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.


6 thoughts on “Design Dumb Dresses

  1. Hard but true… as long as you don’t make profit you can think that it is: a) the beginning of something or b) kind of a hobby …isn’t it?

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