Vintage is hot! Discover why vintage designs are not only timeless, but also growing in popularity. This article was originally published by Print Pattern Archive, and is a compliment from textiles expert Debbie McKeegan and WhatTheyThink contributor Cheryl O’Meara. She shares her expertise on finding, identifying, and making timeless vintage designs available.
Image courtesy of Texintel.
Guest article by Cheryl O’Meara, Print Pattern Archive
This article will reveal the secret ingredients that turn a print into a bestseller.
It’s a constant challenge for brands to keep brand handwriting strong, on-trend, and yet commercial. I explain why history is the best way to elevate your brand’s 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 the next moves from the big successes (daunting!). When it comes to spotting upcoming print stars, my print algorithms are up there. It has never been more important to spread the word, especially in this current climate where garments are under so much pressure from environmental, economic and consumer pressures.
The common denominators for commercial yet timeless print are much the same, whether it’s a simple “ditsy” (having a pattern of small, randomly scattered motifs, typically flowers) or a “hero conversational” (a novelty print that features recognizable objects). Our studio has an archive of incredibly well-curated prints that are relevant to our clients.
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,” which are often used interchangeably. Classic designs include iconic prints like animal prints, tartan and houndstooth.
The earliest houndstooth design was found in a garment from 300 BC. Whereas timeless designs are those that have enduring appeal, that never date, and will still look beautiful in 10 or 100 years’ time.
There are certain designs I know are going to be popular, and that my clients will buy. These are the designs I have loaned repeatedly over the past decade. But why? What’s the secret ingredient to these designs, and why are they so sought after? What can we take away from designs that are so popular season after season? Future vintage is created today, and is ready to be archived in the future.
How to create timeless classics
The quality of the motif is the first thing to consider. Antique prints were painted by artists with high-level training. It was not possible to clean up the image with Photoshop; it had be perfect from the start. I had to learn how to stretch the paper and draw a perfect square. It was harder than it sounded!I learned to hand-paint with gouache a repeating design and stretch the paper.
There was something very slow, methodical, and meditative about taking time to create something perfect; it couldn’t be rushed. This is what I feel when I look at the intricate hand-painted florals and paisleys. It would have taken a lot of time, good eyesight and a single-haired paintbrush to finish! Designers would have drawn designs from a still-life of fresh flowers that was in front of them. Images were not available on Google, only in the library or from real life. This direct translation between nature and paper is 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 small irregularities give a design a more handmade appeal and soften it.
A new take on color is another great asset of antique artwork.
It is fascinating to see textiles or wallpapers that have been popular for decades. They offer a completely new perspective. The fabric of life reflected the values of a previous era.
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. Color can be used to add value to garments. If it can’t be pigeon-holed to a trend or season, then it will stand apart from the competition.
Lastly, layout. Even designs that appear to be simple, but are actually the result of art and math. Even fluid florals require some serious planning. 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’ll have 20 Photoshop guides following the repeat. It is a true testament to print design. When fashion is so fast and deadlines are looming, how many designers can afford to take the time necessary to create something as beautiful?
Print Design in the Future
The creative energy of our archive is evident in all we do. Our projects, clients and even our work ethics are influenced by this force.
It is important to immerse yourself in timeless design. This will allow you to create future classics, which must stand out on the market and remain relevant for the rest of your life.
The industry needs to do more to promote print. Fashion is becoming circular and less disposable. Pre-owned clothing is competing with high street stores, and is expected to double in size by 2027. I’ve seen a big shift in the industry since 2020. We are providing a more project-oriented service, with a more focused approach. Brands that are cutting staff can use this studio as a kind of in-house, but outsourced, service. The addition of heritage to a brand adds instant value for our clients.
I would say we are a considered studio; we slow down and take time to produce designs that will be relevant in 50 years’ time. We use antique inspiration, traditional hand-painted technique and cutting-edge innovation such as generative AI.
Whatever we create or curate, it’s for the long run. I hope you will use this article to inform your design decisions. Join us on our journey for a better future in fashion.
Print Pattern Archive