Paper catwalk

Karl Lagerfeld demonstrated his love of paper in his latest Chanel Haute Couture collection, with 7000 handmade paper flowers adorning the show. But paper plays a part in many fashion houses, says Anna Richardson, in the form of the seasonal look book

Fashion is a fickle thing. But in most fashion houses, when it comes to communicating the brand season after season, nothing is left to chance. Attention to detail is an oft-remarked obsession in fashion’s creative minds, and one of the key products is the look book, with print and paper offering endless possibilities to reflect brand values.

Graphic designer Russell Warren-Fisher, who has worked with Orla Kiely for the past three years, says, ‘A look book is the face of a [fashion] company at that particular moment in time. If a particular collection is to succeed, the look book has to have all the visual codes of what the company has to offer.’ David Hitner, partner at consultancy Small, who designed the latest Margaret Howell book, agrees that it is ‘one of main items of communication that expresses directly to the customer the vision for the season’.

This year’s Orla Kiely spring/summer 2009 collection is accompanied by a hard-cover, belly-bound book, which features a distinctive Orla Kiely print on the cover. Even though practicality plays a large part in determining the format of a look book, with budget considerations dictating size for example, every material and process is carefully considered. Produced in Italy, the Orla Kiely book uses Zanders Efalin paper board to convey the idea of fabric, while the belly-band is handmade and hand-applied. ‘The production values are crucial. While the collection itself is very dynamic, it has to be embodied within something that also looks very good,’ says Warren-Fisher.

The current format is much more conventional than previous look books, he adds. ‘In the past I have experimented with opaque, white overprinting, white-on-white foil blocking, contrasts between gloss and matt finishes, and off-line varnishes. The level of inventiveness and attention to detail within the design and production underlines the core values of the brand.’ This season’s look ‘is less playful, but it’s a mature approach’, says Warren-Fisher. ‘We’re considering keeping that format to produce a series of collectable books.’

Collectability is also a factor in the look books of Alexander McQueen, which reflect his colourful creativity with every season. Recent examples include a hot fluorescent pink, blind-embossed cover, a flashy mirror board and a gilt-edged, luxuriant burgundy. Charlie Thomas, senior art director at McQueen parent company Gucci Group, says, ‘As much as the clothes are desirable, you want the look book to have an aspect of collectability. I once saw a “genuine” Alexander McQueen look book on Ebay.’ He adds that it’s important to keep some consistency with so many different elements to the brand, and ‘of course the quality and production values of the graphic communications have to reflect the standards of the actual product’.

Where Alexander McQueen is all about dramatic flamboyance, British designer Margaret Howell is more about the understated. The SS09 book uses different paper stocks to differentiate between the cover, the fashion show photographs and the accessories, which are printed on a smaller booklet bound into the centre. The cover, printed black on to a self-coloured stock, reflects the show invitation, which in turn takes a design element from the collection.

‘Margaret Howell doesn’t look to reinvent its look each season or overtly follow the current trends,’ explains Small’s Hitner. ‘It focuses on classic clothing with emphasis on the quality of fabric, the cut and the production. We communicate these values through the materials we select and the format of the books.’

US designer Tim Hamilton, who has brought out his first look book this year, echoes this attitude to quality. ‘[A look book should] capture the moment of the season and get people to look at it. So the quality and art direction should be at the highest level available,’ he says. His offering is tabloid-sized, using raised silver-foil stamp printing and pound-stock, newspaper-weight paper. It features both colour and black-and-white imagery, with location and studio shots. Even for a newcomer, touches such as black saddle-stitching speak of great attention to detail.

With many companies feeling the economic pinch this year, it might be tempting to compromise on these design elements, yet the humble look book should remain a staple of fashion houses. As Hitner says: ‘In some ways, it is even more important in the current climate for them to clearly communicate their visions.’

London Fashion Week runs from 20-25 February

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