Arts: The Independent Collector

John Windsor's guide to buying affordable modern art
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The Independent Culture
EVER TRIED wearing an art-gallery dress? They're impossible. Even for women. Emily Bates's dresses are made from human hair, Caroline Broadhead's are conceptual sculptures on wobbly wire frames with no means of entry, and Lesley Dill's are rigid armour with poems cut into them that can be read only from the inside.

So hooray for Isabel Dodd, whose sculptural, bell-shaped dresses, on show at the Crafts Council shop, occupy hitherto uninhabited territory between the sculptural and the wearable. She has taken art clothes into the street.

They're rubber, too. Dodd, 31, spent five years, after graduating in embroidered textiles at the RCA, trying to ravel fabrics into different textures using needle and thread. It was pitifully time-consuming - until she invented a high-temperature screen-printing process using molten rubber instead of ink.

Blobs of rubber make the fabric contract. Umpteen different patterns are possible, ranging from reptile-like scales - macho, fetishistic - to the rows of crinkly frills that used to adorn Victorian bodices. The rubber can be metallic or iridiscent.

Her velvet, cotton or microfibre garments are breathable (not sweaty, that is), will not crease, and can be scrunched up and stuffed into a suitcase.

Dodd is in partnership with designer-maker Ray Harris, her tutor at the RCA. Many of the customers at his shop in Westbourne Park Road, London, are oversized women. They are not used to being offered beautiful things to wear, and appreciate the way the fabric tends to hang off the body.

Every garment is hand-made. The pieces are cut, then the rubber is printed on. "The magic," she says, "is that you never quite know how the fabric is going to turn out. It depends on how much pressure I put on, how long I leave the rubber to dry, and whether I blow-dry it."

She is getting orders from France, Germany, Italy, America and Japan. Her scarves are pounds 50-pounds 120 and her clothes pounds 120 for a skirt or top, going up to pounds 500 for a long jacket-cardigan - her best-seller.

Dodd's clothes are in New Faces '98, at the Crafts Council shop at the V&A, South Kensington, London W7 until 19 July (0171-589 5070). Ray Harris, 73 Westbourne Park Road, London W2 (0171-221 8052)