I spent yesterday afternoon at the London Textile Fair in the halls of the Royal Horticultural Society in London. Billed grandly as 'the most prestigious textile show in the United Kingdom,' the fair sees fabric mills from all over Europe and beyond set up stalls laden with samples for fabric buyers to fondle and - hopefully - buy. As a fabric lover I was very happy to accompany a friend who works in the industry.
I have called this post 'textiles tasting' as the experience reminded me of going wine tasting in my late teens. I very much enjoyed the experience, but I felt quite naughty sampling all the lovely juices of the vine as I had not the intention nor the resources to invest in a full bottle. At the textiles fair I slipped from stall to stall, asking questions about the origins of the materials, the location of the mills, giving a good tug and squeeze to many an enticing sample and picking up the odd business card, yet I knew I would not be leaving the grand halls with even one metre of fabric.
Most of the real buyers who visit the fair are from high street shops, high end fashion brands or from street level fabric shops that do sell fabric by the metre to the amateur sewer. The mills tend to have a minimum order of 100m per fabric. The fair got my textile-lust saliva flowing and this prohibition seemed quite cruel. Most of the mills don't seem to have websites, so this post is quite lacking in links.
One of the most exciting stalls was Malhia Kent, a French company whose original founder spent years collaborating with Coco Chanel. The fabrics do have a Chanel feel; they are mostly luxurious tweeds woven in inspiring colour palettes. I was particularly sucked in by the fluorescent range of tweeds, imagining the deliciously sickly coats and trousers I could make with these.
As well as being daring in their colour palette, the Malhia Kent stall had some physically wild innovations too. Here my friend - who is Parisian and conicidentally did a work experience placement at MK when she was 16 - holds up a raffia like sample. This beats my imagination - all I can picture is a hula hula skirt.
Here is another sailor-inspired raffia sample.
There was in fact a whole stall - from a mill in Portugal - with nothing but striped fabric. These fabrics were high tech, fast drying textiles intended to be used to make men's swimming shorts.
Animal prints were popular, appearing on many of the stalls. I thought the following three would make a good collection, colour-wise, though the plastic, water resistant texture of the latter two would be hard to incorporate comfortably into every day wear :
As well as fabric there was an area dedicated to the trimmings and accessories that might add that extra element of finery to a piece of clothing. My terrible phone camera (my real camera ran out of battery on the door step into the fair) cannot do the beautiful range of zips - by Italian company Zipperr - justice. There were gold ones, silver ones, irridescent ones reminiscent of oily looking beetles, white zips with teeth in Rastafarian colours, coloured zips with bronze teeth. This stand alone made me want to run a haberdashery shop. Again, minimum order requirements disqualified me from buying.
One of the finest pieces of embellishment on display was woven in metals. Not metallic thread - actual metal. This royal looking emblem was developed by weavers in India with Dolce & Gabbana as a possible back piece for a jacket. D&G didn't go ahead with the purchase so it remains a striking sample.
The agent at the stall told us that a whole village in India is dedicated to weaving emblems in metals. He had a book full of possibilities, including this page of golden crowns. I wonder about the skilled people that are making these emblems. I can't find anything about this on the internet.
I was very happy to have this insight into the world of professional fabric buying. I avidly source material from fabric shops in London. Looking at and touching fabric is a brilliant way of starting to form ideas for clothing designs. I often buy a fabric and keep it on the shelf for months, playing with ideas of what it could become before I get out the scissors. It was great to see how different mills grouped colours and patterns together. In this way, the fair felt like a gathering of hundreds of inspirational mood boards. Perhaps I could only touch and taste yesterday, but I hope I have broadened my palette and can bring this to my experience of fabric shopping on the high street.