Women's Fashion | The Haute Seat

The designers who are keepers of the ikat flame

Look hard, and you can still find ikat prints that are true to tradition

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The designers who are keepers of the ikat flame

August 26 2011
Candida Balfour

Much to my annoyance, I have often been classed – by my family, my friends, by my patient and weary employers – as “alternative” in my tastes; whatever that actually means. I take it to identify my unashamed love of the colourful, the tribal and anything that would have been a roaring aesthetic success circa 1970.

So when the traditional Uzbekistani ikat print exploded across the design scene as the graphic of the season a year or so ago, I was thrilled. Not quite as outspoken or as decisively hippie as tie-dye, but so much fresher and cooler than age-old Indian embroidery or tacky floral prints, ikat perfectly combined crisp colour combinations with a gentle yet unmistakable nod to the alternative. Homeowners across Gloucestershire gladly traded in their hand-tapestried cushions for crazier-than-thou ikat numbers, while fashionistas up and down the high street clambered to get their hands on ikat hareem pants and dresses. They looked more like upholstery than flattering clothing, but that’s beside the point. Ikat was the new leopard skin.

But yesterday, as I wandered down London’s Portobello Road on my way home, I was bombarded by a stream of mustard-yellow and neon-pink monstrosities lining a tourist shop window, and I thought that amid the constant flux of the interiors and fashion worlds there is always one constant – the chain stores’ capacity to take a good thing and do it to death. (Naming no names, Matthew Williamson’s lurid sequined ikat cushions for Debenhams keep me up at night.)

And now, as I sit at home perched on my favourite batik chair and peruse the new A/W lookbooks in search of my new-season style-finds, I see that ikat is firmly here to stay. It makes me happy, and it makes me sad. As with many good things, the high street has taken this clean, fresh and quietly exotic aesthetic and churned out glitzy renditions until we are blue in the face. It seems an unavoidable process in the blink-and-it’s-no-longer-trendy world we live in.

Luckily there are a handful of core designers – Toast, John Robshaw (designs shown in first and second pictures), Mally Skok, Robert Kime – who pay no heed to mainstream trends and will keep the ikat tradition alive far beyond the high street.

Or perhaps I should stop ranting and learn the art myself...

See also

Bags, Ikat