Many people and students dream about becoming a fashion designer, but only a few of them succeed.
Why? Do they know what they really have to deal with?
Design, culture, creativity, drawing, taste, colors, trends, sensibility. All those elements are involved and have to be developed in order to become a good fashion designer.
Not to mention the fact that if you’re also a great merchandiser and a good businessman/woman you’re even more appreciated than you’ve ever thought.
Being a fashion designer means being a versatile human being, with a mind able to think ahead.
As I came across an interesting book called “Language of Fashion Design : 26 Principles Every Fashion Designer Should Know” I thought about taking some of the elements that you, as a student, would play with on your way to become a fashion designer and relate them to some designers that in the history of fashion made them their own, paving their way to success.
The clothes or other items produced by a designer, especially for a seasonal line.
Collections are the epitome of the career of a fashion designer. Collections, exhibited during runway shows have always elevated the concept of fashion. Something unreachable, dedicated to an elite of people, exclusively sold to “la créme de la créme” of society.
From the outside the ivory tower of fashion seems to be fortified. But what we really can conquer, is the message held in the collection. This message is under our eyes. The garments are the artistic effort of the designer, democratically shared for us.
A collection can express the world’s macro vision of a designer, the way he/she perceives the present and anticipates the future’s expectations, though the combinations of aesthetics, colors and surfaces.
Elsa Schiaparelli is my favorite example of a designer of rare sensibility, great acumen and daring taste.
This smart, sophisticated and incredible woman created the modern idea of collection, starting from a theme and developing the concept throughout impeccable outfits, communicating a precise message to the audience, as an art piece would do.
About creativity, she used to say:
“At moments of restriction, fantasy alone can lift people above dreariness. Fantasy is a flower that does not flourish on passivity.”…” Dress designing is to me not a profession, but an art”.
The general course or prevailing tendency.
Trend indicates never ending movement. Trend is the element that keeps our desires awake, our struggling for new objects alive. Trend is the key to consumption. Without trends, fashion would have never evolved from prehistorical age. But human beings are concerned with the research of beauty, objects to love and the concept of new. When our eyes hit something new, they’re captured by it, captivated by its allure. When the eyes get used to it, we begin to research something new to adore. And we struggle until when we can actually have it.
That’s the dynamic that moves fashion.
Trend is communicated to the mass by two important categories: trend-creators, the one that effectively create the new trend and trend-setter, the one that firstly tries and adopts the trend.
There was a designer, who actually corresponded to both this categories.
The best trendsetter and trend creator ever, the one who had created some of the most wanted objects of 20th Century is of course Gabrielle Chanel.
Independent, daring, ambitious, innovative, modern, avant-garde. Did I miss something?
She had practically invented everything basilar for the everyday women’s life. A genius and an ultra chic problem solver. She started her personal revolution of dress codes, experimenting her creations on herself, changing dramatically the way we dress and act.
She was a trend creator and an unforgettable trend setter. A pioneer of the modern fashion system.
The quality of a distinct object or body in having an external surface or outline of specific form or figure.
A peculiar shape is the trademark to distinguish a certain designer’s dress among thousands. You’re driven by the instinct while your senses are trying to connect this peculiar shape to images stored inside you head.
When this mechanism happens, well it means the designer has successfully reached his goal.
Being recognizable among myriad of others, it means you know exactly your way around as a designer. Be able to impose your taste means you have a strong personality and a great sense of beauty.
For this element there’s no game, the winner is Charles Frederick Worth.
He was the first fashion designer ever. He was the first tailor who was able to impose his own taste on his clients, selling garments, fabrics, trims and bows, thanks to a successful connection to the French Empire and his nose for good business.
Crinoline. Crinoline was invented by Worth in 1848 and it became so popular around the world, that we can talk about it as an international must-have of the past, desired by every woman in the world and mocked by every magazine in the world.
Unpractical, unfair, unappealing, heavy, huge. Yet dreamy, romantic, aristocratic, chic, timeless.
Despite its controversial characteristics, crinoline was so popular, that it has became not only a key-item in fashion history, but also an icon for everybody (not just fashion addicts), even nowadays.
Maybe you didn’t know the name of this famous designer, but for sure you’re able to recognize the shape of crinoline and the romantic allure that carries with it.
The outline or general shape of something
How may times did silhouette changed in fashion? Sincerely, I’ve lost the count.
Silhouette is the combination of outlines, which gives new proportions to human body.
Garments can fake the natural silhouette of our body, in order to change it (sometimes in a drastic and dramatical way). In human nature the alteration of natural outlines is usual.
We’re always struggling for perfection, trying to elevate our features to new parameters.
The icons, that in a specific timeframe of our history are considered the best example of perfection to achieve, set the standards for new silhouettes.
Napoleon used to say:
”Fashion condemns us to many follies; the greatest is to make ourselves its slave.”
But who was the only daring designer, that can escape from this fashion’s tyranny, imposing her own rules?
The answer is Vivienne Westwood.
She is the Queen of the unexpected. She has always been an avant-garde artist, capable to reflect youth’s spirits in her clothes, feeding the creativity of thousands of designers.
She is a rare example of real freedom in fashion, capable of setting her own rules and standards, using any sort of materials to create her garments, experimenting new techniques, pushing the boundaries of taste, ugly, beauty, conventional and unconventional, before Prada’s nihilism, before the Antwerp’s Six.
In terms of silhouette she turned upside down the triangle silhouette, typical of 80’s fashion, when shoulders were the protagonist of the outfit and the waist was tiny and underlined. It was 1985 when the mini-crini hit the runway.
A spectacular and cute example of how you can disobey to the current macro trend, setting a brand new fashion in the middle of padded-shoulder’s domination.
The amount of space, measured in cubic units, that an object or substance occupies.
Making your way through a crowded street, wearing for example a huge 80’s coat, with padded shoulders or a voluminous skirt, well, it’s always a good idea if you’re in hurry.
If you’re willing for attention, you can occupy the space through your garments.
Stealing room from others with huge robes, was a typical fashion habit of French aristocratic women back in the 18th century, who struggled for the constant ambition to prevail over others.
Of course the concept of space, related to garments’ volumes has changed dramatically with time and history, bouncing from one extreme to another.
The volume of clothes is determined by smart cuts and by the right choice of fabric, which both concur to create the three-dimensional space occupied by the garment. The volume could be huge, linear, soft, subtle, understated, slim, bold. With volume, a designer can explore thousands of expressive possibilities, but he/she must remember that a garment itself has no life, without a body that can revitalize the volumes, turning it into a three-dimensional unit.
Cristobal Balenciaga was a great interpreter of this concept, creating his own aesthetic schemes (he was self-educated, an enfant prodige), adding an extravagant, dramatic and breathtaking accent to his creation. His idea of a geometric female body was also fundamental to develop the New Look of Christian Dior, who called Balenciaga “the master of us all”. His concept of fashion can be summarized in this quote:
“A couturier must be an architect for perspectives, a sculptor for shapes, a painter for color, a musician for harmony, and a philosopher for sense of proportion.”
He showed real virtuosity when working with volumes, which were the result of an endless experimentation.
The correspondence in size, form, and arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a plane, line, or point; regularity of form or arrangement in terms of like, reciprocal, or corresponding parts.
Lack or absence of symmetry in spatial arrangements or in mathematical or logical relations.
Symmetry and asymmetry are two basilar concepts, which a designer has to deal with, while designing garments. They involve silhouette, proportions, and a deep knowledge of couture’s art.
Creating a dress on a body is like creating a sculpture. You can both improve the symmetry of the body or revolutionize the optical balance with asymmetry.
With symmetry you can search for perfection and with asymmetry you can question the beauty’s standards, pushing the common idea of aesthetic.
A visionary artist, who created her works of art with a constant eye on quality and rare intelligence is Madeleine Vionnet.
Vionnet can be considered a purist of fashion, a dreamer and also a concrete woman, who has explored the concept of geometry (as symmetry and asymmetry) in order to obtain credit as a master of geometry.
She once said:
“I have tried my whole life to be a doctor of the line”
Starting from a mental concept, each garment of Vionnet was a result of endless tailoring and improvement and it was thought, as she used to say, for real women, for human beings, not for imaginary humans.
Her revolutionary style questioned the establishment, making women free from corsets and constriction, creating the bases of modern tailoring, mastering simple and minimal shapes, in an age, which had inherited the traditions of a redundant and anachronistic past.
The purity and essentiality of lines, the beauty and the poetry captured in each of her garment, have contributed to make Vionnet’s work a milestone in the history of modern fashion.
A philosophical and critical movement, starting in the 1960s, that questions all traditional assumptions about the ability of language to represent reality. Therefore a reader must approach a text by eliminating any assumptions through an active role of defining meanings.
In fashion, deconstructing a garment means to start from what is established by the common rules and to give it a new interpretation. Starting from the philosophical meaning of the word deconstruction, a designer can apply the same method, questioning what is taking for granted by our society and create another point of view, another perspective to observe and use the garments.
Deconstruction can be applied on different levels and can have different interpretations, more or less extreme, but the starting point is the same for everyone: you should perfectly know the rules, before starting your own revolution.
A designer that knows perfectly how to express his incredible vision of fashion is Martin Margiela.
His extravagant interpretation of tailor’s techniques and his unique and surrealist approach on pattern-making are the two key-elements that makes Margiela a genius.
His garments are the quintessence of art, mixed up with a deep knowledge of couture’s techniques and fashion history. The artistic language used to communicate different realities has opened the mind of thousands of creatives, making them able to think ahead.
Eliminating the boundaries of reassuring comfort zone, exploring the unconventional, abandoning the protective cocoon.
This is the message held in Margiela’s garments, a new way for the interpretation of beauty, far from the dogmas our society is used to.
The quality of an object or substance with respect to light reflected by the object, usually determined visually by measurement of hue, saturation, and brightness of the reflected light; saturation or chroma; hue.
Color is a shortcut that conveys a message quickly without words or complex images.
Color is a powerful tool that can affect our purchasing decisions. Without the emotional appeal of colors, products would be purchased only for utilitarian use. Colors drives our impulses and awake inner emotions and internal memories. Colors trigger responses that are innate and universal.
Nevertheless colors are subjected to cultural differences and they have always had different functions, throughout history.
In early Christianity, yellow was the color of heretics, while in China it was the color of the Emperor, so noble that common people were forbidden to wear it. In ancient Egypt though, yellow and red were used as nail polisher’s colors for women.
Purple had always been associated with the concept of aristocracy, also because of the price and the rarity of purple dyes.
Green is the sacred color for Islam.
Orange and blue, instead were used as hair dyes by prostitutes during Roman Empire.
Also the association of genders and colors has changed radically, as for pink and blue that were used either for female and male’s garments back in 18th century.
Khaki was originally a specific color introduced for regimental uniforms in 1880’s, in India.
Red, white and black are most powerful colors in societies and are the basis of the most color systems. Red can be used to celebrate brides in Eastern culture, but in the West in associated with with subversive sexual behavior. White, instead, is the color of goodness, cleanses and purity, used for example by political candidates during Roman Empire.
The more the tunic was white, (the brightness of white was obtain using animal urine as bleach), the more your personality could be perceived clean and pure. Black has always been associated with death, magic, mystery, religious conservatism, simplicity and in more recent time with elegance and luxury.
In modern times black has become the backbone of fashion because it is anonymous and asexual.
Black has been clear from being associated with mourn and religion by Chanel. With her great sense of style and chic, Chanel reinvented the way we consider black nowadays in our wardrobe, a color that matches with every dress-code we’re dealing with throughout our day, from office to party at night!