Textile Designers at the Cutting Edge (Laurence King Publishing)

Textile Designers at the Cutting Edge by Bradley Quinn
Laurence King Publishing (2009)

A fuchsia ribbon keeps the handsome cover of this book closed. It is a detail that suggests we might be peaking inside the diary of a visionary creative director and sets the trendy tone for this survey of textile design. Quinn is responsible for a number of key textile books already. The Fashion of Architecture and Techno Fashion both marked themselves out for their originality, while his contribution to Contemporary Textiles: the fabric of fine art and Ultra Materials confirm the breadth of his experience as a design writer. He uses this publication to give the textile his primary attention. I’m not convinced that the content “charts the furthermost boundaries of what a textile can be” as stated in the introduction, but it certainly provides us with a needed overview of textile design today.

The problem is that the graphic design of this book does not always do justice to the textile design it contains. Images are the first thing we notice in glossy books like this one, as we should. But here an inconsistent approach to page layout distracts from the content. Some pages are stark, others cluttered. The section devoted to Florence Manlik contains stunning catwalk images and the black and white graphics that adorn the book’s striking cover. But beautiful images such as Becky Earley and Hanna Werning’s work on models are awkwardly positioned in the gutter between pages. On other pages the photography is not in focus. A few too many clichés are adopted in lieu of clear design: the fashion section is printed on glossy paper; interiors appear on flat, grainy pages; mock serrated edges seem, unnecessarily, to suggest a swatch book.

Quinn cannot be accused of indulging in any poetic over complications in organising the book. Two simple but effective subsections of ‘body’ and ‘space’ are used. These divisions may not be appropriate for much longer, as emerging designers begin their careers steeped in education’s vision of transferable design skills. But it works for the current content and Quinn is clear to explain that designers who work with both fashion and interiors appear in the category that “reflects the area in which they are best known”.

The accompanying text is based on interviews; some, perhaps inevitably, are more engaging than others. It may have been helpful to hear a little more of Quinn’s own voice throughout, especially to plug the gaps thrown up by the less informative interview material. Instead curious content appears not in the main text, but in the captions. Each contains upbeat and clever insights, but doesn’t always confirm just what it is we are looking at. Without becoming bogged down in the technical, I would have found it helpful to know, for instance, if the fabric was a digital print or screen print, silk or polyester.

There is little evidence of an aesthetic bias at work, which is refreshing in a book such as this. Commendable projects such as Anita Ahuja’s recycled plastic bags are treated as design rather than just recycling. Several designers are shown with images that reveal the inspiration guiding their work. The reference shots that accompany Claudia Hill, for example, are excellent for students and new designers to see. This approach is so effective it is a shame it isn’t applied more frequently throughout the book.

The introduction states: “As Seamless explores the work of 36 multi-disciplinary textile designers from approximately 16 countries around the world, their sources of inspiration and treatment of materials are explained in their own words.” I wonder if “Seamless” refers to an earlier intended title of the publication? In many ways this reference, mistaken or not, reveals the emphasis of printed cloth that dominates the first half of the book.

Kahori Maki’s illustrations, Sébastien Barilleau’s use of crystals, Astrid Krogh’s neon tubing and Hsiao-Chi Tsai’s flamboyant installations arguably do “chart the furthermost boundaries” of textile design today. But the bulk of this book is less about the extremes of textile design and more about unusual examples of printed textiles. This in itself was much needed and I anticipate that an update will be required before long.

Surface Design Journal (summer 2010: 68)