Conventions in dress are sometimes boundaries that cannot be easily crossed. This is valid for fabrics as well, whose material qualities sometimes limit their use for one or another occasion; while some fabrics command their use in some proper settings, one in particular, the toile, even rules over the definition of product and prototype.
Plain-weave and unbleached, the toile consists of a linen or cotton muslin, and comes in different weights. Generally inexpensive, in ateliers the toile is the fabric used to create prototypes and mock-ups, its plain qualities enabling experimentation both in draping and tailoring.
Its use is so popular that the name toile – although coming from French and meaning cloth or canvas – has been extended to indicate the mock-up or prototype of the final creation, usually made with this fabric. It has been in use since the nineteenth century and even though it implicates a further passage in the design line, it is essential to assure the final product a perfect fit or for the fabric to drape in the best way.
Toile – the fabric – is for convention bounded to the atelier, its use limited to produce the mock-ups and generally disregarded for the creation of actual garments and accessories; even though, even though it is durable and resistant.
Some designers, however, have overturned this norm, showing the fascinating aspects and details of prototyping and of its materials, lingering on the subtle edge between finished and unfinished. Martin Margiela in particular delved with this theme in his ‘Semi Couture’, s/s 1997 and a/w 1998-99 collections, with coats made out of pattern-paper or vests resembling the bodice of atelier’s dummies; John Galliano showed for Dior a/w 2004-05 couture collection, an ‘unfinished’ couture gown, exposing nude silk and paddings, baring the ingenuous act of draping and designing, making something spectacular of the ‘demure’ material; more recently Rei Kawakubo sent out on the catwalk of Comme des Garçons s/s 2013 fashion show elaborate silhouettes in canvas and twill, showing how experimentations of this kind are able to push the boundaries of established fashion conventions.