Thomas Chen and Adele Röder

Thomas Chen and Adele Röder discuss their collaboration for Emmanuelle

Left: The tank dress Thomas Chen and Adele Röder created for Emmanuelle’s Spring 2012 collection. Right: Adele Röder (for DAS INSTITUT), COMCORRÖDER, 2011, digital file.

As one half of the collective DAS INSTITUT, Adele Röder has often employed printed textiles in the multimedia exhibitions she stages with Kerstin Brätsch. Thomas Chen, designer of the women’s clothing label Emmanuelle, developed his own line after working for a number of other designers, including Thakoon; his designs are currently stocked at Creatures of Comfort in New York and Colette in Paris, among other stores. Röder and Chen recently decided to collaborate on a print for Emmanuelle’s Spring 2012 collection. Here, they talk about the process that led them to the final product.

OUR IDEA was to pick out prints from Adele’s archive, to find something that already had an existence of its own. A few of her prints really jumped out at us, and that’s how our work together organically began. Although Adele’s prints had been used in fabrics before, more often than not they had been shown in combination with Kerstin’s paintings, and always in an art context. So it was really exciting to see them shifted into a fashion context—to see them being turned into something that could be worn.

Early Emmanuelle prints primarily showed continuous, repeating patterns such as stripes. We were drawn to Adele’s prints that depict floating objects, but we realized that if we used them we’d have to figure out how these forms could be positioned on the clothing—that is, how could the print be seen fully on the sleeve of a blouse. Previously, Thomas’s prints were engineered with placement cutting, so as to make interesting geometric patterns. We realized this project would take that idea even further. We wondered: How do you take apart the fabric but not destroy the integrity of the print at the same time? We narrowed our selections down to two colorful prints with gradated stripes. And then we thought very hard about our printing process. We decided that instead of screenprinting, we’d use digital printing, which easily allows for gradations, brilliant color reproduction, and a seamless ombré effect.

We began by producing the patterns on huge black-and-white printouts, and then we held those prints against our bodies to see what worked best. The most difficult thing to deal with was the ratio of the scale of the design against the body. If you blow it up too big, you can only see parts of the print, and if you make it too small, then it’s too much about the print itself. In both cases, the print starts looking decorative. We finally decided to use a specific scale––Adele’s body, if only because she was at hand and more up for the performative aspect of the task. We made a digital dummy of Adele, and then we applied the different scaled prints on her digitally. It was very efficient to work this way.

Adele’s prints have a very futuristic look to them, with sharply defined shapes gleaming in their perfect gradations, and yet we didn’t want the outcome to look too slick. So as we tried to pick the specific four or five colors for the printing process, Thomas kept saying: “Picture Venice—the faded, decrepit look of it, as a mural once considered futuristic but a thousand years later we have come back to it . . . picture it on a foggy morning, when it’s misty out there in front of the ocean.” The names of the Pantone colors were very suggestive as well, “Sirocco” and “Provincial Blue.” But as it turns out, the machination of the digital printer had its own ideas of what colors it preferred. Our whole process was very much about eliminating things. We had originally planned on printing on two fabrics—a voile and a charmeuse—and when the tests came back, we decided to scrap the charmeuse because it looked too shiny and grandmotherly. But with the matte sheerness of voile, you see it but you don’t, so it becomes almost like a tattoo when you put it over your skin.

Finally, it was Thomas’s responsibility to work out the placement of the prints on the garment; the ball was in his hands. We were also running out of time, so we thought, “OK, let’s just do the best we can and God help us with whatever we get at the end!” Throughout the process of working together Adele would sometimes say, “You’re very Zen, always accepting of things as they come!” Thomas’s reply? “Well, if only I had another choice.”