In this article, I will share with you the magic ingredients that make a print a bestseller. It’s a constant challenge for brands to keep brand handwriting strong, on-trend, and yet commercial. I talk about why letting history be your muse is a failsafe way to elevate brand success.
Working in print and antique textiles since 1995, I’ve seen many trends come and go. I've studied hundreds of thousands of prints from ancient to antique, vintage, and contemporary all over the world. I’ve worked with hundreds of brands to find the new and next move on from the big successes (daunting!). My print algorithms are pretty up there when it comes to spotting future print stars. Never has this been more important to share, now that garments have to work so hard in the current climate of environmental, economical, and consumer pressures.
The common denominators for commercial yet timeless print are much the same, whether it's a simple ditsy or a hero conversational. Our studio is blessed with an incredibly curated archive that, for our clients, has never been so relevant. But why are vintage and antique swatches so valuable for our clients' collections now more than ever?
I need to explain the subtle distinction between 'timeless' and 'classic,' often used interchangeably. Classic designs refer to iconic prints such as tartan, houndstooth, and animal prints, for example, that get refreshed constantly. The earliest houndstooth was found on a garment dated 300BC (Read article). Whereas timeless designs are those that have enduring appeal, that never date, and will still look beautiful in ten or one hundred years' time.
When I am sourcing new antique prints or curating new artwork collections, there are designs that I just know will be best sellers, that clients will snap up, and have been the designs that are loaned out again and again over the last decade. But why? What's the secret ingredient to these designs, and why are they so sought after? How can we learn from these designs that have lasting appeal season after season? This is how future vintage is born, created now, ready for the archives of the future.
The Key to Creating Timeless Classics
Firstly comes the quality of the motif. Antique prints were once hand-painted by industry artists who were highly trained. There was no photoshop to tidy up; it had to be stunning the first time. I was trained to stretch paper and draw the perfect square (harder than it sounds!), and hand-paint a design with gouache that repeated perfectly.
There was something very slow, methodical, and meditative about taking time to create something perfect; it couldn't be rushed. I really feel this when I look at some of the most intricate hand-painted paisleys and florals that would have taken days, good eyesight, and a single-haired brush to complete! Designs would have been drawn from a still life of fresh flowers in front of the designer. There was no google for images, just the library and real life. This direct translation from nature to paper to cloth is really magical. Seeing the interpretation come to life through the designer's hand is so unique.
With vintage textile designs, lines are fluid, soft, and irregular; there's a soul value to seeing the hand of an artist from the last century that's created something that's as fresh and new today as it was 100 years ago. I love seeing the brush go over the lines in places and the little pencil notes on the side of the artworks, thought in the process from 1800 is intriguing, a window into the designer's mind. These little irregularities soften a design and give it more of a handmade quality and appeal.
Another great asset of antique artwork is the fresh take on color. Looking at textiles and wallpapers that had their successful commercial roots in decades long gone offers a totally new perspective. What was important in the zeitgeist of another era was captured in the fabric of life. Looking at thousands of these designs in the archive is like being a child in a sweet shop. Combinations of dreamy color that pop and fizz off the paper. Incorporating newness with color can add so much value to a garment. If it can't be pigeon-holed to a trend or season, then it will stand apart from the competition.
Lastly, layout. Those designs that sometimes look effortlessly simple are actually a work of art and mathematics. Even fluid florals have some serious thought and planning behind them. As an example, let's take an organic chunky geo from 1930, sometimes when it comes to recreating it digitally, I am amazed at the mathematical genius behind it. I will have 20 photoshop guidelines following the seemingly effortless repeat. This is a testament to the master craft of print design. How many designers today can afford the time to create something of such quality when the pace of fashion is exhausting, and deadlines loom.
The Future of Print Design
Our archive informs everything we work on, our projects, our clients, and even our work ethic is infused by this omnipresent creative force. There is something vital in being immersed in timeless design that can create a platform for designing future classics that have to stand out in the marketplace and be relevant for a whole lifetime like the vintage market before them.
Print has to work harder in the industry; fashion is more circular and less throwaway, the Pre-Owned market is in competition with the high street, set to double by 2027 (thredUP 2023 resale report). I've seen a big shift in the industry since 2020. Our clients are choosing more wisely, and we have a closer working, more project-style service. A kind of in-house but out-house studio for brands that have had to make staff cuts. Our clients find the infusion of heritage adds instant value to their brand.
I would say we are a considered studio; we slow down, take time to produce designs that will be relevant in fifty years' time. We span antique inspiration, use traditional hand-painted techniques along with cutting-edge innovation like generative AI. Whatever we create or curate, it’s for the long run. I really hope sharing this article informs your broader design decisions, and you join us on the journey to a better fashion future.