Fashion goes back to the drawing board
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Chopova Lowena, the Deptford-based brand founded by Central Saint Martins alumnae Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena, often features hand-drawing in its collections. It began with Chopova, whose mother, a painter, always encouraged her to draw. They decided to use her playful illustrations of cartoon figures and flowers in their clothing, and they’ve since become part of the brand’s signature aesthetic. “For SS22, we took inspiration from surfboard graphics and Bulgarian postcards,” explains Lowena. This translates to long-sleeved T-shirts adorned with lively fish illustrations and wide-legged trousers dotted with pools of black and green ink. AW22, meanwhile, will draw on the medieval era and ice hockey, says Chopova. “Each season we pick two inspirations – one is sportswear and the other is traditional dress.”
Illustrations are appearing in fashion collections everywhere: Bode’s current range features miniature sketches of London life and line drawings of daisies and clowns; Zimmermann’s billowing white maxi skirt is scribbled in inky-pink handwriting; Isabel Marant designed a bikini top with abstract doodles and dresses printed with playfully messy drawings of flowers; while Polly Hardman of Amsterdam-based Westweaves draws comic-book style illustrations directly onto vintage leather handbags and shoes. Painting was also referenced at Louis Vuitton’s AW22 show, with vivid floral ties at Jonathan Simkhai, where knitted dresses were striped with brushstrokes of tangerine and mauve, and at Dries Van Noten, where vivid splashes of watery ink bled across blazers and smock dresses.
In 2018, the designer behind London-based brand Noon Cottage Industry (who prefers not to use her real name) was fresh out of art school and couldn’t afford to buy clothes, so decided to make her own; she took some tulle mesh, cut the pattern for a top, mixed liquid base pigments into a fabric pen, and began to draw. The resulting tops and dresses – which combined abstract and figurative brushstrokes with sherbet-bright colours and clinging Y2K-reminiscent silhouettes – became an instant hit on Instagram.
Swatch Shenron Ultimate Edition watch, £121
Valentino duchesse silk-satin mini dress, £2,310
Noon Cottage Industry mesh dress, POA
Alja Horvat poly-mix Drops Of Jupiter top, £47
Kim Kardashian’s stylist commissioned eight pieces from Noon Cottage Industry, including an electric-blue corset painted with two faces; a high-neck minidress with a woman outlined in coral was soon worn by Kylie Jenner; a long-sleeved maxi dress painted with red swirls requested by singer Rosalía; and, for Welsh musician Kelly Lee Owens, a dress with “her initials on the neck and some imagery from Welsh mythology”.
Westweaves leather Get Real bag, £130
Noon Cottage Industry custom mesh top, POA
“These kinds of things make it quite special for people to buy,” says the designer. “They can say, ‘This is for this occasion, and I want these kinds of motifs drawn into the imagery.’” She paints each item individually rather than bulk-producing, which keeps the process more sustainable. “I think that’s what allows me to keep on making and for [my pieces] all to be different. I make bespoke pieces because I don’t want to mass-produce them.”
Libby Page, senior market editor at Net-a-Porter, sees the emergence of illustrated and painted pieces as part of the growing appetite for craft-led fashion that connects the wearer with the designer. She advises that patterned and illustrated pieces are “most impactful when styled back, paired with elegant jewellery and simple accessories”. “We’ve noticed a great reaction to statement pieces with strong brand DNA,” she says, but “without logos”. She points to Isabel Marant’s one-shoulder ruched Solenne minidress, Valentino’s floral-print mini in duchesse silk-satin and Dries Van Noten’s Shirred printed silk-satin midi dress, “all of which feel uplifting and fun”.
Model, Seng Khan at The Squad. Casting, Tiago Martins at Ben Grimes Casting. Hair and make-up, Liz Daxauer at Caren using Living Proof and Shiseido. Stylist’s assistant, Meg Edmond