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Changing the Face of Fashion

Revisiting Project Runway

By Melissa Donovan

The July 2010 issue of Digital Output showcased the influence of digital on textiles, particularly in fashion apparel. Of note was the reality television series Project Runway and its digital printing challenge. The episode generated such a positive reaction it was repeated during the eighth season of the show, which at press time was airing on the Lifetime network.


Dyenamix Inc., of New York, NY, was tasked with printing seven unique patterns influenced by memories from the designers’ pasts. The designs were created using Hewlett-Packard (HP) TouchSmart PCs, with the result a custom fabric worked into a clothing ensemble that emulated contestants’ aesthetics.


Gretchen Jones, season eight winner, chose to imitate the sun bonnet, a Hopi depiction of the Sun God often found in Southwestern turquoise jewelry. It reminded her of her mother’s jewelry box. She had no previous experience working with a program like the HP TouchSmart PC. Although she viewed last season’s digital print challenge and knew of it, she admits working with a foreign medium was difficult.


“This digital age and medium use totally different languages than I am used to. Textiles are identities. I found it just as important, if not more so, to create a print that spoke to my customer before the garment did. That was truly the challenge. Taking the time to create something that was graphic, yet accessible/wearable for a wide range of customers—demographically speaking—was my first and foremost goal,” explains Jones.


Seamless Process

Raylene Marasco, president, Dyenamix, says they were contacted in April about participating in the repeated challenge. “People were incredibly excited we were involved in season seven. When Lifetime called us, we were surprised, because they normally do not repeat challenges, but this one was so successful, they must have figured—why not?”


Comparing both seasons, she admits that much of the process stayed the same. Once again, Tim Gunn, CCO, Liz Claiborne and the show’s mentor, chose two types of fabric from Dyenamix’s 40-plus collection—a silk and a cotton. Contestants were allowed to choose between the two. Jones chose the silk habatoi for a blouse.


A team from Dyenamix visited the work space while designers crafted their patterns and helped pick out colors with the shop’s color book. Marasco says this varied from the prior season, as the designers from the seventh iteration choose their own palettes. This time, Marasco and her team helped the contestants choose colors that matched their paper print outs—or mock ups—that came off of an HP Designjet wide format printer stationed in the work room.


Once the designs were completed, the studio received the files, printed, and delivered the next morning. Dyenamix used a TX2-1600 65-inch printer from Mimaki USA, Inc., which prints directly to fabric with reactive dye ink.


Marasco shares that the challenge was seamless compared to the prior season. “Although we worked within the same turnaround time as before, the designs were delivered a bit earlier, around 12:30 p.m. versus 2:00 p.m. It terms of the HP TouchSmart software and process in general, all of the quirks were worked out, so the fabrics were ready for us fairly quickly and we printed immediately,” she admits.


After experiencing digital print for the first time, Jones is ready to return. “I’m already working with a textile designer for my next collection. It’s like tasting chocolate for the first time—you can never go back,” she confesses.

Individualized Apparel

A number of Web sites and print providers, like Dyenamix, offer digital fabric printing. Many fashion designers are unfamiliar with this practice. And those that are may be weary, as Marasco points out. “Digital printing has a bit of a negative connotation in some arenas. People say it doesn’t convey vibrancy or high quality, but that is because they have limited experience with the medium. When they watch the reality show’s digital printing episode and see how seamless an application it really is, it is hugely beneficial to the design community.”


From a fashion designer’s perspective, digital print continues to change the face of fashion. “Watching what has happened within the past five years in the printing and production of custom textiles is truly inspiring. It is easier and more affordable to do, which creates a more individualized element to fashion, especially for small and independent labels and designers. Textiles create a sense of branding and identity. They enable the artist to translate their vision into a more realized perspective and point of view,” adds Jones.

As an industry, introducing this evolving practice to the correct audience is essential. Trade shows and networking events are ideal starting points, but the luxury of mainstream television certainly helps reach a broader audience. Although there is no confirmation from Lifetime that they are considering repeating the challenge in season nine of Project Runway, Marasco hopes they do for a number of reasons, one of which is education.

Dec2010, Digital Output

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