Now I’m going to contradict myself after the last post.

In theater, they say it’s always easier to pull back.  Directors always preferred working with actors who brought a lot to the rehearsal so it gave them something to work with.  People who push the idea, extend the idea, let it grow and change.  I think the same can be true of fashion.

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending a day at the Maryland Institute College of Art, also known as MICA.  They have an incredible Fibers program that has been nurtured and developed by some of the most intelligent, creative, and talented people I’ve ever met.  Not being from the “art world”  it was inspiring to visit the beautiful space and discuss a side of fashion where the constraint of time is a little further down on the list.

You know, just an old train station to get your juices flowing.
This is the Mount Royal Station in which the program resides. The light in here is amazing.

They have every kind of facility, resource, machine, table, station, computer, bucket, and book you can imagine.  Get ready to swoon.

Get your weave on.
Get your weave on.
Tables for getting messy.
Tables for getting messy.  Knitting machines in the background.
I forget what this is called but you mix dyes here.
I forget what this is called but you mix dyes here.  Don’t you like the orange sign above that asks,  “Have you EATEN today?”

So, if you can believe it, they have a Studio Concentration in Experimental Fashion that made me want to go back to school RIGHT NOW.  The description says “The program balances practice and theory and placing fashion in its broadest cultural context, from consumption to the global market.”  FUN.

At MICA, there are no  dumb dresses.  They create dense work that is intimate and personal, the discussions are thorough and philosophical, and the processes are involved and prolonged.  This is done with the notion that ideas can always be made smaller.  While I don’t want to characterize it too much, the work is what some may call avant-garde and for the record, I consider that a compliment.  It seems to be in the more european tradition of fashion schools like the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp that gave us the Antwerp Six or Central Saint Martins that gave us Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney.

Batiste getting the Shibori treatment.
That ain’t just scrunched up fabric.  That’s shibori!

Today I’m meeting with a talented student from the program, Zenata Kruszelnicka.  She’s taking the next step to get her product into stores and make her big ideas sellable.  The fashion process is long one, full of puzzles, deadlines, and egos. Once the ball is rolling, people don’t have time to care so much about your “vision” and just want to get the product made and out the door on time.  In the words of a factory manager I once knew, “I don’t celebrate Christmas.  I work.”  Making sure that students learn the subsequent skills for the real world is the challenge.


Design Dumb Dresses

Poor Nicolas.
Poor Nicolas.

From Alfredo Cabrera’s 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School:

“Michelangelo was doing a job.  When Pope Julius II commissioned the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo no doubt looked at the large surface broken up by many vaults, pendentives, and pilasters and feared the innumerable restrictions, boundaries, and boxes.  He probably felt further limited by the demands of making the Bible understandable to largely illiterate congregation.

It is unlikely, however, that Michelangelo complained he didnt like the ceiling, that it wasn’t his style, or that the Pope didn’t get how he worked.  Instead, Michelangelo turned the practical limitations into artistic opportunities, lending testament to the true nature of creativity: It best reveals itself in solving real-world problems.”

When I was in school I always heard students and instructors refer to “finding your style” and I’m ashamed to admit it always baffled me.  It seems like such an important and reasonable thing to cultivate in design school but it was also overwhelming for me to consider.  I wasn’t self-aware or experienced enough to know this.  I didn’t know what “my style” was and I’m torn as whether or not it’s important to discover.  Now I realize that it has it’s place.

I’ve seen students who had a really strong style and vision and was always impressed.  There were classmates who never strayed from certain color stories or themes.  Or they only worked in knits or had a menswear aesthetic or a sporty look.  At times it was predictable and boring.  I would think, “Well, here goes so-and-so again, making a collection in primary colors.”  Why would someone learning about design lock themselves in?  Are they that sure about their vision that they don’t break the rules?  How does this translate into the real world?  It’s very hard to design and work for firms where you don’t like the clothes so you have to hope you end up working or a designer whose vision is very similar to yours.  This is where you want to be if you plan on having your own label.

And then there are students who try something different in every class.  This approach seems the smart way to go if you’re going into “the industry.”  You need to be able to separate yourself from your designs and create for the customer.  If you can do this, it doesn’t matter so much what your personal style is.  You can see beyond the aesthetic, your feelings about it, and just, as a designer friend of mine was told by her production manager, “Design dumb dresses that sell….not ‘smart’ ones that don’t.”

Young designers must be clued into this reality.  It’s hard to reconcile the strain between exploring your own vision and understanding what awaits you in the working world.  Just look at how often fashion labels go under or how easily beloved designers are replaced.  Nicholas Ghesquière was lauded for many years at Balenciaga.  Now, Alexander Wang has taken over because of his talent for making “the edgy commercial.”  Never forget that the “real-world problem”  is always to make a profit and as a trained designer, you must solve it.