Kaffe Fassett: Patchwork Revival

By Jo Phillips

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This month, Cent magazine celebrates the bohemian spirit. With A/W  we look into the runways and it sure seems like bohemian patchwork has made its comeback. However, as Emma Hill  meets the genius textile artist Kaffe Fassett, he states its significance never left for him. 

I am standing on the top floor of a North London brownstone with textiles artist, Kaffe Fassett and his business partner and collaborator, Brandon Mably. We are in his studio. It is lined with shelves stacked with fabrics, folded and set into colour themes.

We are looking at a design for a patchwork quilt where multi-coloured pieces of fabric have been pinned, to create the beginnings of a rather beautiful design. It drops from ceiling to floor and is work in progress for one of his new quilt kits, which are much sought after by his devoted followers.

A few weeks later and it is New York Fashion week. I note a report by The Times fashion director, Anna Murphy, ‘Patchwork […] widespread. Had the designers taken up quilting […]?’ she said. It appears that patchwork is an emerging theme.

Tommy Hilfiger, his runway-as-Caribbean-island-retreat adding to the show’s colourfully laid-back lilt, showed a ribbon patchwork maxi-dress. Diane von Furstenberg had re-tuned her iconic wrap dress and a sublime maxi dress with patchwork. They join the bohemian, crafts vibe that also lies at the heart of Kaffe Fassett’s work.

Victoria Beckham placed square blocks of colour on garments in a way that hinted patchwork. Less boho and more ordered; more de Stijl or Mondrian in its abstraction – though she wanted this to be seen as more carefree than previous collections (notice how squares are printed with images of Californian surfer dudes).

For A/W 2015 there were big hints too: a patchwork skirt in printed velvets that harped back to the late 70s, so too a patchwork shearling cape and a layered dress-come-tunic. Etro and Valentino also showed patchworking – at Etro earth tones slotted together in coats, jackets and trousers.

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Patchwork has bubbled around amongst the more conceptual designers for a while. Jean Touitou of A.P.C., in a collaboration with Jessica Ogden, has been producing quilts made from surplus fabric and off cuts from a season, for seasons. To date, there have been ten rounds of limited edition quilts – objects that bring to mind both Aztec and Mondrian aesthetics.

The technique has woven its way into Fassett’s design for the packaging of his first beauty collection, Kaffe Fassett Achillea, a collaboration with British beauty company, Heathcote & Ivory. The original art work for its packaging is a fabric collage of flowers set against his iconic Paperweight design for a 2011 fabric collection. To make the piece he used ‘fussy cutting’, a technique used in patchwork where as Fassett explains: ‘you are cutting an actual bloom out of the fabric and then ironing it down onto a surface with Wonder Web’. The result is a joyous almost Pop design that’s pure Kaffe Fassett.

Fassett has commented on how from time to time, as he continues with his work, the tastemakers bring his craft back into the fashion frame. Last year his retrospective show at the American Museum in Bath was well received – Suzy Menkes called him ‘king of colour’ in a review for the New York Times. And in terms of patchwork (tapestry and knit are also integral to his practice) the evidence is right there, fresh from the runway.

The design for Kaffe Fassett Achillea used the patchwork technique, ‘fussy cutting’ to bring emphasis to a flower.

Emma Hill on twitter and Instagram.

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Photographer: Jason Yates
Digital Tech: Rocio Chacon