The fashion world is renowned for its colourful personalities, experimental designs and playful exploration of new materials. There are many talented designers pushing the limits by creating inspiring avant-garde catwalk creations.
This goes to show that for many fashion designers, from the big-name icons of haute couture to the latest influx of design graduates, fashion represents more than just ‘wearable’ clothes: it’s about art, structure, expression and personality. To stand out on the catwalk, collections need to be big, bold, elaborate and adventurous, showing the audience a concept that is new and exciting.
Who better to demonstrate than British style icon, Dame Vivienne Westwood? From kinky bondage gear, spiked dog-collars, pirates and 70's punk, through to using her fashion designs to comment on international politics, Westwood is known for taking inspiration from other walks of life and imagining them in her designs. In 2012 she even proved that innovation isn’t always futuristic when she launched her incredible collection inspired by the 17th Century.

Trends in fashion: what’s next
So what is the secret to staying ahead of the curve in fashion? As well as colours and ‘themes’, the other major variable in clothing design is the choice of the material itself. Now that everything from toilet paper, balloons and even phonebooks have been used to create tomorrow’s designs, it could well be time for yet another unexpected material to step into the spotlight – foam.
Foam has become a popular material among fashion designers in recent years, simply because of its versatile nature, strong but flexible structure, and ability to add instant volume to a garment. From the incredibly innovative to the delightfully bizarre, foam has been used in a range of creative catwalk collections.

A design that is never the same twice
Designer Nadine Goepfert used foam as the basis of her 2013 collection. To convey the concept of capturing moments in naturally changing objects, she used memory foam to create a pink jacket and cream-coloured skirt that changed their forms, textures and colours each time they were worn.
The foam gradually moulded to reflect the traces and movements of the model, creating a design that was never the same twice. Goepfert used the foam to: “investigate the daily usage of apparel and the associated movements of the person wearing it.”
What other material could have helped her realise her concept?

Rethinking and reinventing structures
Foam allows fashion designers to go beyond the traditional methods of making garments, and experiment with new ways of holding the piece together. Croatian designer Matija Čop took this so far as to completely challenge the idea of a ‘finished product’.
In her 2013 collection, Čop used interlocking foam pieces to create her designs, using ‘tabs and slots’ that could be moved in order to then rebuild the garment to the wearer’s body shape and preference – much like the domes, arches and vaults of Gothic architecture, from which her work took its inspiration.
The flexible nature of the foam meant that the outfit could also be worn inside-out in order to highlight the irregular surfaces of the foam pieces, depending on the look the wearer wanted to achieve.

Expanding opportunities
Foam also allows designers to add volume to garments, without needing to use frames and stuffing, which can be heavy and awkward. As well as being easier in terms of production, this adds cleaner lines and shapes to the finished product, and allows designers to be more adventurous with their designs.
Designer Valeska Jasso Collado used a combination of foam, metal and latex to create her graduate collection for this very reason. She was inspired by the bold, geometric shapes of the 1980's Milan furniture movement, led by Ettore Sottsass.
Jasso Collado used foam as the base material to add volume, and then added coloured latex to help her create the textures, colours and shapes that she envisaged. Pieces of speckled foam were then attached to the garments using metal screws and washers.

Creating a range of effects
Duncan Geddes, Joint Managing Director of Technical Foam Services, explains what makes foam such an ideal material to work with, “Foam is perfect for fashion designers because its malleable nature lets it adapt to the contours of the wearer. So if a designer is working on a bespoke piece, they’ll find it more enjoyable to work with. It can be shaped in a multitude of ways without losing its structural integrity or impairing its look and feel. The sheer variety of textures and densities available also gives designers more freedom and possibilities to explore. It really is an incredibly versatile material.”
For designers, this means their pieces could use foam in ways without risking it looking the same as another piece, or another designers work – individuality is guaranteed.
The delightfully eccentric and innovative Japanese fashion label Commes des Garcons, highlighted this at Paris Fashion Week in Spring 2012, in their collection of bridal-inspired fashions. Each piece used white insulating foam to add volume, texture and depth to the design, though each look was completely unique.
On one piece, the foam was gathered into wave-like plumes around the model’s head; on another, it covered their face in small, solid-looking foam bubbles; and for one design, it was fashioned into ruffles to form a skirt. The foam added another layer of complexity to the nets and silks of the designs, allowing the designer to create a truly intriguing collection.

Blending fashion, art and performance
Foam helps push and break the boundaries of fashion, taking it beyond the realm of pure wearability and blending it with ideas of art and performance.
Experimental Canadian designer Adrian Wu – one of the youngest to present at Toronto Fashion Week – is well known for his three-dimensional polyurethane foam dresses, which are block colours such as gold, red, black and silver.
Though the bulging shapes and ruffled textures of Wu’s foam dresses have divided opinions among fashion experts, his use of the material is certainly innovative and attention-grabbing, and has allowed him to make structure and form a key aspect of his collections.

An ethical alternative to traditional fashion materials
Aside from the aesthetic and functional benefits, the biggest upside of using foam is that it’s a completely animal-friendly material i.e. free from fur, leather and other animal products. Polystyrene, polyurethane and other types of foam are fully synthetic, meaning that they can technically be classed as ‘vegan’.
Now more than ever, most consumers (and celebrity endorsers) are demanding cruelty-free fashions, and using foam is an ideal way to present an ethical image while innovating and experimenting on the catwalk. As we know, trends are constantly changing and the direction is already set for next year.
According to Vogue, Audacity is the watchword for the new season. With designers competing to move on from last summer’s minimalism, fashionistas can expect to be treated to a shot of colour alongside oversized streetwear and ‘puffy volume’.
When it comes to material choice, it looks like foam is set to be another firm favourite to create explosive silhouettes and impactful designs that will stand out on the catwalk in 2017.

*Guest Post*