Letterpress print proves popular at London Fashion Week
While rapper Kanye West was spotted living it up at a Luella show, and Sienna Miller hogged the headlines when she unveiled her own line of clothing, one person that escaped the glare of the paparazzi at London Fashion Week, but managed to catch the attention of fashionistas was Flora McLean, head designer at House of Flora.
With the help of Danny Flynn of Astonish Me Press, McLean created fashion accessories and jewellery inspired by letterpress printing – with a twist! The designs could also be used to print with and came with their own inking pots so the wearer could quite literally print on the go.
Rubber embossed belts turned into rollers along with laser cut roller handbags and cuffs bearing laser-cut text. I caught up with printer Danny Flynn following a lecture that he gave at the London College of Communication last week. Subjects up for discussion included his fascination with a dying art form, his Stella Artois commissions and the work that he undertook on the Hollywood blockbuster Gladiator.
When did you start working with letterpress?
My flatmate below me at the time asked if I could store a little Adana press for him. For a while I didn’t touch it but then I discovered it was something that I could use to print at a cost of next to nothing. At the time I had a full-time job in graphic design. It was a small press for business card printing and after I’d found a plate maker so I could make my own plates and drawings I taught myself – starting out with business and greetings cards.
How easy was it to pick up?
I learnt the mechanic physical aspect of it quite quickly but it takes you a while to see and understand the print aspect of it. I’ve been printing for 20 years now and can print very well.
It does have an authority about it that other print processes would not have. It’s craft based printing.
You’ve worked with some big names for your commercial work using letterpress. Could you tell me a bit more about this work?
I did some posters for Stella Artois – I think they also commissioned some screen prints for the same campaign from another printer – but it all achieved a different look and feel even though it’s the same paper. They commissioned them to be photographed and then re-produced at bigger volumes for billboard advertising. They were printed on GS Smith fine paper because that had a texture and nice colour to it. I laser cut the letters out of acrylic and wood block from a screen based design. I also produced work for the title sequence on the film Gladiator. The laser cut characters from letterpress letters were filmed to produce the title sequences. And I produced work for alphabet soup produced using salt and pepper and tomato soup powder and printed on a little Adana press. This was included at a Tate Millbank exhibition in 2000.
I heard that you also like to put up letterpress graffiti on the underground as well?
Yes. Each one was only about 20 in an edition. The obvious format we chose was resemblance to poetry on the underground. There is so much effort that has gone into letterpress printing – choosing quality paper, with gold tools etc. Although the public don’t know much about print, they do recognise letterpress – they see and perceive it as letterpress print.
How did the idea for the letterhead dress come about?
Flora was inspired by incorporating some kind of letterpress into her fashion work. It made sense to use laser to etch into the rubber so the fashion items could double up as rubber stamps with water-based ink to print with. Using topic font sans serif we etched into the rubbers words such as letterhead and letterheadress.
What are you working on next?
Right now I am working on a book with bookbinder Eri Funazaki using letterpress illustration with a metal type, which will exhibit in April. I am also in the process of producing screen prints of Derek Ridgers photographs. Ridgers chronicled punk in the 80s. I’m experimenting with different powders, and salts. So I’m producing a photograph of Kylie Minogue using milk, as well as metal powders. This is done by putting the powders on the screenprint while it’s still wet.