Tie-dye is the ugly stepsister of the fashion family: underappreciated, ignored and forced to sit at the children’s table. No one takes tie-dye seriously.
A little over a year ago, a survey named this hallmark of hippie style the worst fashion trend of the past 50 years. Ouch!
That may be a harsh and undeserving judgment, but it underscores the fact that, in the fashion world, tie-dye is a tough sell.
Given its associations with the trippy culture of 60s-era flower children, and its role as every teenager’s DIY fashion project, tie-dye has always been a stick in the eye of the corporate fashion world. If the whole point of tie-dye was that you could express your individuality with unique prints created in your mom’s laundry tub, who would want to pay for the same thing off the rack?
Still, every few years an intrepid designer will try to elevate tie-dye above its counter culture roots by doing something new with this most cliched of styles. Highly stylized tie-dye looks have surfaced in recent collections from Proenza Schouler and Armani Prive, and a bona fide resurgence was all but assured last month when those familiar psychedelic swirls showed up in Rodarte‘s fall 2013 collection (above).
Designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy dazzled New York Fashion Week with several tie-dye pieces meant as a fond tribute to their youth growing up in Santa Cruz, which remains one of the few places on earth where people older than 8 still wear tie-dye clothing without irony or nostalgia.
The tie-dye revival will get another big boost this summer with the publication of Tie-Dye: Dye It, Wear It, Share It by renowned NYC dye artist and fashion designer Shabd Simon-Alexander. You can pre-order it here.
When it comes to lingerie, a couple of enterprising U.S. designers have breathed new life into the centuries-old tradition of binding and twisting fabric to create unique dye patterns.
The L.A.-based eco-label Clare Bare (below) creates some lovely nostalgic looks with hand-dyed pieces made from bamboo jersey and vintage recycled fabrics.
But the real standard-bearer in this field is artist-designer Rio Wrenn of the Portland, Ore.-based RAW Textiles, who continues to push the boundaries of what tie-dye can be.
The spring collection from this talented artisan is noteworthy for many reasons, but here’s what really matters: a new webshop now makes Rio’s rare hand-crafted creations available to women everywhere.
RAW’s latest set is big and varied and aspires to be much more than just festival wear for the next Grateful Dead reunion tour. For the first time, a significant portion of the RAW collection is dedicated to soft, stretchy yoga wear — bralettes, leggings and briefs in muted tones with understated but compelling dye patterns.
The eco-friendly fabric choices include bamboo knit, vintage lace and a semi-sheer silk organza, but the highlight of this collection is another surprising 60s throwback: vintage cotton crochet, used in both briefs and a camisole.
Rio Wrenn is a gifted designer whose extensive experimentation with shibori (the Japanese precursor to American tie-dye) dying methods we wrote about here and here. Her new collection should expose her work to a much broader audience and, with luck, help re-define tie-dye as a legitimate and modern fashion direction.
Here are some more looks from RAW’s latest, photographed by John Campbell.