FASHION DESIGNER: what does
this incurable workaholic do!
Everyone wonders about a fashion designer's “JOB”. It happens when you meet people you don't know, on holiday, at dinner, at a bar, an exhibition or on a business trip.
Most times when people ask me what I do I feel embarrassed, and bored if I'm perfectly honest.
Is being a fashion designer actually a job? I believe it's more than that; it's a “WORKLIFE”!
Explaining what we do to those outside the industry isn't easy. The most visible side of fashion is the final show: the runway, the newspaper headlines, the big name designers or art directors and the VIP events. What others see is the endgame (Beckett will forgive me for referencing him in such a profane context), the third act in a wonderful play with special effects and amazing solo performances.
Most people think that a “designer” just designs clothes, so once you've replied, “I'm a designer”, they look pleasantly surprised and say: “Ah, so you design clothes! For women, men or children? And where can I buy them?”
This is when I get embarrassed and bored with having to repeat that my job is not just about designing! How do you explain in a few words what I call the stressmaking journey (which is how I sum up the process from creative idea through to final collection). How do you get across the innate ability for “Storytelling Research” that a person like me must have!
6 months of uninterrupted stress, 6 months of cerebral activity, 6 months of work that is non-stop, because when you are out you are always thinking of the next day when you'll have to put what's in your head into practice!
There are no public holidays or weekends to relax and unwind. You are always looking, reading, listening to something that can lead you to the right solution, you're always on the lookout for something. You're basically doing research all the time.
This is my job, it's a full-time job of “Emotional Sensitivity” that no amount of schooling can prepare you for. It's always driven by a creative force, which is why I'm considered a workaholic: I never pull the plug, my head is always switched on because everything is built on and developed year after year, research after research, collection after collection, story after story.
To understand what my job really is, you have to know about my “STUDYARCHIVE”, which is a mental and actual storage of photos and objects that can stimulate my creative vision, magazines and books on every topic, notes on “EmotiveIdeas”, vintage pieces picked up around the world, and notes on what other fashion designers do and have done. I always need to think of something new that can produce “motivating reflections” so that I can have precise, overall knowledge of the market.
In my 35 years of “worklife”, I have collected about 10,000 fashion publications, 13/14,000 vintage pieces, 1500/2000 swatches of fabric, and 1000 knit stitches. People who see my archive often ask, “what's it for? How do you come up with a new collection every season?”.
I need this enormous amount of material to kick off the inspirational process, to begin a new dream, a new adventure, to create moodboards, and find particular colours and details. I call it “A Visual Material Library”.
When I try to explain my job to people, I often use the example of an author trying to write another chapter in his novel.
For me, the chapter takes 6 months to 'write' and ends with a show or a presentation. It's like sitting an “exam” over a lifetime and you only pass if your collection is successful and sells.
You have to pass with flying colours, and to do that you need not only talent but also the utmost professionalism and a sense of responsibility that comes with the job.
No one can predict if the final collection will be right, whether people will like it, whether it will sell. And this is the most complex part of the job, because a collection that doesn't work puts all the professionals working with you at risk and it can jeopardise your turnover and even cause you to shut down.
So it takes more than just talent and creativity; you also have to be aware of the balance and compromises between Creativity, Research and the Market. I don't like the word compromise, but it doesn't mean putting limits on creativity. I use this term to refer to a process that we go through with humility, doing ongoing research towards a “POSSIBLE DISCOVERY”.
Sensitivity and instinctive creativity are the springboards towards ideas for new projects. Knowledge, preparation and experience help you develop an idea that might seem impossible.
Balancing these elements – like a chemical formula in which each component is essential – determines the success of our work and those who work with us.
But above all this balance addresses the market, stimulates consumers, involves the press, activates the web and allows us to be connected to the real world, which in the end will judge the real success of a collection.
Style-makers have to know how to develop, shape and mould an idea, so that content and emotions can be conveyed and thus make our beautiful “JOB” easier to understand.