The Inspiration behind Autumn/Winter 2015: Blog Six- The Balenciaga Dress

The Balenciaga Dress

Cristobal Balenciaga was a Spanish Basque fashion designer and founder of the Balenciaga fashion house. With a reputation for uncompromising standards, he demonstrated his exceptional artistry with his ability to design, cut and sew the models manually - one of only a handful of couturiers in fashion history with this ability. A highly inventive creator, he contributed immensely to reinterpreting the conventional female silhouette by broadening the shoulders and removing the waist and producing iconic sculptural masterworks of 1950’s haute couture.

Cristobal Balenciaga, Collectionneur de Modes Exhibition

The exhibition was held in Paris in 2012 by the Museé Galleria at the Cité de la Mode et du Design and comprised more than seventy historical garments and costumes from Balenciaga’s personal collection of inspirational pieces, including forty haute couture dresses and coats. It was an exploration of both his passion for historical garments as well as a reflection of his impact, notably his interpretation of traditional Spanish folklore, his use of black and somber colors, the purity of religious and ceremonial clothing and references to the grandmasters of Spanish painting.

Balenciaga’s Influence

Cristobal Balenciaga is one of ERRE’s key design influencers. It is his influence that inspires much of ERRE’s signature structured draping. A picture of a dress from his 1964 haute couture collection in the Collectionneaur de Modes exhibition that Natasha took and that became the mainstay of a sixty-garment collection she designed while studying in Paris at the time, is affectionately known as an ERRE obsession. Each season we revisit the picture and experiment anew with some of her original ideas to create something uniquely ERRE.

The photograph that Natasha took in July 2012 at the Cite de la Mode et du Design of the Balenciaga dress.

The photograph that Natasha took in July 2012 at the Cite de la Mode et du Design of the Balenciaga dress.

Visually, the beauty and simplicity of the drape expresses an understated yet “intelligent” elegance, while technically the genius of the construction explores the new shapes and proportions that defined this golden era of couture. Its elegant simplicity deceptively hides how immensely challenging it is to construct a drape that twists around panels and the experimentation that is required to establish which panels would need to be extended to achieve this effortless fluidity.

The mystery would be solved if you could take the dress apart to see how the pattern works. However, in reassembling it, you would need an unwavering grasp of the interlocking stages of the construction process. This would require years of experience combined with a deep understanding of how individual flat shapes can be assembled to form a three-dimensional whole.

This dress epitomises the ERRE signature philosophy in many ways - a design from the 1950’s where the appeal lies in the simplicity, wearability and, mostly, the elegant power it exudes.

The cut, proportions and draping of this dress has become a thread throughout our work. It can be seen directly in the draping of one of our jersey dresses as well our drape knit top, while indirectly, it reappears in combination with other couture images, African hairstyles and headdresses, as an influence in all the collection’s coats. 

The back view of our jersey top from  the autumn/ winter 2015 collection inspired by the Balenciaga draping.

The back view of our jersey top from  the autumn/ winter 2015 collection inspired by the Balenciaga draping.

The long jersey dress inspired by the Balenciaga dress on the runway.

The long jersey dress inspired by the Balenciaga dress on the runway.

The draping in the Balenciaga dress is deceptively simple, however with a designer’s keen eye, it shows his skill for draping on a mannequin and his ability to visualise and manipulate a flat piece of fabric into a three-dimensional object that can fit the body.

The Influence of 1950’s Couture on the ERRE signature

The proportions. The construction. The cut.

We passionately emulate the construction and pattern-drafting that the haute couture garments of the 1950’s emphasised, in our own design process. It is in the way a pocket on a couture jacket fits when perfectly tailored in wool. Or how a collar is shaped to appear a little too big in proportion to the rest of the garment.

Design and construction features like these are absent in the world of fast fashion. But for us it is this that represents the best of what fashion design is capable of and demonstrate what can only be achieved by human skill.

We love what we do at ERRE. We love the craft behind it and creating things by hand. Design is all about the technical challenges and experimenting with techniques both new and old.

Examples of our experimentation with similar ideas are:  

  The proportions and cut of the coats in the Autumn/Winter 2016 collection is partly the results of our Balenciaga obsession.

 

The proportions and cut of the coats in the Autumn/Winter 2016 collection is partly the results of our Balenciaga obsession.

  If you would peel back the linings of an ERRE leather jackets you will see couture techniques applied to the construction that aids in the fit of the garment. You will never see such detail in the commercial leather jackets retailed by fast fashion chains.

 

If you would peel back the linings of an ERRE leather jackets you will see couture techniques applied to the construction that aids in the fit of the garment. You will never see such detail in the commercial leather jackets retailed by fast fashion chains.

  Couture from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s was very feminine so it always provides a perfect foil to our more masculine references as wework on redefining power dressing.  The severity of the leather is softened by the 50’s silhouette of this jacket.

 

Couture from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s was very feminine so it always provides a perfect foil to our more masculine references as wework on redefining power dressing.  The severity of the leather is softened by the 50’s silhouette of this jacket.

  It also speaks of an era when women appreciated quality more than quantity in their wardrobes. When they appreciated the craft and construction of a garment and knew how to dress for every occasion. We believe those women still exist and are who we now affectionately refer to as ERRE-istas. Above: typical Balenciaga 50’s tailoring at the Cité de la Mode et du Design. 

 

It also speaks of an era when women appreciated quality more than quantity in their wardrobes. When they appreciated the craft and construction of a garment and knew how to dress for every occasion. We believe those women still exist and are who we now affectionately refer to as ERRE-istas.

Above: typical Balenciaga 50’s tailoring at the Cité de la Mode et du Design. 


The Inspiration behind Autumn/Winter 2015: Blog Five-Scarification

Scarification: Traditional Power dressing

Scarification, predominantly found in central Africa, is notable for its beauty and extremity. Its visual likeness to the patterns and textures of crocodile leather is why it was the fifth source of inspiration for our Autumn/Winter 2014 collection. The scarification idea can be seen on our leather jackets where we have juxtaposed laser cutting and hand-stitched leather-covered buttons to create elaborate designs on the shoulders and back. 

Relief Scarification from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To see where this image fits on our mood board wall go to blog post ONE.

Relief Scarification from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To see where this image fits on our mood board wall go to blog post ONE.

Skin scarification is created by scratching and irritating scars over a period of time, or by inserting charcoal into the skin: the more traumatic the process, the more raised (and desirable) the scars that can be achieved.

As a painful and costly process, it echoes the headdresses, braids and crocodile skin symbols from our previous posts as a means to visually convey social status and to identify the wealthy and the warriors of the tribe at a glance.

he pictures of these tribes conceptualise a commitment to art, culture and style. We achieve it by wearing a beautifully designed jacket, they achieve it through their ornate scarring which replicates the armour-like qualities of the crocodile skin and ultimately serves to convey power, which  similar to the adorned hair of the Fulani women, expresses the same  commitment to one’s personal style and your unique sense of power-dressing.

The Art of Scarification

The textured beauty of the skin creates an elaborate and ornate statement. The organic patterns and shapes of each individual scar are created through handwork. Not one is exactly the same. There is an intimidating “scare factor” which shows outsiders the dedication to the painful process of scarification is the literal embodiment of suffering for fashion.

Interconnected Inspiration

The visuals, which have been placed together, create visual similes. The scarification and crocodile leather have similar textures and shapes. In both cases, we used only black and white photography, which focused our attention on the shapes and textures. 

We placed a Black & White image of a crocodile next to Scarification images that created visual links between the two images.

We placed a Black & White image of a crocodile next to Scarification images that created visual links between the two images.

Buttoning Up Scarification

In search of the fascinating relief motif that the scarification creates on the skin, we first experimented with a variety of cut shapes as well as to create texture by sewing pieces of leather onto samples before discovering the final, and most effective solution - simply to sew our leather covered buttons onto the leather to trace the desired 3D texture patterns over the shoulders and back.

The combination of recreated crocodile skin and button “scarification” finally culminated in a strong design idea that found its first expression in the serious power-dressing statement made by our laser cut leather Jackets. It will undoubtedly morph and resurface in a variety of guises in future ERRE designs.

The Inspiration behind Autumn/Winter 2015: Blog Four - Crocodile Leather

It’s All About Exoticism

A whole crocodile skin made up the third item of our mood board. This 3D deviation from our pictorial norm came about because we fell head over heels in love with the texture, the smell, and the sheer craziness of it and simply wanted it to be close enough to inspire us to recreate its wild, tactile effect.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what is so appealing about the skin of a crocodile. Perhaps it is our obsession with the “monster” quality of these creatures or maybe it’s the fear they illicit. Crocodile skin is all about survival – it protects the animal like full-body armour, it commands respect and it undoubtedly conveys power. 

To see where this piece of crocodile leather were located on our mood board go to blog post one on The Inspiration Behind Autumn/Winter 2015.

To see where this piece of crocodile leather were located on our mood board go to blog post one on The Inspiration Behind Autumn/Winter 2015.

Re-Writing The Woman as Warrior

Clothing often fulfills a similar function for women as the skin does for the crocodile. Sometimes it is exactly the power and sense of invincibility we require. For some battles we need to be warriors not femme fatales.

We therefore find the idea of the fierce mother of the animal kingdom, especially the fierce crocodile mother, a very appealing image to tap into. In business it is sometimes necessary to be a touch intimidating – and the ERRE woman understands this.

Recreating the Exotic

One of the most interestingly, creativity challenges we have faced so far – to turn cow leather into crocodile leather, which is more accessible. The rarity of the crocodile is one of its key characteristics and one of the main reasons why it is so popular. Farmed crocodiles are however relatively accessible but our sense of respect for these creatures would prevent us from using the actual skin.

Taking the texture as a starting point we have tried laser cutting and buttons in an attempt to replicate the texture. We have not succeeded yet, however, we continue the quest so watch this space!

Azzedine Alaïa, crocodile skin appliqué jacket, Couture Spring 2003, Monsieur Alaïa personal archives. Photography Paolo Roversi, 2013.

Azzedine Alaïa, crocodile skin appliqué jacket, Couture Spring 2003, Monsieur Alaïa personal archives. Photography Paolo Roversi, 2013.

Crocodile Through The Ages

It is easy to make clothing look lavish and luxurious using crocodile skin. For example, designers such as Azzedine Alaïa have used crocodile leather on garments to great effect. Using the natural beauty of the skin, he simply appliqued the skin to a jacket as seen above.

To us, the over usage of this exotic skin, mostly by luxury handbag retailers, has caused it to lose some of its mystique. It’s easy to create an expensive handbag using the skin. Leather is naturally luxurious and interesting. However, it is much more difficult to try and create something new.

Back view of our Crocodile jacket.

Back view of our Crocodile jacket.

The Crocodile Jacket

 The ERRE Crocodile Jacket, the finale jacket in our Autumn/Winter 15 collection, was designed and mocked-up in Illustrator. Each of the buttons, used to imitate the bumpy pattern of the crocodile skin, is hand stitched  taking one person two days to achieve.

Mimicking the shape of the actual skin, it also ends in a “tail” while the laser cut triangular shapes across the back and front of the jacket imitates its texture.

One of the benefits of recreating the skin is that we can manipulate the crocodile texture into patterns of our own design. What we love about this is the fact that when you view the jacket from far away you are reminded of crocodile, but up close you can see that the patterns, although organic, flow into a curvilinear pattern. By trying to mimic it, without using it, we are able to manipulate the leather to create something altogether new, while still retaining the powerful effect that natural crocodile leather coveys.

Influencing The Collection

This piece of crocodile leather was the inspiration behind us stretching our collective, creative minds. In trying to create the same texture out of the cheaper, less exotic cow hide, we established new ways of creating the same exoticism. Although we love this exotic skin and feel that it adds an element of danger to the collection, we would rather challenge ourselves to recreate the texture. 

The finale jacket in the Autumn/Winter 2015 runway collection shown at SA Fashion Week.

The finale jacket in the Autumn/Winter 2015 runway collection shown at SA Fashion Week.



The inspiration behind Autumn/Winter 2015: Blog Three - The Fulani Women

Inspiration through Eclecticism, Discipline through Black

The second image chosen for the Autumn/Winter 15 mood board, which will be discussed in The Mood Board Blog Series, was more evidently influential on the collection. The shape and proportion of the Fulani’s elaborate hairstyles can be seen, most notably, in the shape and cut of our sleeves.

The opening look for the a/w 2015 shows outsized sleeve proportions and a headdress made from synthetic hair. The headdresses in the collection were made by Cloche.

The opening look for the a/w 2015 shows outsized sleeve proportions and a headdress made from synthetic hair. The headdresses in the collection were made by Cloche.

Our design process finds inspiration from eclecticism – we draw upon multiple styles and ideas for aesthetic insights which we then translate in our design. The synthesis if this diversity then becomes the challenge. We overcome this by using the minimalism of black. Black is the blank canvas that serves as our discipline as we explore multiplicity.

The Strength of the Woman

The Russian Vogue model and the Fulani women both have strong facial expressions. Both are imposing and powerful. Despite the difference in time and place, they are linked by their inherent female strength. The one is steeped in European royal history, while the other is steeped in African pride.

In the previous blog series, Modern Monarchy, the headdress is separate. The Fulani women, however, use their physical bodies and hair, to accentuate the importance of the aesthetic. The one shows the importance of technology, while the other is the commitment to fashion through its connection with the wearer. 

Fulani Women: African Opulence

During our design process, we became obsessed with the shape of this headdress. The way it is tilted to the front emphasises her facial features. It creates a powerful and imposing disposition, reminiscent of the power associated with the punk culture. 

The sheer sizes, shapes and proportions, when compared to the shape of the face, is remarkable and creates an almost ethereal beauty and power (or perhaps the unusual proportions are only alien to  “western”/the “other” eyes).

To see where this Fulani woman where on our studio wall go to blog post One. Image: Afrika Museum Berg en Dal.

To see where this Fulani woman where on our studio wall go to blog post One. Image: Afrika Museum Berg en Dal.

The Fulani is one of Africa’s largest (mostly) nomadic tribes spanning over central and West Africa. The woman from the Fulani and other nomadic tribes transformed their hair into an art form, braiding it into intricate patterns that symbolise both a sense of community - the act of your hair being braided by a mother or aunt for example - and a symbol of social distinction. High-ranking women in the Fulani tribe display elaborate hairstyles that may convey religious meanings and symbolise age and authority.

Though many of us remain unsure of the cultural meanings of traditional braided hair, the significance of these elaborate hairstyles, as illustrated by the Fulani women, lies in its appeal as an object of beauty and adornment as well as retaining a sense of almost supernatural power.

The intricacy of the hair and the weave, wrapped around the wire, gives her hair a woven texture which inspired us to try and create the same visual likeness in our clothing. Like in Modern Monarchy, the power and prestige is created through the crown-like aspect of her hair. The importance for us is that it illustrates how aspects of fashion translate between cultures and settings, almost existing outside of the fashion system.

Eventually this concept translated into the shape and proportion of the sleeves, the proportion and textures of the knitwear and collars and of course in the headdresses as seen in the A/W 15 collection. 

The Fulani Headdresses inspired the proportion of the knitwear (left), and the sleeves on the coat (right).

The Fulani Headdresses inspired the proportion of the knitwear (left), and the sleeves on the coat (right).

This image in particular became central to the collection because of the woman’s arresting expression and posture. Her slight frown and gaze spoke to us of an indefinable strength that you see in women of our continent.

Drawing Parallels - Unchartered Territory

African dress has always been a major influence for the ERRE brand. We are however, very aware that this requires immense cultural sensitivity and therefore avoid literal interpretations which could undermine the cultural dynamism rather than celebrate its beauty.

In finalising the collection, we felt that this aspect of the African aesthetic still requires future exploration. We often find that we come back to ideas after more experimentation. Some concepts we have explored is knitting like braids – as seen in the shawl below– however this is a picture that will continue to feature in our collections, in the meantime we are conceptualising different techniques which will allow us to interpret them into future collections. 

ERRE Online Re-defining the retail space

Our Second Birthday

It’s our second birthday! Like any precocious two-year old, we are taking our first steps into the grown up world of online retail. ERRE Online has gone live! With fabulous 25% discount offers on selected stock until midnight.

The ERRE journey to date has been an adventure with opportunities and challenges on both the design and retail fronts. Fortunately, we have had allies like Annette Pringle-Kölsch, the The Fashion Agent and SA Fashion Week, by our side from the beginning.

Our initial launch into the retail world was reasonably effortless. Some of our staples were picked up by a variety of selected stores and boutiques in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Cape Town. However, until today, with the launch of ERRE Online, ERRE women haven’t had access to a comprehensive range of garments and many potential ERREistas simply had no access. All of that has changed now that we can offer them the latest ERRE clothing, in one place, at any time, wherever they are. Whether it is our body-flattering ERRE Curve collection for fuller sizes or our custom leather jackets.

Photo Credit: Anne-Lise van Niekerk Model: Dalitha Rosslee

Photo Credit: Anne-Lise van Niekerk Model: Dalitha Rosslee

The Online [Retail] Space

ERRE is for interesting women leading busy lives. They can’t always find the time for malls. For the ERRE woman it is both a luxury, as well as a necessity, to be able to shop online. She needs the luxury of viewing the items in the comfort of her own home, however she also is not able to carve out regular shopping hours into her schedule.

Online also gives our customers access to the most comprehensive range of ERRE merchandise whether it is from the body flattering collection, the wardrobe staples or the capsule collections as well as the iconic laser cut leather jackets, pure wool winter coats.

 Also available will be ERRE’s limited edition runway pieces as well as its distinctive range of accessories such as leather belts.

The Online Ease

The online store gives our customers the chance to view our clothing as if it were a showroom, to see all that ERRE has to offer, besides the runway looks. In line with this, ERRE Online has been conceptualized to ensure stress-free shopping at every point.  A clear size chart allows the user to establish their correct ERRE sizing, particularly for custom-made items like the leather jackets which have to be custom-tailored, whilst easy payment options, free deliveries and a returns policy, makes the process as pleasurable as paging through your favorite fashion magazine.

ERRE Fast-Forward

In the past two years, as we have gone from strength to strength: showing at South African Fashion Week, our nomination for Most Beautiful Object in South Africa, and seeing our clothing worn by women we admire.

As we have grown, our vision for our business has grown. More and more we believe in South Africa’s ability to retail in the overseas. In the next two years, we would like to see a space where ERRE is accessible, and in demand, to our overseas ERRE women. We have exciting plans which include expanding into the American, as well as the European, market. Hopefully, ERRE will soon be available in exclusive boutiques in Germany and Italy.

Since our launch two years ago, we have gained amazing exposure overseas through events such as Design Indaba, which gave us the fantastic opportunity to talk directly with foreign customers. Our online store is just another link, to put us in touch with our customers, wherever they may be.

Over the last two years, our constant challenge in design is learning how to stick to what you believe while still listening to the consumers’ needs. Sometimes it can be challenging to find creative solutions to combining these core fundamentals, but that is what makes the design process so exciting. 

The Inspiration behind Autumn/Winter 2015: Blog Two - Opulent Structure

Setting the mood

The first image chosen is always about setting the context and mood of the season as a whole.

It was this picture from the Russian Vogue, the gorgeous model and an ornate headdress are juxtaposed against a tailored white jacket. This picture conveys a sense of opulent structure, which set the tone for our Autumn/Winter 15 contemporary power mood.

The story, Russian Ornaments from Vogue Russia April 2011 features Marta Berzkalna photographed by Mariano Vivanco. It first came to our attention when we were developing the brand and has influenced our signature since. 

At The centre of our Studio wall you will see an image of a model in a Russian headdress. 

At The centre of our Studio wall you will see an image of a model in a Russian headdress. 

Rooted in Fashion History with a Modern Context

The ERRE brand has always had a rootedness in the history of fashion. How royalty has dressed throughout the ages is one of our obsessions as it is the origin of the power dressing idea. The monarchies were all about conveying their status with appearance, predominantly through clothing. We want to dress the modern monarchy – the decision makers – who need the same kind of juxtaposition of opulent structure in their clothing.

It is our design philosophy that disallows contemporary reference of fashion. For us it crosses a line between plagiarism and inspiration that makes us uncomfortable. Invariably, the visuals one consumes during the day – whether it is the clothing you see on people or while watching a film - influence you and filter into your designs.

It is never advisable to look at current fashion, and some designers refuse to look at current fashion trends at all, like Hussein Chalayan. At ERRE, however, we draw the distinction at the date. We want to know what’s out there and where the gaps in the market are, however when it comes to the design stage we want to create something new, while realizing everything new is also based on the past.

Vogue Russia April 2011, Model: Marta Berzkalna photographed by Mariano Vivanco

Vogue Russia April 2011, Model: Marta Berzkalna photographed by Mariano Vivanco

Elaborate Headdresses and Masculine Tailoring

This picture was added as a mood shot. There is an indescribable beauty about it which sets a tone of ERRE’s vision of a powerful women today.  This image places monarchy into the contemporary context. It is what we envision the ERRE women to be – the modern monarchy – the decision makers.

Whether it is the stance of model. Or the juxtapositioning of the male tailoring and the femininity of the headdress. Or possibly the indescribability of Russia itself. It is antagonistic but still beautiful. Defensive and exotic to the West. Much like Africa is. It is about trying to decipher the mysterious “other” in comparison to oneself.

The elaborate headdresses, which make the wearer appear taller and more imposing, is a symbol of power. Although, this headdress, called a “kokoshnik”, is not necessarily a symbol of royalty as women and girls wore it in the 1500’s as part of their traditional dress, from an outsider’s perspective, the rich jewels symbolize the old “other worldly” power of the Russian royalty and Tsar’s.

The  traditional Russian headdress called a “kokoshnik”. 

The  traditional Russian headdress called a “kokoshnik”. 

he other feature of picture is the tailoring of the jacket. With the rise of bankers, attorneys and businessmen that benefitted from the industrial revolution tailoring became the symbol of the successful during the 1800’s for well-to-do men in London. While new technologies led to better pressing and weaving equipment necessary to produce such sharply tailored collars.

Women would later adopt the tailored suit, for example Marlene Dietrich in the 20’s, however only in the 80’s would women adopt the male tailored suit for their everyday wardrobes. Today still, a sharply tailored collar denotes masculinity. It is part of the ERRE brands’ differentiating feature to amalgamate the masculinity of tailoring with more feminine features, as is seen in this picture.

Victorian tailoring: Robert de Montesquiou circa 1897,portrait by Giovanni Boldini 

Victorian tailoring: Robert de Montesquiou circa 1897,portrait by Giovanni Boldini 

The combination of a sense of Imperial Russian power, through the historical headdress, combined with the contemporary, masculine tailoring of the jacket creates a powerful image that captures the spirit of the modern woman we envision wearing our creations. For us the old monarchies give us cues on what power dressing entails, for us it isn’t as obvious as wearing a crown, more often than not it is in the subtlety of clothing. 

The inspiration behind: Autumn/Winter 2015

The Mood Board – A Process of Design

At ERRE, we believe in the process of design. In future blogs, we will work through our creation process from beginning to end, approaching our design process step-by-step. This blog is about creating the inspiration behind a collection.

 The initial step in our design process is the mood board. We collect images that will serve as a source of inspiration, usually, they are ideas and visuals that we obsess over and want to use to influence our designs.

 A wall in our studio is dedicated to these images. We create a visual juxtaposition or analog between the varied subject matter that we find to be inspiring. It is a key device in aiding our creative process more effectively.

 Visualization is an important part of the design process, at ERRE we prefer it on the grand scale. At any good design school the mood board is an A3 board with inspiration for your collection. At ERRE we prefer to use the whole wall rather than limit our creativity.

For us the mood board is fundamental in aligning both our strengths. It allows for a harmonious design process which balances visual research and intuitive design. The power of images is in how they constantly affect your design process. By having a mood board the different shapes and textures seep into your subconscious and become visible in the design process.

Our mood boards are up for a long time, they are constantly changing. Some pictures become less relevant while others become more and more significant as we notice the nuances.

The mood board is about inspiration as well as direction. By printing the pictures and creating a grand statement with them the difference is palpable. There is temptation to leave them in books or on the computer, however we have found that by printing them, they have a physical reality which is a powerful force in our design process. Moreover, by immersing ourselves in a concrete selection of inspirational images, small design details become more obvious, giving previously unexplored levels and ultimately more design meaning.

Not every detail necessarily is translated into an aspect of the collection, occasionally images inspire future designs. Sometimes the influence is not as obvious as the way the sleeve has been cut. Sometimes it is more in the nuance of the surface texture that we have used or the general mood of the collection.

 As we experiment and gather more textile samples, we add them to our studio wall to remind us of ideas. It, like our collection, also becomes a work in progress.