GARMENT DYING EXPLAINED BY PAUL HARVEY
A process tied to the history and success of C.P. Company, garment dying was popularised by the Italian icon Massimo Osti as he pushed the boundaries of fabric technology in the 1980s. Today, garment dying innovators face their own challenges as they look to push things further, with processes that are increasingly complex.
To discuss garment dying, we sat down with C.P. Company‘s Creative Director Paul Harvey to learn more about the challenges facing garment dyers, and how this process still remains central to the DNA of C.P. Company.
Any discussion about garment dying must being with an explanation of the process itself: in simple terms, garment dying is the method of dying the whole, complete garment after construction. This contrasts with the more commonplace method of piece dying, where lengths of fabric are dyed and the resulting fabric is then used to create a garment.
Garment dying has many plus points, the first being flexibility. “If you piece dying”, says Paul, “they usually want 500 meters at least per colour, whereas if you’re garment dying you just buy it white.” The pre-dyed versions of the garments look lifeless and innate, like stripped skeletons. Garment dying adds flesh to these bones, as colour brings the garments to life.
“We used a lot of colour [for SS14]”, says Paul, “which is something we can do because we’re garment dying so much stuff. We can do the colours at very last minute, which is very nice, and you can have a big colour card.” This flexibility is partly thanks to the fact that garment dying technology has now become standardised and miniaturised – “they have little machines, almost like home washing machines”, Paul adds.
The comparison to a household washing machine might make the process sound simpler than it actually is. Before a garment can be dyed there are numerous factors for a designer to consider. Shrinkage is one such consideration. The dying process causes most fabrics shrink and when a fully-formed jacket is constructed from a number of different fabrics, which all shrink at different rates, the designer’s troubles are doubled.
Yet, as well as being a problem the different characteristics of each fabric play into the designer’s hands. Paul explains that by selecting different types of dye he can target different fabrics. “There are metallic dyes or acid dyes”, he explains, and by selecting a specific type of dye “you can dye the whole family of cottons – which is cotton, linen and viscose – one colour and the nylon another colour”.
This new linen version of the signature Google Jacket for SS14, for example, has been overdyed in two colours. You can see the un-dyed version above and the finished dyed version below. “In this case”, says Paul, “the linen has been dyed grey and the nylon has been dyed orange”.
But these are just the basics; Garment dying has moved on a long way since the pioneering days of Massimo Osti, who is credited with popularising the process in the 1980s.
“He was doing jackets, garment dyed jackets, which nobody else was doing”, says Paul. “Now we’ve got people like Boglioli; they’re specialists in it, all they do is jackets. Their whole manufacturing process is based on that and so they can be much better, or at least the same but at a much better price.”
Garment dying may have lost that new and novel edge, but the task for C.P. Company, as Paul sees it, is to push the envelope further and continue the pioneering approach taken by Osti. “We have to do more difficulty things”, he says. “If you don’t want to be innovative then you don’t want to have anything to do with this company.”
During his time as Creative Director, Paul has been keen to test the limits of the process. “We did a series of down-lined Shetland jackets that were garment dyed”, he says. “That’s really difficult. You might think that it’s just a jacket but it’s so difficult to do, to get it right so that they fit, so they don’t lose feathers. It’s really complicated.”
“The cutting edge of garment dying is now in polyester”, he continues. “Polyester is incredibly difficult, because you have to dye it at 140 degrees. Obviously, water boils at 100 degrees so you have to put it in a pressure cooker… 100 degrees is fatal for almost everything and at that temperature things start going seriously wrong. You have to know what you’re doing to get round that, which is something we have the experience to do.”
“We get it wrong as well”, Paul admits. He goes on to emphasise the importance of these missteps in the creative process; they can even lead to happy accidents. Take the moltoprene jackets from this season, for example. The cracked appearance of the fabric was arrived at by accident and discovered as an unintended by-product of the garment dying, as Paul explains.
“All this crinkliness is down to the shrinking”, he says. The garment is constructed from a moltoprene outer layer (moloprene is a denser form of neoprene used for its bulky appearance and great insulating quality) with nylon mesh bonded onto the inside. “Because it’s bonded together, it shrinks and leaves creases compensating for the difference between the two lengths”.
Using moltoprene was an idea that Paul and his co-Creative Director Alessandro Pungetti had a very early stage when they were designing the AW13 collection, but it wasn’t until they garment dyed the prototype jackets that they discovered this unique crinkling effect. Liking what they say, they went on to use the finish as a main feature of the collection.
In this manner, garment dying still remains central to the work of C.P. Company. For SS14 Paul and Alessandro have designed a huge range of innovative garment dyed pieces which are now entering production. There are simple anorak-style jackets with subtle geometric prints, super-light nylons and jersey bomber jackets all to look forward to next year.
As Creative Director, Paul Harvey has a very clear conception of what C.P. Company is. “We are like a very sophisticated sportswear brand”, he says, “and we have to stay in that. We’re not a jeans line; we don’t do ruined pieces with holes and stonewash.” He knows that what C.P. Company do is garment dying, and they do it exceptionally well.