How Do Lingerie Designers Create Their Prints?: An Interview with Fleur of England
One of the lingerie brands I've been most impressed with season after season is Fleur of England. I am constantly surprised this luxury label isn't more popular; they deserve to be in all the major flagship stores like Barney's and Bergdorf's and Harrods. Not only are their raw materials exquisite (the silk feels liquid against your skin), they also come up with 100% unique, completely in-house designed prints season after season. I know that may not sound very impressive to some of you, but it's a big deal. The average lingerie brand chooses a print from a selection... which is difficult in its own right, especially when your choices number into the dozens, but still nothing like creating your own prints wholecloth.
After this last lingerie market, I asked Fleur of England if they'd be willing to do an interview with me about the print and pattern process. I'm wanting to do more articles about lingerie manufacturing and the business behind the intimate apparel industry this year, and pieces like this are exactly what I have in mind. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did, and that it's as insightful, interesting, and educational for you as it was for me.
Cora: For the past few seasons, you've debuted some really amazing prints. And even more amazingly, all of these prints are designed in-house. Can you tell us what goes into creating a print from scratch? How long does it take? What's the inspiration? And how do you settle upon the final design?
Fleur of England: Our CEO and Designer Fleur comes up with the concept for the print. Fleur is inspired by the things she loves, such as the soft and delicate feathers of songbirds ("beautiful and floaty they transport you to a dreamy world") or the beauty and grace of flowers ("a master piece tribute to mother nature herself"). Fleur and her assistant designer, Sophie, then take photos of the organic forms (such as flowers for the concept of the 'Geisha' print), and afterwards, Sophie puts the photos into photoshop and works on colour and light, building up a story along with the print.
We have to work on a file size that is a fabric width to ensure there is an organic repeat. We also have large luxury loungewear pieces (such as pyjamas, camisoles, robes, etc.) and for those, we need to ensure that you can't see the repeat when the garments are created.
At each step of the process we print off paper copies to check colour and proportion, which are key (Sophie says, "I love it when my desk is filled with paper prints - it looks so colourful!") With these paper copies, we cut out pattern pieces in our small and large garments to make sure the scale works for both.
For example, on the cradle of the bra or the silk gusset of a brief, you have to be able to see the print and the detail. We ensure the print is the correct scale on these smaller pieces whilst still working in the bigger pieces such as the camisole and pj trousers. Many print-offs are done at this stage in the studio until we are happy with scale and colour.
Cora: That is an incredibly involved process. What next? How does the actual printing work?
Fleur of England: After all the previous steps, we then send these paper copies to the fabric printers to match to. Like a paper printer, every fabric printer prints off the artwork differently... so matching the colour back to the Pantone reference and an approved paper copy is very important. The process is the same for screen printing in Brighton. A file is created, then the proportion is checked with paper copies and colour. We then send swatches to the screen printers to match to.
Prints for the collections Songbird, Geisha, and Edinburgh were digitally printed onto silk fabric. This is a very high tech method as it allows for photographic quality on fabrics. Other methods, such as screen printing, do not allow for this high level of detail. Screen printing (which we used for Brighton) is a hand process where each screen is made up with the design. One colour of dye is applied to the screen at a time to create the print.
Often, we get the first strike-off from the printers in three slightly different colourways so that we can pick which one we are most happy with. For example, Brighton had three different tones of blue so that we could pick one. The Geisha print had different background colours. We are complete perfectionists at Fleur of England so having these variations helps us to choose the perfect colours. Furthermore, it often takes three strike-offs from the fabric printers to get the colour perfect.
Cora: That's very involved. How long does the entire thing take from start to finish?
Fleur of England: Prints take about two months to create from the first concept to approving the third strike-off. So it is quite a process. But it is completely worth it once we have the final fabric for the first samples!
Cora: And how far in advance does the print planning process start for a season? Six months? A year? More?
Fleur of England: One year.
Cora: What are the pros and cons of developing and using your own in-house prints vs. prints from a fabric supplier?
Fleur of England: Definitely exclusivity. We are a luxury brand and so we like to offer our customers the highest level of design. For them to know they can't find it anywhere else is key. If we buy a printed fabric from a supplier, we have no control over who it is sold to. Any other brand could rework the print in various colour ways and use it in any form of media.
Also, doing our own exclusive print ensures the best quality is achieved. Digital print is a very expensive and luxury method of printing ensuring the highest level of detail. We have total control of colour and quality so we can have 100% confidence that our customers will be getting the best in designer lingerie --- a bespoke silk print.
Cora: What makes you choose one print over another? And do things like trend reports factor into the decision at all?
Fleur of England: It has to fit in with the mood of the season, the story our designer Fleur is trying to tell whether it is heritage, romance, or sensuality. Every season has a story to tell. And Fleur never looks at trend reports; she just has a really good vision for colours and seasonality.
Cora: In America, fabric prints, unlike garments, can be trademarked. Have you ever run into any trademark or intellectual property issues with other companies stealing your prints?
Fleur of England: Luckily enough, so far no!
Cora: Good! Last question: can you offer any sneak peeks or design inspirations for future Fleur of England prints?
Fleur of England: We may have an exclusive House of Fleur plaid... but in what colour must remain a secret. I have always wanted to include a plaid print. My father is Scottish and has been hinting for years that I should use the Turner tartan for one of my collections. So we developed the Fleur of England tartan, exclusive to the house of Fleur of England. It will come out in August and all will be revealed!