In the past few years London has remerged as one of the most creative style capitals in the world thanks to a group of talented designers that are testing the boundaries of fashion.
But before the likes of Simone Rocha and J.W Anderson appeared on the scene, it was digital printers Christopher de Vos and Peter Pilotto that paved the way for the next generation to come to the fore.
Although the duo launched their label in 2007, in just a few short years they have become one of Britain’s most successful brands. Their pioneering designs, which combine complicated prints and textiles on draped silhouettes, are a favourite with editors and style icons including Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba and Sienna Miller. Celebrity fans aside, they have also garnered numerous industry accolades including the Swarovski Emerging Talent award, the Fashion Forward prize and most recently, this year’s BFC/VOGUE fashion fund.
“We are part of this movement in fashion that is giving opportunities to new generations and we are very proud of that. The industry is experiencing a surge in creativity that we haven’t seen since the 1980s and London is defining that. The city supports young talent and it has the right mix of amazing stores, designers and artists. Its hard not to draw inspiration from that,” says De Vos.
Although the brand’s identity is deeply rooted in London, the designers themselves come from an international background. Pilotto is half Austrian, half Italian, while half Belgian, half Peruvain De Vos grew up bouncing between continents like the Middle East and South America. They met in 2000 while they were both students at Antwerp’s Academy of Fine Arts which boasts famous alumni such as Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela.
“My parents had a fashion store in Austria so I grew up surrounded by the designs of the Antwerp six. I always knew about the Royal Academy since I was young, so I knew I would eventually go there for school,” says Pilotto.
“While at school we were always fascinated by each other’s work. I had a more 3D approach, where as Peter had a 2D graphic approach,” explains De Vos.
Upon graduating Pilotto set up his own label in Belgium, before Des Vos joined him a year later. The duo then decided to move to London, where they started to develop a collection together based on their love for prints.
“It was always about our fascination for colour. The best way to express this was through digital prints, which was something very new at the time,” explains Pilotto.
Right from the outset their collections caught the attention of editors thanks to their mind-blowing prints which range from artistic to fantastical. One season stripes were derived from digital manipulations of photos of fur and reptile skin while smoky watercolours evoked romance. Another time they took classic jacquard and zoomed in so close that you could see the fabric’s individual fibres. To take the prints to the next level, they used them as decoration on modern, well-tailored separates such as draped dresses and molded jackets.
“Every artwork we create is engineered for the body. It is very considered where the colours are placed. Many people who don’t wear prints usually find ours flattering to the figure,” says de Vos.
“Our designs start off as a collage on the body. It’s never just a flat textile design and everything is done to scale. Then we decide afterwards whether it becomes a print or an embroidery. Sometimes we sketch [the prints] by hand but technology has become a great tool. We can take a picture and manipulate it through the computer,” says Pilotto.
Initially the duo split up the work accordingly – De Vos worked on silhouettes while Peter developed the prints – but this has changed over time as the collections grew.
“Now we have constant dialogue between us. We speak about what we want to do next, research accordingly and depending on topics, see who does what.
“It was important in the beginning to have our roles defined in that way especially for the teams but we like to change the formula to keep it exciting. We agree about important things but argue over silly things,” jokes Pilotto.
Spring/Summer 2015 also sees the designers move forward with a fresh new look as they move away from the prints they have become known for. Inspired by the 1970s and the Summer of Love, the collection is all about layered textures ranging from tinsel, floral sequins and crystals to 3D florals and macramé. Coats are covered in stained glass window panelling while geometric pieces of perspex cover A-Line minidresses and plastic thread is woven into lace for a futuristic twist. Colours meanwhile cover every shade of the rainbow, often together in one piece.
“When we first started in 2008 it was such a big moment and what we were doing was so innovative. But at the same time we started to get pigeonholed as just printers. What we wanted to do was elevate the craft beyond the print, and find our own special effects achieved by using unusual techniques such as laser cut bonding and yet also very classical ones. By layering those techniques we found a different kind of balance,” says Pilotto.
To offset their heavily embellished looks, the collection brings the shapes into focus with more wearable pieces.
“The dress is always the core for us. In the collection we feel we are doing more and more separates, skirts and tops, and diversifying into jackets and knitwear. People are really embracing the new from the brand especially the knits. People are eager for staples but also looking for innovation,” says De Vos.