Archive for November, 2012

Fashion and Thanksgiving

Now there’s two words that don’t really go together.

I know that most folks are thinking about travel, food, family and friends so I’m keeping it simple.  I wanted to reflect upon how important silhouettes are when designing and show you that not all fashion is so body-conscious.  So here are some forgiving silhouette ideas for what you can wear to dinner and not worry about feeling constricted in your clothing after that third helping of mashed potatoes.  Also, you can freak your family out.

Louis Vuitton.  What fashionable competitive eaters wear.

Prada.  Not afraid of turkey coma.

Akris.  No one will ever know you’ve unzipped your pants.

Chanel.  Hint: You shouldn’t eat cranberry sauce when wearing this.

Jil Sander.  Pockets big enough for leftovers.

Balenciaga.  More pie please.

Snark aside, I think these are beautiful designs.  Have a cozy, happy holiday.  Whatever you decide to wear.

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I get a lot of students asking me how they can get into the fashion industry and I always end up telling them to get an internship.  I don’t know anyone who didn’t start out with an internship.  I had one when I was in school and before that, I apprenticed with a tailor.  Since then, I’ve interviewed a lot, hired many, and had to fire a few interns over the years.  I’ve been baffled, frustrated and insulted by interns.  I’ve also taught, been inspired by, and become friends with some.  I know I might have scared a few too.  I’m really sorry if I did because I always believed they are valuable, talented, and hard-working people and the fashion industry would hardly survive without their support.

“You have no style or sense of fashion.” Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada

One day a few years ago, I was hopped up on anxiety and adrenaline and composed the following email when I was asked about embarking upon a first fashion job.  It’s a little stress-inducing so I peppered it with scary and humorless smart and serious ladies:

“I’d love to help you but… we can’t busy the quarterback with passing out the Gatorade.” Katharine Parker, Working Girl

I’d say it’s not unlike applying for any job, first off.  You’ll definitely need a cover letter and resume, a portfolio of some kind, any garments or treatments you may have sewn or experimented with, and it’s always nice to have a design journal that shows your true creative side.  Most interns, after I interview them, give me a “leave behind” piece which is a little creative summation of their work.  It can come in various forms but it’s supposed to help me remember them.  I interview at least 30 interns a year.  I know bosses who don’t even bother to remember the names of the ones that get hired.

“Well, this week, it has been very cold: that’s all I can say.” Anna Wintour, September Issue

And finally, you should always follow up with a thank you email with a question or thoughts about the company or position.  I would never ask when they can tell you if you’re hired or not. Also, as a test for people I interview, I often give them my business card and ask them to contact me.  If they do, then I know they can follow simple directions.  If they don’t, I probably won’t hire them.

“We have a lot of young kids, girls, they’ve been set up to believe they’re God’s gift. And they can’t take a phone message! So when things are moving fast, me or Robin or Emily will swoop down on them and rip it.”               Kelly Cutrone.

As far as the interview goes, you should know as much about the company going in.  I get emails and interviewees who misspell or mispronounce the company or even worse, don’t have even a general question about it or who I am or what I do.  It’s okay to not know what you want to do or how the industry runs but at least have an idea of what the company is about.

“My friends, there are no friends.”         Coco Chanel

I know this sounds intense, and you may just be going into boutique shops and seeing if they need a hand but I still strongly suggest you prepare everything you can in order to be taken seriously.  But don’t expect to be seen immediately if you’re going in cold.  Ask or call ahead to know who to speak to.  I know that even the smallest apparel operations with a single home sewing machine in the back are struggling and want people to help and support them and treat their 24/7 business with as much respect as you would Donna Karan’s.  It will also show that you’re a hard worker and don’t intend on zoning out over fashion sketches and gossiping over the patternmaking table.  We get many unprofessional (albeit enthusiastic) inquiries but I’ll hire you in a second, even if all you have on your resume is a hostess position at Chili’s, over a semi-professional, die-hard fashion lover with fresh talent any day.

“There’s no one major worry.” Fern Mallis

And unfortunately, it’s customary that fashion internships are unpaid.  There are some out there that are if you’re lucky.  This sucks and I have some valuable interns I would love to pay but the argument is that this is a skill that takes a long time to learn that most people don’t end up having a stomach for.  I do a lot of hand holding and damage control even with the best but I don’t think of them as free labor.  Further, there just isn’t enough money in the industry to make paid interns feasible.  I hope this will change one day.

“Even if I wanted to express sympathy, I physically can’t.” Wilhelmina Slater, Ugly Betty

Hopefully, you will work for someone who is kind, appreciative, patient and really good at what they do.  These people are few and far between in any industry.  If you can find someone who is simply good at what they do and willing to take you on, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Kittens make everything better.

Thank you for staying with me.  To tie this all up, and get those daydreaming embers going again after a heavy dose of reality, I want to revisit and remind you of what inspires you.  As I mentioned before, your inspiration has all the information you need.  When you lock into it and honor it, it’s authentic and people recognize that.  And what you thought were scary fashion ladies are only your imagination getting ahead of you.

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I wish I could go back in time and burn any croquis I ever developed, drew or copied. I wish I hadn’t been afraid of what was going to come from my hand, my brain. I wish that I didn’t create a crutch for myself. I wish I never used a croquis.

Croquis is french for “sketch.” The term “croquis figure” is used in fashion design schools to describe a figure on which you draw designs or quick “croquis” sketches.  You take the figure, lay your paper on top of it and draw your designs. Bam.  Very quickly, fashion croquis are 9 heads high (go on and count them), and have exaggerated proportions: long legs, arms and a short waist.  Faces, hands and feet are generally negligibly drawn.  We go for drama, movement, and dreams in these figures.

This is what is generally called a croquis.

All nine heads of her.  From Nancy Riegelman’s book.

This is what I immediately ran to before I picked up my pen. I couldn’t design without it. It’s like when an actor doesn’t learn their lines and never goes “off book.” It’s like using Cliffs Notes. In true fashion metaphor, it’s like a girdle.  There’s a war story I heard when I was studying dance, that an instructor used tell about a dancer rehearsing for a show.  Every time the dancer would get to the part in the combination where he had to do a triple pirouette, he would stop, stand there and just twirl his finger as if to say, “This is where I do the pirouette.”  He did this so regularly that by performance time, that’s exactly what he did as well.

Now that I teach design, I completely understand how it happens. The design process isn’t a straight line, one clear step in front of the other.  Sometimes drawing doesn’t come as easy but you have to put your ideas down so you use the figure.  Then you use the figure to do final drawings and portfolios.  And then you can never NOT use it.

These days there are books that have all different croquis posed in innumerable ways and for different markets: womenswear, swimwear, maternity, kids, menswear. When I used to interview students for intern positions, I would recognize the croquis figures in their portfolios. I knew what book they got it from and who the author of the book was. I know because I labored over the exact same drawings in the exact same books, wanting to draw like them and wondering how they did it.  There are two excellent fashion drawing books that I recommend – that I think encourage students to develop their own technique: Nine Heads by Nancy Riegelman and Fashion Sketchbook by Bina Abling.  It’s a vast topic (that I’m certainly not an expert in) but they cover a lot of ground and my copies are well worn.

I’m taking a hard stand and I’m not going to use a croquis again. I’m sorry but you’ll have to see some of these drawings.  Wish me luck.

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