Clothing as Canvas
the rise of digital printing in fashion

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In the late 1990s, Japanese designer Issey Miyake was among the first to introduce digital printing techniques in fashion with his Pleats Please Guest Artist Series, a collection that showcased the works of contemporary artists, and used pleated, one-size-fits-all clothing as canvas. More recently, Alexander McQueen’s Spring 10 collection, Plato’s Atlantis, popularized digital printing techniques after the designer sent an army of models, clad in intricately patterned reptilian mini dresses, down the runway. The art of digital printing soon took the fashion industry by storm, and since, it has become so integral to brands like Christopher Kane, Helmut Lang, and Mary Katranzou, that its presence is almost akin to a logo.

Inspired by this upsurge in fashion-based digital printing, Dennita Sewell, Curator of Fashion for the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, produced the museum’s newest exhibition, Digital Print Fashion, which opened March 1st 2013 and will run until mid-July. The exhibition will feature 40 looks from modern digital print masters like McQueen, Katranzou, Miuccia Prada and Ralph Rucci, showcasing the latest advancements in print design, and the impact they have made on contemporary fashion. “Today’s emerging generation of fashion designers have grown up using digital technology in their daily lives, it’s natural that they would apply these technologies to their artistic creations,” Sewell explains.

The digital technology to which Sewell refers accomplishes the same results, and more, as traditional methods of textile printing, but requires only a fraction of the equipment. While traditional methods require silkscreens, rollers, engraved plates or stencils, and a lot of elbow grease, digital uses only an inkjet or laser printer to deposit pigment onto virtually any kind of textile. By eliminating taxing technical steps, digital printing broadens the horizon for not only production, turn-around rates and on-demand printing, but opens up a range of creative possibilities as well. Now, the average designer can fully realize almost any sketch or pattern concept with the aid of digital technologies – without color, placement or detail limitations, almost any print is within reach. Maura Jurgrau, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design at Parsons elaobrates, “The technological developments we’ve seen in the last decade have enhanced the artistic potential of fabric as canvas, allowing the designer to explore numerous possibilities in order to realize their ultimate creative vision.”

Digital Print Fashion will take place at the Phoenix Art Museum’s Ellman Fashion Design Gallery, which is home to a collection of more than 4500 fashion artifacts, including looks from Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.