through the material to make a flat, interlocking thread pattern that is very strong and comfortable against the skin. The “mauser” stitch used on some garments is a type of flat-lock stitch.
Here, the edges of the material are first glued together. Then a special sewing machine with a curved needle stitches the seam, with the needle only penetrating the face fabric on one side of the material. This very strong seam is more expensive and is found on top-quality items. 3 mm thick neoprene is the practical minimum material thickness for this stitch.
For finishes a Hong Kong seam is recommended for durability, a bias strip of fabric is cut to the width of the seam allowance plus 1/4″. The bias strip is placed on top of the seam allowance, right sides together, and stitched 1/8″ from raw edges. The bias strip is then folded over the raw edge and around to the underside and stitched in place.
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