Not too many people dare to mix prints like early twentieth century couturier, Paul Poiret, and contemporary Belgian designer, Dries Van Noten, whose designs are featured above. It takes a certain knack to combine without clashing so many of us avoid the task altogether. Luckily, if you find yourself wanting to go bold with multiple patterns, there are a couple of tricks you can use to ensure that you don’t look like you’ve been dressed by your three year old self.
The first thing you should do is focus on the fabrics. This sounds absurdly obvious but when you’re looking at two garments in their entirety, you see so much more than the prints and distract the eye from its task. Instead of hanging items up near one another to study the full effect, try comparing a very small but equal amount of each garment. Sensing harmony a very basic ‘swatch’ level usually means you’ve got a winner. This process also works if you’re shopping online by taking a screen capture (Command + Shift + 4 on a Mac) of close-up product photos and comparing the resulting virtual fabric swatches (see the examples below).
It is also important to focus on color. Combining fabrics is easier when they exist in the same color family (earth tones, jewel tones, etc) or share a color. The Zara look works because the pieces are a part of the same beige/neutral color family and the check pattern from a blouse works with the abstract pattern from a pair of trousers because they share black and burnt orange (at least on my computer monitor).
It takes practice to get comfortable with mixing fabrics but you’re ultimately rewarded by the number of new looks you add to your wardrobe. And, while so far we’ve only seen what New York designers have to offer next season, I can already tell you that prints of all kinds are going to be everywhere come spring.
Top illustration by Michelle Ricks of a gown from Dries Van Noten fall 2011, Photo: Poiret-clad actress (Madeleine Rodrigues) circa 1924, Right: Silk Blouse – $79.90 at Zara.com,Printed Mini Skirt – $79.90 at Zara.com, Below: Swatch from Shakuhachi ‘Check Me Out’ Blouse – $220 at Shopbop.com, Vero Moda ‘Very Printed’ Pants – $100.62 at ASOS