Fit to Print

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Last week I helped out at the Carrie Parry Fit Trial and Trunkshow at Alvanon.  That’s a lot of information right there so I’ll back up.

Carrie Parry is designer based in NYC who, according to her FB page, is committed to “using mindfully sourced materials, supporting artisans worldwide and our environment for future generations to come.”  So clearly she’s got her finger on the pulse of the future of fashion and is always collaborating on something cool.  Speaking of cool collaborations, for her lookbook, she used “non-model” models who took pictures of themselves using a remote camera trigger.  Here are a couple looks from her Fall 2012 collection.:

These are REAL people, not models.
These are REAL people, not models.

Next up, Alvanon.  In case it hasn’t become clear how vast the fashion industry is, here is another segment that proves the point:  Alvanon is an “apparel fit expert” that collects and analyzes information about body types around the world in order to conquer the ever elusive challenge of “fit.”  If you think about it, it’s a herculean task riddled with psychological, socio-economical, and ever-changing aesthetic and biological implications.  It’s like defining umami or staying in tune.  Here’s their holiday picture from their FB page that I found magnificent and hilarious:

All baby dressforms wish for clothes for Christmas.
All baby dressforms wish for clothes for Christmas.

So Carrie Parry had the moxie, chutzpah, self-confidence, to invite people to try on her clothes, complain about the fit answer some fit questions, and then hopefully buy a few items.  I thought it was very brave of her to do this given all the hangups people have about their bodies and what they perceive as good fit – I have done my fair share of alterations and it’s rarely about the garments.  But feedback is feedback and I think she walked away with an immense amount of information about who her customer is and what they want and expect from their garments.

Each person tried on about 5 different garments: top, skirt, pant, dress, jacket. Then, we had them tell us how it fit on scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Some of the fit questions were “This top is comfortable” and “On this top, the bust/waist/hip feels…” and “This top fits better than what I normally wear.”  Even more specifically were questions about the range of motion in the armhole, how it feels across the back and if the bicep was too big or too small.  Sleeves are a torture test in fit because while you need to be able to function in your clothes, you also don’t want a ton of excess fabric when you’re standing still.  Getting people to move is really valuable. I always have people hug and pretend to drive in fittings.  For bottoms, I make sure they squat and sit, and always, always, always take a walk around the room.

Finally, I got to do it:

Now my hangups come out.
Now my hangups come out.

I loved this dresscoat and found it fit me but was surprised (and pleased) that it was a size or so down from what I tend to wear.  I guess that’s better than having it go up – but I try not to look at sizes anymore since we’re all weirdly shaped and have differing expectations about how true a size is.  We all know by now that there is no consistency between brands either.  So I’m glad Alvanon is getting to the bottom of this.  It’s a vast study that everyone seems to have a strong opinion on.

So when you’re trying on those ugly, ironic Christmas sweaters from Urban Outfitters and shopping for those special L.L. Bean Chinos for your Dad or sneaking in a gift for yourself from this amazing selvage denim company that you’ve been wanting a pair from FOREVER and you don’t care they only make them for men and it’s Christmas so why the hell not, take a moment to consider what fit they intended, if you think it’s accurate, or if they’re just making it all up.


You are the most amazing designer. No, you ARE.

I look at the students in my classes and the classes I critique and whether they’re 13, 23 or 43, I see this panic and doubt in their eyes when I dare them to design. Whether I ask them to draw sketches for a portfolio, tell them to sew something time consuming or difficult, or suggest they seemingly “destroy” their precious garment, I get a face that says they can’t possibly do that, they don’t know how, they aren’t good at it,  and/or it’s going to come out ugly.

And I totally know where they’re coming from.

I know what this panic and doubt looks like because I did the same thing.  I DO the same thing.  It’s overwhelming to think the work never stops, that you’ve done so much but you may just have to start again and who knows how it’s going to turn out because you’re new at this and inconsistent and it takes so many years to really master it.

How old is Karl anyway?
How old is Karl anyway?

But now, I’ve figured out a way to trick myself, psyche myself out, into designing.

The mental psyching out usually starts with me telling myself, “You’re the most AMAZING designer.”  And then I’m good for about a minute.  At which point I have to tell myself, “No, you’re really amazing.  People want to work with you.”  And then I’m good for bit more and then, when the dark side creeps back in I say, “You’ll win an award for this….what you’re doing here, right now.”   It really does work.

But the physical part, I have to admit it, is more fun.  I began by pretending that I wasn’t going to design clothing at all.  My job was to paint some doodles and not really care how they came out.  So I got a roll of paper they sell at IKEA (but it could even be better if it was paper that didn’t suggest creativity, like newspaper, or cardboard) and laid out a long strip of it.  I grabbed really long paint brushes, a chunky pencil and watercolors and stood over the paper and drew some stupid curvy lines.  I had some challenges.  The long brushes put some distance between me and the work and stopped me from controlling it. It was awkward to paint and walk at the same time.   I got dirt on it.   It didn’t make any sense so I didn’t care.  And the kitties got in the way too.

Even Karl has a kitty to assist him.
But even Karl has a kitty to assist him.

And this is the 8 ft. monstrosity that I made:

"Looks like cats made it."  Well....
“Looks like cats made it.” Well….

It’s not much to look at.  Kind of feathery, organic, brown.  I like all those things.  But wait!  It’s not done!  I have SOMEthing all of a sudden.  I have a thing, an element with which to design!  I can take this and scale it, flip it, turn it on it’s head, repeat it.  MAKE GARMENTS FROM IT.  Who knows what’s going on or what it is, how it’s made…YET.  I’m just seeing how this could be worn.  And here are some options.  Tell me what you think. :

Design Experiments1 copy copy
I like the coat the best.

Maybe it actually is a bunch of feathers.  Maybe it’s strips of torn organza, chiffon, and leather.  Maybe it’s softly draped cotton voile that’s been painted and dyed.

If I can trick myself, I should be able to trick my students.  They’ll come in to class one day and think we’re just goofing around and then all of a sudden they’ve designed a collection.