Janetta Mackay: The wabi-sabi of what we wear

By Janetta Mackay

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Issey Miyake's iconic Pleats Please line makes use of the technologies behind polyester. Picture / Issey Miyake SS14 Collection
Issey Miyake's iconic Pleats Please line makes use of the technologies behind polyester. Picture / Issey Miyake SS14 Collection

In my laundry, three silk garments await hand-washing, followed by careful ironing. In a pink bag for clothes recycling, there's a couple of other old favourite silk shifts that I've finally accepted are past it.

I could have bought polyester pieces and be chucking them in the washing machine, line drying and wearing them unto the end of time, but - as encapsulated in the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi - there is something about the beauty of imperfect or impermanent things. We treasure silk's natural variation and its fragility, it's sheen and softness, in a way that stronger polyester can't compete with.

Not that all synthetic fabrics are stayers, of course, but there's not a lot of wabi-sabi to be had in pilled polyester and saggy viscose. That pink bag I'm about to biff contains a stack of my teenage daughter's chain store tat, mostly bits and pieces she bought herself but soon tired of in the way of spoiled teens. Exhibits A through Z: bobbled and stretched but barely worn T-shirts.

How to convince someone born into a disposable consumer culture that shopping for landfill fodder doesn't make sense?

This isn't an argument of synthethic fabric bad, natural fibre good, rather it is about making conscious choices. Opting for quality and longevity and, if you're into that sort of thing, the wabi-sabi of what you wear.

Designers are turning to polyester for a range of reasons that we explore in Viva's print edition this week. Some of these are sound - polyester has come a long way from its stinking past - others are about cost-cutting. I wrote the piece because the trend piqued my curiosity. My wardrobe contains quite a bit of silk, but I'd noticed that except in its most lightweight form this prized fabric is becoming harder to find in stores. I'd also realised that I've been checking labels more than ever, unsure of what fabric was being used in garments I was looking at.

The idea that something was afoot was crystallised when designer Dame Trelise Cooper talked about her own conversion from "linen queen" to proponent of polyester. About how her customers were shunning wool in favour of easier care fabrics, about how she had changed her own way of dressing from silk shifts to form fitted high-tech fabrics. With her magpie eye for what is new, Cooper refreshingly admits that fashion isn't the greenest of industries, but here too the case isn't black and white, synthetic v natural.

Cotton production is far from environmentally sound. The very advances in fabric technology that have improved synthetics, may also offer a lifeline to natural fabrics, boding well for our wool growers. Change is what keeps workers in jobs and us in work to pay for their output.

Silk, say designers, will remain in demand, but increasingly saved for special occasion pieces. I like to wear it in simple singlet tops next to my skin, especially so when venturing into a polyester piece on top. But I shouldn't sneer, I got married in the stuff, albeit a silver-blue Issey Miyake pleated column dress that for its day in the late 90s was a showpiece of synthetic artistry.


• What do you think of the growing trend for polyester?

- VIVA

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