My Mood Board

I watched this video on Garance Dore’s blog a while back and in her interview with Guillaume Henry he said something that really stuck with me: “Fashion should be part of a dream.”  I really loved that.  Not only does it go along with one of the themes of the very blog you’re reading but it speaks to finding inspiration and developing mood boards too.  I once worked for a company that NEVER made a mood board or worked from a theme.  It showed.  There was something empty, out of place and in-cohesive about the designs and collection. Your inspiration gives you depth, meaning, relevance, and even humanity.

I took a little time today to daydream and put together a mood board of my obsessions, interests, and some things that I want to eat that may not be edible.

Gold star to whomever finds the goat.

You may be asking where I get all these pictures from.  Today, there are great sites like Polyvore and Pinterest that take the work of archiving out of it. For the record, I spend time waste an entire day on those sites too, but I still crave the actual picture.  I’ll even go as far as printing it out just so I can “have” it.  But in a gross, old-fashioned, packrat habit of mine, I save it and file it into one of these babies:

I have several of these boxes and they’re REALLY fun to move.

Some of these pictures I’ve carried around with me for years because they provide so much inspirational nutrients.  I used to keep them really organized into categories as broad as “sleeves” and “politics” and “religious things” and “giraffes” and “rich people” and my personal favorite, “things I want.” (It’s important to draw inspiration from more than just clothing.  Food, text, and animals feature prominently in mine. THERE’S A WORLD OUT THERE!) It became too much to cross-reference them when I couldn’t decide how to file things anymore.  Do the Frida Kahlo pictures from Vanity Fair go in “movies” or “Frida” or “Mexico” or “Annie Leibowitz”?  It’s a job for someone full of Adderall.  Before I knew it, I was trying to manage the stupid files instead of actually using them.  So I let them be a mess now and on days that I’m feeling smurfy, I open up my fashion toy box, root through the pictures, and JUST. GET. LOST.


My turn in the hot seat.

It’s so easy to ask someone to do something.  I do that all the time with my students forgetting that this is the first time they’re hearing this information while I’ve had years to have it sink in.  I have to admit that it took me a long time to really understand, let go, and implement the tenets of design; especially in reference to the drawing/designing technique I posted about a few weeks ago.  So I gave myself the lesson this time and I’m showing it to you in all it’s non-judgmental glory to critique.  I cranked up some Eastern European folk music and flipped through one of my books for inspiration and then let her rip.

Take a look at it and tell me what you notice.  Do I fully explore an idea?  What sort of jumps do I take from design to design?  Big? Small?  Am I consistent?  How do you see some of these design elements manifesting themselves in real garments?  Is it madness?  Are there any designs or elements that you think would be a good starting point for the basis of a collection?

Starting with the good old shift dress. I can’t believe I’m posting this on the internet. TOUGH CROWD.
Not quite Eastern European but more of a tribal feel. I’m trying to go with it.
And here we have Bob Mackie. I had to pull out my big sharpie to color the shape in.  Could be interpreted as a really cool print.
A little Rudi Gernreich to me.
Are you with me still? I’m feeling this a little more.
I’m only just beginning to cook here.  I’m having the urge to take bigger and bigger steps.

So that’s that.  I also have to admit that I was wiped out after this.  It took about 30 minutes (a little less than a minute per sketch) of real focus but I could have kept on going because I wasn’t drawing garments.  I was drawing what my inspiration helped me to draw which was a lot less tiring than drawing garments.

My personal fav is the 2nd garment on the last page.  I know it looks like a muumuu (yay muumuu!) but it kind of has a runway “finale” feel. It’s also one of the few sketches that didn’t emphasize the waist and that spoke to me for some reason.  I’m interested to decide/develop/discover what the doodle could be in the seams. Is it feathers? Raw seams? Cat hair?  So I’m going to run with that one.  Unless you tell me otherwise.

Mood Boards

Today I’m going to introduce my class to mood boards.  It’s often the first step in the designing process and usually what most people think designers do.

Or they think of this:

Miss Piggy as a Fashion Designer

Or maybe even this:

Kitteh working on a Spring collection.

Or this:

Kim Kardashian

Just kidding.  You can tell she doesn’t do any designing!  She’s too well rested.


Mood boards are usually my favorite part of designing because you get to make up a world and implement whatever is getting your juices going to make cool clothes.  As you know, folk wear has been my jam lately but I’m excited to see what things they come up with on their own.  It’s tricky teaching a visual skill.  I really want to show them what I’m talking about but I also don’t want to lead them in a direction that might squelch their creativity.  Sometimes they over-think the process for fear that they get it “wrong” but I think you can only get it “wrong” if you use the inspiration literally and don’t mix it up a bit.  This is why I believe there are always one too many geisha-inspired collections in the year-end fashion shows.  It’s a beautiful aesthetic but it’s rarely been refreshed.  Unless, of course,  you’re Alexander McQueen.

Not your everyday “Geisha” look.

I usually tell students that if you can’t have fun with the mood board and playing around with inspiration, you may not want to become a designer.  It’s hard to describe the daily schedule of a designer but I can tell you that very little of it is actually being creative. So I like to make this step as rich and as dense as possible so that they have a lot to draw from when they’re in the tedious part later on.

Don’t tell my students to go here but this is great mood/inspiration board from Carrie Parry that puts together a lot of cool things.

And here are a few Spring 2013 mood boards from the NYTimes T Magazine:

Bibhu Mohapatra.  Check out the moth in the middle!
Gilles Mendel: Iris, violets, tiger lilies, and roses.
Joseph Altuzarra uses people, in this case, Carine Roitfeld as inspiration.

I don’t know about you, but putting these together makes me think of when I was in high school and stayed up all night doing collages.  That might be an indictment of who I was.

Heartless Revival at the Fashion Incubator

Feathers + Zippers = Heartless Revival

I spent a few hours at the Fashion Incubator with my friend, the talented designer, Autumn Kietponglert of Heartless Revival.  I hadn’t seen her work in several months but she was gearing up for a bunch of events for Fashion Week (let’s just call it Fashion Month) and needed a little help so I said I would do what I could for her.  She has so many amazing ideas and I’m so heartened to see her streamlining her designs and saving herself some time and money.  She’s making these gorgeous scarves with great texture and an ingenious way of putting it together. How to make them better/easier/quicker?  She told me it takes something crazy, like 400 hours to do them.

Makes me want some pasta.

This is how they’re cut out:

All the strips are cut individually and slowly.

I tend to be on the side of making things as quickly as possible (which has it’s own drawbacks) but my first instinct was to double or even quadruple the fabric when it gets cut.  In production, so much time is spent just preparing the fabric to do what you want to do with it.  One of those steps is spreading the fabric which, in this case, is a jersey knit and probably one of the more tedious fabrics to spread.  It likes to flop around and stick together and you can find yourself walking around the table quite a bit to get it spread nicely.  Also, if bigger, longer pieces were used, there would be less time spent spreading.  But then you need more space to do it and I’m sure your cutting blades go dull faster so it may be wash at that point.  I have a headache now.

You can’t live without your sample hands.

I adjusted a bodice pattern I made for her four years ago to create a new knit dress.  I was happy to learn that she’s used it constantly since then to create more patterns so that’s money well spent. I also whipped together a knit jacket with some textural beading and exaggerated shoulders.  Autumn is venturing more and more into knits so it’s requiring a retooling of patterns and expertise with machines and handling.  However, fittings are a breeze and the garments are much more wearable.

Who wears short skirts?
The beaded jacket.

We took a look at some of her fantastical garments and I had the thought that she needed a simple slip sloper developed so she can use it as a base on which to design her amazing, dreamy dresses.  So I’ll be draping and getting that to her in a few days and hopefully it will come in just as useful as the first pattern I made for her.

Autumn is very skilled at letting her dreams guide her.  Her designs are directly inspired from an inner life, another ethereal world that has been an endless reservoir from which to draw.  It’s quite a challenge to synthesize them into the contraints of pattern making, time, money etc. But that’s what design is about.

The heart in Heartless.

How to design

The process at work.

When I was in design school, I was taught a technique by the artist Joanne Landis that changed how I approached designing, drawing and working with inspiration.  It took me a few years to fully grasp how great it is.  I teach fashion and have since passed the technique on to my students in portfolio, drawing, and now, a fashion foundation class and it, once again, has given great results.  Today, I’m going to discuss the first step.

There are 3 guidelines to follow:

1.  Each sketch must build from the last sketch with the first design being a simple shift dress.  Design details must be exhausted and several changes need to be made from sketch to sketch. (In other words, if you lower the skirt hem, you must continue to lower the hem until you can go no further.)

2.  Do not spend more than a minute on each sketch.

3.  Most importantly, absolutely no judgment can be made while you’re sketching.

It’s a design brainstorm that frees designers up from dealing with construction, fit, fabrication, season, merchandising, customer, etc. and lets them just work with design elements and extending an idea.  While I know the importance of having restrictions when you design, going through this process allows students to let go and stop drawing what we see in the stores everyday.  Most students are scared when I ask them to do this.  They want to draw things that make sense.  I did the same thing.  I wanted to draw “clothes” and “looks” and this exercise is asking you to design.

Here is a student quietly not judging herself and diving into the exercise:

Southpaws may want to work from right to left.

There are a few other things I gently mention when I guide them through this.  I remind them that it doesn’t have to be pretty, or make sense or seem wearable.  I tell them that their drawing skills are not important at the moment.  I ask them to not look for an outcome and to just brainstorm.

And here is what they drew.  It doesn’t look like much and it shouldn’t.  Students always cringe when you put them up on the wall to discuss.

The first step to nowhere.

When they actually start to use the exercise as a design tool, designers eventually produce dozens, if not hundreds of designs from which to develop a collection. While this seems daunting, it is actually much easier than just drawing clothes.  What does this get you in the end?  Why have a bunch of wretched drawings of crazy garments? How can this possibly become a collection?  Hopefully, you’ve drawn enough sketches so that you have something to work with.  An element, or even a mistake that appeared out of nowhere that can be the basis of a collection.

If fashion design is about pushing forward, then we need to encourage accidents and dreaming.