Inflatables are blowing up. And no—we don’t mean your beach floats. Fashion has seen inflatables playfully drift from the beach to the catwalk. First emerging on the catwalk in 2017, Balenciaga made headlines with their inflatable vests and puffer jackets which boasted larger than life silhouettes. In 2019, Craig Green collaborated with Moncler to create deflatable Genius jackets. The same year, Virgil Abloh brought a luminous red inflatable bouncy castle to Paris Fashion Week. From well-established designers to young graduates, the balloon trend has proven it’s here to stay. The crop of young talent share another thing in common, beyond balloon-couture, each designer places a specific emphasis on sustainability, using eco-friendly processes to create their graduate collections, leading the initiative for responsible design and sustainable practices.
San Kim is a South Korean artist sculpting inflatable garments out of grocery bags. Now, we have seen the plastic bag trend float across the runway before, from Alexander Wang’s ‘thank you’ print bedazzled-diamante pouches to Celine’s minimalistic iteration. But the Westminster Menswear graduate has taken the balloon trend to new heights. The idea bloomed from his MA collection, which featured blocky, sculptural silhouettes crafted from colourful bin bags. Beneath it’s fun, exuberant exterior, Kim’s work is deeply conceptual, inspired by the sculptural work of artist Paul McCarthy, and carrying an underlying interest in Freud's psychosexual development. The lockdown triggered a burst of new-found inspiration for Kim, who collected supermarket bags from his flatmates to create his bizarre sculptural pieces. Bulging bubbles, bloated blocks, and swollen sleeves envelop the wearer. Kim has since been tapped by Adidas and PHVLO to reinvent classic garments for a sustainable capsule collection.
With a legendary list of alumni featuring Ricardo Tisci, Kim Jones, Alexander McQueen, and the aforementioned Craig Green, Central Saint Martins has always been viewed as the creative hub for emerging talent, and Fredrik Tjaerandesen does not disappoint—living up to the legacy of those before him. Tjaerandesen's shape-shifting balloon dresses engulfed Instagram after his graduate show and caught the attention of the media and celebrities alike. Giant, colourful orbs—reminiscent of Violet Beauregarde’s swollen-blueberry-like form in Charlie and the Chocolate factory, made their way down the runway, before deflating into a collection of dresses, tops and skirts. In an interview with Dazed, Tjaerandesen shares the production process of his pieces. The young designer sources a natural, pesticide-free rubber from Sri Lankan suppliers in an effort not to contribute to deforestation.
Harikrishnan's inflatable balloon-like trousers bounced its way to headlines after the 2019 London College of Fashion graduate show. The silhouette of the trousers mirror how one might look in a distorted fun-fair mirror, expanding around the thighs before tapering in towards the ankles. The idea came about when the young designer considered how he might look from his pug’s perspective, an angle which is mirrored in the exaggerated proportions of his trousers. Placing a specific emphasis on craft and tailoring, Harikrishnan immersed himself in an artisan community in Channapatna, India, for a month to perfect the skills needed to turn his vision to life—including developing a technique which coated micro wooden beads in beeswax and fused together. The inflatable trousers, in particular, were created using deadstock latex from Supatex.
If graduate collections are anything to go by, it’s that the future of fashion is sustainable. Renowned art institutions have long been responsible for birthing famous names in the fashion industry, and now, the new generation of fashion school alumni is blessing us with their innovative vision which incorporates meaningful designs into unexpected forms. The young creatives go above and beyond with their extraordinary creations, but most importantly, critically pushing for sustainable initiatives by turning heads towards eco-friendly materials and practices.