Fashion Forward

How a digital print studio helped a high-end fashion designer break bounds, plus what it’s like to create during a pandemic.

It's not everyday you find a fashion house in the throes of New York Fashion Week preparation discussing fabric printability and print clarity. That’s because the Fernando Alberto Atelier team is armed with a modern set of tools that sets the brand apart. While most high-end fashion labels have been reluctant to move away from traditional textile printing methods, through collaboration and a commitment to sustainability, Fernando Alberto Atelier has leaned into digital textile printing and allowed it to visually define the brand.printed dress

Together with Carol Yeager, MY Prints, Alberto has built a unique creative process centered around digital printing technology. Yeager and Alberto have discovered a way to couple their individual talents – hers in print development and merchandising and his in garment design and construction – to introduce something truly state-of-the-art to the runway. Their collaborative partnership has fueled more than a dozen digitally printed collections that have shown at New York Fashion Week, LA Fashion Week, and Miami Fashion Week, and graced the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, and Cosmopolitan. They’ve proven that digital textile printing has a foothold within the high-end fashion landscape and has the potential to transform it.

Fernando Alberto Atelier is doing what I’d hoped to see many designers do over the years: successfully execute digitally printed collections. They threw out antiquated standardized design conventions and got experimental.

The Process

Having had the privilege of watching Alberto and Yeager’s process up close, I can attest that their energy to create a new type of artistry and production is transcendent. While they maintain that their process is fluid, one constant remains: they let each other’s individual strengths shine.

Their typical approach to creating a new collection starts with a spark of inspiration, usually drawn from travel. Alberto will have an idea of some basic silhouettes he’d like to attack and then bring his concept to Yeager. Next, Yeager will begin building colors, prints, and themes that reflect the collection’s
points of inspiration.

Initiating a print story can be an arduous yet gratifying process. For Yeager it means using her instincts to find the importance of the concept and ask, “What are we trying to say?” Alberto takes a more visceral approach to produce an almost rapid-fire print narrative. Neither like to look at what other designers are producing because they’re committed to making something new.

printed dressTheir process has evolved over the years as the brand’s foray into digital textile printing has become more concrete. Their first digitally printed collections featured three to four prints that ran repetitively with a singular note tying them together. While it allowed for a smooth transition from analog to digital, it left fashion stylists at a disadvantage because they could only create one story from the collection.

Reflecting on this time in his line’s history, Alberto will be quick to say, “I didn’t know prints.” While he had an expert guide in Yeager, producing three print heavy collections each year was a daunting task. With each collection, Alberto has become more comfortable with prints and he attributes that to the digital printing process. In fact, he told me, “Digital printing teaches me and makes me unafraid, all while expanding the theme.” Today, Yeager develops five to 10 prints in multiple colorways and scales for each of Alberto’s collections. She now calls him the “masked crusader of prints.”

Digital printing has also impacted Alberto’s sewing process in the sense that he is now much more improvisational. He doesn’t sketch his designs like he used to, but rather lets the print and fabric dictate the flow of the body. Alberto says he “needs his canvas to create his piece.” This organic workflow and perspective have allowed individual pieces to get more mileage. Magazine editors and stylists gravitate to Alberto and Yeager’s work because of the diverse and complex stories their clothes tell.

Ethical Production

In addition to the creative impact, digital printing has solidified the Fernando Alberto Atelier brand as a steward of the environment. In addition to using reclaimed fabric, the low energy output and lack of water used in dye-sublimation printing has helped the brand meet environmental goals. With fast fashion driving significant segments of the apparel industry, Fernando Alberto Atelier is dedicated to showcasing something different and telling a new story. Alberto’s collaboration with Yeager and the MY Prints studio to consciously create clothing has helped elevate the conversation on what it means to be an ethical and sustainable brand.

As up-and-coming brands work to differentiate themselves in the high-end fashion and contemporary apparel markets, digital printing has the power to play a transformative role. With brands like Fernando Alberto Atelier paving the way, digital printing is more accessible than ever – and truly champions the most hot-button social and ecological issues of today. That potential power is not lost on Alberto and Yeager who are working to put digital printing at the core of his brand’s identity as a tool and example for others to build from.

Creating During a Pandemic

Fernando Alberto Atelier's most recent collection, A Swan’s Dream, is the physical manifestation of many months spent in quarantine. Inspired by nature and a desire to experience the world’s raw and printed dressnatural beauty, Alberto and Yeager felt compelled to create something happy in this time of uncertainty. It was important they add vibrancy during a time of low energy. I was curious to learn how the pandemic affected Alberto and Yeager’s process. When I found out New York Fashion Week was cancelled, I wondered if and how they’d move forward altogether. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Alberto shared that many fashion industry insiders questioned his fervor to move forward. For Alberto and Yeager, designing during the pandemic was essential and they refused to let it impede their creative process. It’s the responsibility of every artist to produce work that reflects the time they live in. Fernando Alberto Atelier’s ethereal style is in the brand DNA, and it’s more apparent today than ever as Alberto and Yeager tackle the obstacles of creating during the pandemic. Not showing at New York Fashion Week has forced them to be more creative. A Swan’s Dream is debuting as a virtual showcase to worldwide audiences. Social media platforms, particularly Instagram, will take a more significant role in his campaign and act an integral part of the collection launch.

The pandemic has given Alberto and Yeager the time to stop and think. It’s allowed inspiration to grow in a different way; they’re not just designing clothes, they’re designing a new way for them to be received by the fashion industry.

As for the creative process, Alberto and Yeager affirm the pandemic hasn’t changed much. Yeager is still developing and merchandising prints and Alberto uses these canvases to create silhouettes in a free form way. He’s still the fit king and she’s working her print magic. If anything, this is the largest merchandised collection they’ve collaborated on thus far. It’s playful and heavily utilizes the color wheel to incorporate sister prints through print negatives and scales.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we must be forward-thinking and, thus, forward creating. The world is undergoing a period of reflection. Conscious processes like digital textile printing are becoming more critical than ever. No matter what lies ahead, Alberto and Yeager know that digital printing is the mechanism that will keep pushing them forward.

I’m excited to see how digital printing will continue to lead the movement for sustainable production and inspire more fashion designers to experiment with the technology. Fernando Alberto Atelier has demonstrated that incorporating digital textile printing into a fashion practice can be a metamorphic experience. In fact, with the right collaborator, a runway bound collection could take off from your studio floor.

View more from this Big Picture issue