How DOES one become a fashion designer? This is a question for which I am still trying to find an answer, even though I have been calling myself a fashion or clothing designer for some years now. I can tell you it is not as easy as some of the so-called-self-help books make it out to be. It’s a lot of work, a lot of missed sleep, and a lot of talking to anyone who will listen to you promoting yourself.
I should probably back up a little and define what a fashion designer is and does. By definition, a designer is “a person employed to create ideas for garments or accessories in the fashion industry” (Frings, 1994). Fashion is “the prevailing style of any given time; this implies change in style” (Frings). So a fashion designer is a person who comes up with the ideas for the current prevailing style. This definition however does not completely cover everything a designer does. It really only covers what a designer who works for a big company or design house does. A designer who is working on his or her own does so much more than just design. If it was just the drawing part then it would be easy; anyone who can hold a pencil can design.
Fashion designers in general must not only keep up on the current trends of color, silhouette, price points, market audience and strategy but they must also help define and create a demand for the style in the first place. So they also need to be advertisers and dream makers. Tommy Hilfiger is one of these types of individuals. He took an idea and created a demand for an image of success and leisure in the American populace. It came at the right time for the society and as a result was a huge success as a brand. The style he created turned into a way of life that was desired. So designers also have to be visionaries and, in one form or another philosophers, prophets, and leaders.
I know this is a lot to take in. It’s overwhelming what all needs to be considered in trying to become a fashion designer. I believe this is why it has taken me so long to actually decide and do what it is I want to do. But to be honest I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love it. I believe it was Coco Chanel who once said, “If you don’t like what you do, do something else.” This is how I know I’m on the right path. I love creating things that don’t already exist and that in itself is a challenge. I love the design process and the creation process; figuring out what does and doesn’t work for any particular sewing problem is challenging. I love researching and learning techniques that are traditional and historical and then modifying the technique to become unusual or odd but serves a purpose in my designs. This is what I was meant to do. This process of discovering what I am about, what I stand for in the fashion world, and who I am has been an extraordinary journey so far and one that I hope you, the reader, will follow.
I want to include some photos of a gown that I did for a contest in Anchorage Alaska called the Alaska Fiber Festival. The contest and subsequent fashion show is something that I have entered twice now and won first place once. The “Taming the Garden dress,” didn’t win the second time I entered the contest but is a perfect example of what I mean by researching historical and traditional techniques and then using them in different ways. I did enter this gown in another contest and won first in my category which got me a new sewing machine. Thank you Bernina!
The bodice of the gown is woven tubes of individually cut bias strips that are then sewn together at the cross connection points with seed beads. The problem with the bias strips happened when I tried to make them all the same size, one inch, and then weave them together. I discovered that the same size didn’t work and had to make little sections of differing sizes. So the strips gradate in size from ¼” to 1” and then back down in order to fit my bust and waist. The skirt is top stitched with metallic thread, much like quilting. The skirt also has hand-made silk (polyester) ribbon flowers using millinery techniques that were once made to be utilized for decorations on ladies hats, and what was called “lovelies or pretties” for a lady’s boudoir in the early 1900’s.
I hope you, the reader, will enjoy seeing what I come up with, and then come up with your own ideas. Every piece of information is food for thought and material for creation. I will love seeing what you all come up with.
Frings, Gini Stephens, (1994), Fashion: from Concept to Consumer Fourth Edition. Simon & Schuster Company: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.