Fashion Design / Making the News... Into Clothes

British fashion designer John Galliano has already proved that the fashion world can make headlines beyond its usual territory. The publication of Galliano's anti-Semitic outburst in Paris bar last year led to his being dismissed from his leadership of two fashion houses, Dior and his own name brand. Even before that, when he designed a homeless-inspired haute couture collection for Dior in spring 2000 - his attempt to put a glowing and enticing aesthetic face on poverty - he drew sharp public criticism. That episode ended quickly, with a public apology from Galliano.

So, clothes can create headlines. But what about the opposite case? Can newspaper headlines create clothes?

Fashion and accessories collection designed by students of the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design from old Haaretz newspapers deals with that very question. The fourth-year students have created a wardrobe rich in newsprint pages, including fancy evening gowns, jeans and T-shirt combinations, jackets, coats, and complementary accessories such as shoes and jewelry. There's even underwear. The results will be on display tomorrow, until March 14, at Tel Aviv's G complex.

The products are amazingly realistic. A pair of jeans, for example, looks as if it were cut from thick denim. Similarly, a blue jacket looks like the real thing, a gold-colored vest features what looks like detailed stitching, and delicate pieces of "lace" on lingerie items turn out on closer inspection to be thin, curled strips of paper.

A long trench coat, by the student duo of Dafna Philosoph and Rotem Mitz, was fashioned in the style of Burberry. The students copied the trademark checked pattern of the British fashion house by arranging rectangular strips of paper they had cut out from the newspaper's opinion pages. Some were dipped in tea to create the right hue. This is without a doubt one of the outstanding pieces of the collection.

However, some questions remain: Is it really possible to make clothes out of newspaper? And is it necessary?

It may be a logical combination, as journalism and fashion have more than one thing in common. Both, for example, are part of our daily routine, and - since clothes use fabric as a visual language, and designers communicate via changes in hemlines, style and color - both are chock-full of information. Also, both fields are ephemeral. As part of the content that they carry, newspapers can contain articles about fashion, advertisements and attractive color photographs. At its best, fashion can reflect events and current political and social processes, even if they are only hinted at.

Exciting innovation

The broader collection created by the Shenkar students continues a 150-year-old tradition. In the collection of the Costumes Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a dress that incorporates strips of newspaper. Some of the articles and advertisements used in the dress date to 1873. It is made of cotton, interwoven with newspaper clippings glued to a broad skirt, which is designed in a bell shape. The dress's designer and the inspiration for its design are both unknown, but the headline "Subscribe to the Echo" that appears in an article on it suggests that it was made in order to publicize an American weekly. Novelist Ardern Holt described the dress in great detail, as well as several other ornate ball gowns, in the book "Fancy Dresses Described: Or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls," which was published in 1879. The dress is comprised of a corset and a broad skirt decorated with illustrations from newspapers, "alongside portraits and the names of newspapers that were sewn here and there."

At the end of the 19th century, newspaper prints on fabric were an exciting innovation, an amusing and clever technique. In April of 1902, at a costume ball in Kansas, a news reporter named Minny Biglin showed up in a muslin dress and a hat imprinted with newspaper prints. The costume won Biglin five awards in a single night. Today, more than a century later, could a fancy ball gown made of paper create such a stir?

A hundred years on, the Shenkar students present a variety of projects. Among them is a black suit by Eliran Nargassi and Rotem Allon, interwoven with advertisements for a company that prints mourning notices. Hagar Mizrachi and Tamar Levy designed a matching set of clothes - a shirt decorated with black-and-white photographs of horse races, a top hat made from pages of English stock market prices, and a jacket with the image of a local comic peeking out of its pocket instead of the traditional handkerchief.

In general, the students preferred aesthetics to politics. The sides of a corset in a mermaid-like dress, designed by Noa Gur and Anna Fishbein, are adorned by the black letters of a newspaper logo, in English and in Hebrew. Strips of a cartoon sprout from a suit jacket designed by Karin Leikovich and Anouk Gottlieb. Attention to the fine details that make up the clothing or identify a particular brand testifies to the students' efforts to reproduce actual clothes.

Leah Perez, head of Shenkar's fashion design department, said the biggest challenge the students faced was working with the material. "Newspaper is a material that is difficult to work with," she said. "It's tough, it has no flexibility, and it has content already printed on it. I'm glad that we had the opportunity to do this, because I think that this process forced the students to think differently about the process of clothing design."

In the tradition of Western haute couture, the technique of printing newspapers on fabric was used to promote a particular personal agenda. The first person to use it was Elsa Schiaparelli. The Italian designer had newsprint designs, based on news clippings about the designer as well as the fashion world in general, printed on silk and cotton fabrics by the French textile manufacturer Paul Colcombe. In her autobiography, "Shocking Life," which was published in 1954, she called him "the most courageous textile man" in Paris.

Like Galliano, Schiaparelli was inspired to use newsprint on her fabrics by the dress of poor fishermen's wives whom she met during a visit to Copenhagen in the 1930s. "These women wore newspapers on their heads like oddly shaped hats," she wrote. In the 19th century, printing press workers and their assistants wore hats like these, making them each morning from newspapers.

Some 70 years later, Galliano used newsprint on fabric in his infamous haute couture collection for Dior. The dresses that he made from a fictional newspaper, The Christian Dior Daily, together with furs and large metal rings, drew a divided response even in fashion circles. "How many women would want to wear a newspaper is a question that is open to debate," wrote Lisa Armstrong in an article for London's The Times. On the other hand, Anna Piaggi, the fashion editor of Italian Vogue, didn't hesitate to appear in a shirt designed by Galliano in 2004 that carried a similar print. That was taken from Galliano's own name brand and, in that case too, the Galliano Gazette was a fictional newspaper.

There is something rankling and audacious in decorating haute couture, meant for the elite few who can afford it, with old newspaper clippings, whose usual function was wrapping fish in the market. But it is an interesting raw material, and interesting as well as a method of making designer clothing reflect current events. It just doesn't jibe at all with British design, whose fantastic creations reflect more of a desire to serve as a sort of distraction from the world around us by fleeing into the solitude of imagination.