One of the few trends we’ve seen on FW 2014/2015 catwalks and that we’ll soon find next season in our favorite stores is plisse.
Plisse is an antique technique to alter the shape of the fabric, in order to create symmetrical stripes; a geometrical pattern, that turns a bi-dimensional surface into a tri-dimensional decoration.
The history of plisse began with the most vanguard population on our earth: the Egyptians. They used to pleat their garments (pouring eggs over linen and dry it at the light of the sun), using them as a symbol of power and luxury. Some archeologists found a wood instrument with narrow grooves, which suggested them the use of pleated garments during all the Egyptian’s domination.
To pleat a natural fabric (silk, cotton and wool) wasn’t either simple, neither cheap, not only for Egyptians, but in general for all the aristocratic and rich people, to whom pleated garments were imposed by fashion dictats.
Nowadays most of pleated fabric for ready-to-wear fashion are made by pleated machines. Only couture garments are pleated by hand and are obviously more expensive.
Back to ancient age the Greeks used to pleat their linen tunic, called ionic peplum, fixed on the shoulders by two brooches (fibulas) and wrapped to the waist by a belt (kolpos). The process to create the pleats took a lot of time, because it was made by hand; once the garment was washed, the pleats vanished and all the process had to be done again and again.
We can compare those tunics to contemporary couture garments, so you can understand why the plisse was an aristocratic prerogative and why it was considered a symbol of luxury.
The only institution, which could afford pleated garments, since its establishment, was the church. Cardinals and popes hardly resisted to the lightness and the preciosity of a pleated muslin or silk tunics and they adopted them, for centuries, even when plisse was totally out of fashion.
In fact plisse wasn’t a constant during the uncountable revolutions of costume history. It disappeared for decades and then it came back as an undisputed protagonist of an outfit.
An admirable example were ruffs. They were the most exquisite artisanal product in their time: at the end of the 16th century, men and women used to adorn and frame their faces trough circular pleated rigid collars, made with laces and muslins and sometimes decorated with pearls and precious stones (Elizabeth the First’s portraits testify the greatness artisanal work behind the ruffs).
The wavy shape of a ruff was given by warm metallic cylinders, which were used everytime the fabric had to be washed, losing its shape and volume.
Plisse was alternatively used also to decorate tunics and shirts, bonnets, cuffs, ribbons and hems of skirts.
At the beginning of the 19th century the polyhedral mind of Mariano Fortuny gave new life to the ancient Greek peplum, creating a dress, called Delphos, made with pleated fine silk.
Outrageously beautiful, the dress’s intent was to show the natural curves of the female body: it has to be worn without lingerie, so not to alter the sinuosity of the shape.
Fortuny’s pleating process was created and done by hand by himself: he built two wax cylinders with narrow grooves, which could be warmed up and used to first dye the fabric, according to his own color palette, and then he scrolled the fabric between the two cylinders. The result was a super elastic, shiny and geometrically creased surface. The machine and the color palette were patented, but still it lasted the problem of fixing permanently the pleats so the dress could be washed.
Issey Miyake was the one of the most famous designers, who offered us the solution for this apparently unsolvable problem.
He dignified the polyester fabric creating his “Pleats Please” collection, launched in 1993: the clothes were first cut and sewn together from fabric that was nearly three times larger than the finished item of clothing, then sandwiched between sheets of paper and put into a pleats machine. Clothes were very functional and practical; they could be stored easily, travel well, required no ironing, could be machine-washed, and they dried within hours.
Polyester is made with plastic, and as you know, if a plastic surface makes contact with a heat source, it deforms permanently. That’s why the most part of ready-to wear pleated fabric are made in polyester: and that’s something that help us to take care of this garments with zero effort. These clothes can be washed easily and don’t need ironing. They don’t get crumpled at all, even using them every day.
After this short explanation of what plisse is now and what it represented in the past, next time you’ll buy an all the rage pleated leather skirt or chiffon top, you’ll remember about the luxurious way the plisse had been used, making you feel like a modern Fortuny’s muse or a fabulous Egyptian aristocratic woman.
Contemporary fashion always fascinates us, but with our personal interpretation of it, it feels much more personal and glamorous!