Under the name “Mini Fashion,” automobile manufacturer Mini has together with The Woolmark Company launched a Capsule Collection called “Field Notes.” It was presented at the Pitti Uomo men’s fashion fair in Florence in early June. Sabine Ringel, Creative Lead at Mini Fashion, comments: “Mini sees itself clearly as a trendsetter. Fashion designers have always been inspired by the marque. Take Mary Quant, for instance, who invented the miniskirt. According to reports she named her masterpiece after her favorite car. A Mini is more than an automobile. Mini drivers make a statement, express an attitude to life, similarly to the way people do with their clothes. As such, the focus on fashion is almost a natural extension of our product range.” Seen in this light, the cooperation with The Woolmark Company seems almost self-evident, whose DNA has always been firmly characterized by an interdisciplinary and trailblazing approach to work. On the basis of respect for animals, the environment and people and an excellent global network across the entire textile value chain, the company consistently advances the possibilities of processing and using Merino wool.
One expression of this ambition is the renowned and well-endowed “International Woolmark Prize” promoting talented young fashion designers. For the Capsule Collection, presented at the Pitti, four aspiring international designers were likewise selected and asked to revisit the traditional material Merino wool. The initiators gave them entirely free rein – except for a single stipulation, namely to reflect on personal travel memories and give expression to them in their designs. “Travel is of course not so much about crossing physical borders, moving from A to B, but about personal experiences and the blurring of borders between feelings, cultures, perspectives,” says Sabine Ringel. With each of their contributions to the collection the four collaborating designers (namely Liam Hodges from the UK, Rike Feurstein from Germany, Staffonly from China and PH5 from the USA) demonstrate how heterogeneous creative output can be if given the freedom for individual interpretation. And that even when the starting points – travel and the use of Merino wool – are identical.
Liam Hodges was in New York when the project started and given that his conceptual focus clearly takes its cue from urban subcultures such as hip hop, skaterwear and streetwear as well as postpunk, it almost seems natural that he pays tribute to the Big Apple in his designs. “From my first visit to New York City (I went there as a child with my parents) I knew only Manhattan. So now, visiting a second time, I definitely wanted to explore Brooklyn and the other surrounding districts. And although everything was new and exciting, I had the feeling I had been there before. Like a déjà-vu. It was almost spooky.” Analogously, a hodgepodge of heterogeneous reminiscences using denim and wool patchwork or elements borrowed from DIY marks his contribution to the Capsule Collection. He links the classic and modern look in an exceptionally harmonious manner. Such as with a wool travel pouch in traditional Prince-of-Wales check, which he has given a waterproof coating with the aid of new technologies. Using wool proved to be a challenge for him: “Previously I had only used wool for classic items like pants and sweaters. Now my collection features a long-sleeve wool sweater, for instance, that we printed with a collage of memories of New York. To be honest I didn’t even know if it would work at all.”
Border-crossing is likewise inherent in the work of Berlin-based designer Rike Feurstein. She combines traditional natural materials with an avant-garde formal language, makes use of surprising color combinations and integrates seemingly surreal elements. For her, travel signifies a never-ending source of inspiration, constantly feeding into the subconscious: “We take in so many impressions that it’s impossible to process them all at once and certain images may not come back to us until later – colors, shapes or structures. But I am convinced that I save all of these fragments somewhere and they reappear in my creative work sooner or later."
For Mini X Woolmark, the fashion designer traveled to Saint Petersburg and visited the reconstructed Amber Room in the Catherine Palace in Pushkin: “I was absolutely fascinated by the range of colors this magnificent room offers. I was likewise inspired by the fusion of the city’s aristocratic past with the progressive language of the Revolution, which leads to an almost futuristic modernity in present-day Russia. So I developed three different headwear designs that reference the pre- and post-historical stylistic elements and the characteristic decorative colors of the Amber Room.” The first model in a fine amber tone is based on a Lenin cap, made seamlessly entirely from wool. The second creation is derived from the bowler hat as worn by Charlie Chaplin. “I designed the shape to be organic and fluid, and my bowler hat is not black, but claret. As though the Revolution were slowly seeping into the model,” Feurstein explains. Her third and final design, a remake of a baseball cap in emerald green, provides the link to present-day, forward-looking Russia.
The Chinese designer duo Staffonly showed a collection in Florence that is compact and complex in equal measure and impressively fits the bill in terms of functionality in combination with aesthetics. During their studies in London, Shimo Zhou and Une Yea spent a lot of time in Greenwich Park, whose lush grass green became the signature color of their designs. “It is virtually impossible to forget this magical place,” they say. “The smell of freshly cut grass, the taste of tea and biscuits, the people’s relaxed attitude – you just want to stay there forever…” For a trench coat that can be fastened either with buttons or a zipper they combined their beloved green with blue and white stripes, conjuring up associations with the typical Mini racing stripes. These in turn reappear in the decorative seams of matching jeans. A light-blue shirt inspired by utility wear with large appliqued breast pockets completes the well-conceived and harmonious look. The highlight is an accessory – a multifunctional travel bag that can be turned into a garment bag and provides room for all the essentials for a spontaneous short trip.
The fourth and last contribution to the Capsule Collection is the work of PH5 from the USA, who are known for innovative knitted collections – after all Wei Lin, one of the two designers, comes from a knitting dynasty. As such, she virtually inherited expertise in working with yarns, and this is impressively demonstrated in the pieces for Mini and Woolmark. Lin and her partner Mija Zhangin questioned the established use of Merino for classic winter wear and made use of an innovative technique to process the material into sensually lightweight summer clothing, in keeping with the lively flair of their chosen travel destination – Miami Beach, or to be more precise, its Art Deco district. Zhangin recalls: “The first time I saw these breathtaking buildings I had a very special, almost peculiar feeling, a great excitement that at the same time seemed gentle and calming. Art Deco is an incredibly influential design movement for me. It’s not just the unique processing and formation of structures and textures; I’ve also always been inspired by the colors and patterns.” It is precisely these aspects that characterize the pillars of PH5’s contribution. A particular eye-catcher is a sleeveless jumpsuit that, similarly to Staffonly, references the iconic Mini stripes. It is complemented by a delicate sweater with a stand-up collar in a contrasting color and integrated Mini and PH5 logos. The edition is completed by a hand-crocheted scarf in the Miami-Beach ice-cream colors yellow, light blue and lilac that takes up the significant Art Deco ornamentation and also can be used as a blanket – wholly in keeping with the modern traveler’s needs. The limited-edition collection “Mini Fashion – Field Notes” is from fall exclusively available via the online portal Highsnobiety.com.