I often compare the fashion industry to the music industry to help students understand how designers and brands evolve from season to season and, in many cases, from decade to decade. I had a conversation about the Rolling Stones with someone yesterday and later, when I went to teach, I used their story and the key to their longevity as a way to describe how collections work in fashion.
The Rolling Stones have been strutting around since 1962, for the love of god. That’s about the same time that JFK was assassinated and Jackie wore her “Pink Chanel Suit.” (Which wasn’t really Chanel btw, but was Chanel fabric that the NY dress salon Chez Ninon cut and made into a suit, “line for line,” so that she would appear more patriotic.) That smart, sweet, pink suit was just one in a long line of suits that Chanel had and would develop over the years. Even after Coco died and even later, when Karl took over in 1983, the boxy little suit, with the gold buttons and embroidery, bouclé fabric, and a chain sewn into the hem to make it fall right, has been the cornerstone of every collection.
There ain’t ever going to be a Chanel collection without a one. (I’ll bet you, um, a Chanel suit for it.) They know how to make them real good by now and they’re not letting go of it:
The Rolling Stones adopted the rhythm and blues ethos and made it the heartbeat of not just every song on every album, but more importantly, their lives.
They immersed themselves into the music and, with the timing that only the sixties could offer, Jagger’s marketing prowess, a *smattering* of drug addiction, and an intense commitment that included Richards’ sleeping with his guitar (“If there’s no babe around, you sleep with it. She’s just the right shape.”), they developed into the band that never quits. I mean, NEVER. There are like, 14 documentaries about them. They’re not even a band anymore. They’re a hydra of music, model-wives and children, houses in St. Tropez, high colonic cleanses, ironclad licensing contracts for their team of lawyers to sort out, and really, really, really, skinny hipped men.
And what they have in common is that they both have been able to make something, the same, but different, every time.
To quote someone I NEVER thought I’d quote and I shudder at doing so, Gene Simmons said, “Instead of being in a rock and roll band, I want to be in a rock and roll brand.” Brand is about consistency, which the Stones and Chanel (and fine, KISS) have in spades. It’s also about a rthythm, about knowing what to change, how much to change, what works, what doesn’t, and working with what you have – even if it’s with a mean French woman or a strung out lead guitarist. Your foundation is your currency and that’s what you base your collection on season after season.
It’s hard to tell students that design is about systems and taking baby steps while simultaneously pushing them to experiment and indulge their creativity and imagination. All the experimenting will pay off because all those discoveries are what you use to diffuse a single thing, like a garment or a genre, over time. It’s a real time-saver. We’ve all seen designers pull out all the stops but they burn out so quickly because they don’t have a foundation. Better to find your root, your chord progressions, your silhouette so you don’t become a one hit wonder.
So how old do you think the zipper is? I had no idea but apparently it just turned 119 or something. It seems kind of hard to put an age on something that has had so many evolutions but fashion just sneaked in another reason to hold an event to commemorate it anyway. Maybe it was riding on the coattails of the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Punk: Chaos to Couture” and similarly obligatory Met Ball extravaganza from Monday night.
The Snyderman-Works Galleries in Old City hosted the show and fashion designers in apparel and accessories exhibited their designs. I read somewhere that the seemingly impractical Elsa Schiaparelli was the first designer to use a zipper in a garment. We’ve come a long way since then.
The ladies from Three Sirens Boutique submitted a few looks and I snapped this one on my way to the bain maries full of falafel balls.
Lele Tran had her smart and versatile zipper scarves on display (read: male model.) Not only are they uni-omni-multi sex, you can wear them as a dress, skirt, wrap, or a top. Super smart.
Autumnlin Atelier has been working her zipper talents for years now. I blogged about her RTW line, Heartless Revival, last October. If you want to see how to repeat something so that it looks like something else, stare at a few of her zipper “armor” pieces for minute and watch them transform.
Kate Cusak has mastered the art of zipper jewelry. It’s hard to reinvent something that is such a commodity and make it not only look fresh, but elegant.
I’m surprised this zipper trend is still kicking. I remember several years ago when every consumer got a schooling on zipper application and there was hardly a garment that didn’t showcase this invention. I thought it would die down but YKK (not to mention the Swiss/German/Italian folks at Riri and American guys at Talon) keep reinventing it in fashion and technologically. (They actually have a trend report!) Today, there are waterproof zippers, reversible zippers, separating invisible zippers and something called “PowerRail® Hook and Holder System” and more that all come in brass, aluminum, nickel, or nylon, with multiple teeth thickness and size, tape thicknesses, and every length and color imaginable. I can’t tell you how angry I got the first time I tried to place an order for manufacturing. I felt like I was trying to buy health insurance (“I just want a zipper!!!!”) But it certainly made me think a little bit longer when I poured myself into my jeans the next day.
I hear a lot of students talk about how they want to start their own fashion label so I thought I’d interview an independent designer to lay it all out for those aspiring to do so. Nicole Haddad is the owner and designer of the Philadelphia fashion label Lobo Mau (Portuguese for “Big Bad Wolf”, a child hood obsession) and she has bravely been living the *glamorous* life of a designer for several years now and shared a few thoughts with me. She’s also refreshingly honest, non-scary and always says thank you.
She’s busy bee. Aside from getting production going for her Fall 2013 collection, she just participated in a Harajuku-themed fashion show for the Suburu Cherry Blossom Festival and she’s been asked to show at Immaculata University’s Annual Fashion Show as well. And rounding out the Spring is a two day trunk show at Arthur & Daughter’s in York, PA on May 3rd and 4th where she’ll be showing her Spring/Summer Collection. Her website is brand, spanking new. I asked her to tell me the good, the bad, and the necessary details to start and run your own fashion label.
Do you use computers in your design? At what point?
Although I am a huge Photoshop and Illustrator user, I don’t need any computer programs for the design phase. My textile prints are mostly hand-drawn and silk screened onto the fabric by artist Ryan Parker. I draw my flats by hand. I think computers only come in at the photo editing phase, after the season’s look book as been shot.
How does your background and history play into your designs?
On my mother’s side of the family I come from a long line of Sicilian dress makers and fashion designers. My great-grandparents had several bridal and evening gown shops in Philadelphia. They dressed all the local celebrities such as Grace Kelly. I learned a lot of sewing techniques from my grandmother who was a bridal designer and had a shop in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. My dad’s side of the family is Brazilian, so I we have been visiting Brazil at least once a year my entire life. In Brazil, it is common to have clothing custom made by local seamstresses. I began designing my own clothing at a very young age and having my designs made during my visits to Brazil. Brazilian fashion also really influences my aesthetic.
Who are your favorite people to work with? Designers, models, photographers?
I love photoshoots. If you find the right photographer, who really gets your vision, the collaboration can be explosive. The photographer can elevate your product to the next level with a great photo. It takes me about a month to plan my look book shoots with my favorite photographer, Ross Ericsson.
What is important to you as a designer?
I want to make clothing that women want to wear. It is really a simple goal, but it can be difficult to achieve. As a designer, it is my mission to analyze women’s relationship to their clothing. And believe me, this relationship goes deep. The right garment can make a woman feel incredible. My mission is to make women feel cool, thin, and chic. I want my customers to walk into a room wearing Lobo Mau and get a ton of compliments on her outfit. And she does!
Where do you see the fashion industry going?
I definitely think mass customization is the way of the future. We are going to be able to order garments that fit our bodies perfectly, at no extra cost.
What do you think up and coming designers need to learn today?
How to make a living doing what they love. You can’t survive as a designer if you aren’t selling your product. The goal of a designer is to solve problems. If you aren’t solving the problem of how to make a living, then you aren’t really designing.
Can you share with me the difficulties you have that you think young designers don’t know?
I don’t think young designers realize how tenacious you need to be to survive. You can’t expect to work a 40 hour work week and be done with it. When you start your own line, you are working all the time. You have to always be thinking ahead and strategizing about your next step. It’s also really important to be organized and to make sure you aren’t spinning your wheels unnecessarily. Time is money!
Do you think your design training prepared you to be an independent designer? Why or why not?
I got a great education, and I learned how to make my deadlines and how to present myself and my work with the utmost professionalism. My education definitely laid the groundwork for my career, but I had to fight my way through using trial and error. I’ve probably made every mistake in the book when it comes to starting my own line, but these mistakes made me stronger and more knowledgeable. I’m at the point now where I have established my brand and my aesthetic. I know who I am and where I want to take this brand.
Who or what has gotten you through tough times?
The tough times are constant. Every time I want to give up, I have a breakthrough. I also have this amazing community of Philadelphia designers around me, and we all lift each other up. We have a great co-op called US*U.S. where we work together and sell our clothing. And of course, I have my family and my husband who keep me going.
What is your inspiration?
I’m inspired by print design, color, and a garment’s proportion.
What was a turning point in your career?
Probably when I quit my day job. When you don’t have a paycheck coming in, you hustle much harder. Fear of failure is what gets me up in the morning. I have made a decision to take this difficult career path, and I need to make sure I don’t let down the people who believe in me. Most of all, I can’t let myself down!
What gets you in the studio every day?
I strive to be a responsible business woman. I want to make my deadlines and be on top of my emails. I have all these great new boutique accounts, and I want to make sure that these are lone-term relationships. I want them to know that they can count on me to deliver!
What’s your favorite part of designing/being a designer?
I love clothing. I used to lay awake at night as a child and dream up clothing that I wish I had. I love seeing these dreams come to life, and it makes me giddy to see people wearing my designs. I can’t contain myself. I want to Lobo Mau-ify the world!
What’s your least favorite part?
Hemorrhaging money. Being an independent designer is SO expensive. Everything I make just goes right back out again. I have to pay for fabric, fabric printing, manufacturing, parking, photoshoots, models, graphic designers, printing etc.
How would you define your style?
Fresh, edgy, chic.
What fabrics, colors, silhouettes do you work with?
I only work with jersey knit fabrics. It makes sizing so much easier. I choose really simple shapes and usually a-line silhouettes. I like to hide and show the body.
When you sit down to design each collection, what do you do?
First I choose colors, then we choose the print. Next I begin drawing. Once the fabric is printed, I begin making the pieces I’m absolutely sure about. Usually the collection begins to develop based on these finished pieces. I really try to merchandise each collection so that pieces can all be mixed up and worn together. I think a lot about how my buyers will view the collection. I want to give them diversity with the pieces.
What is your favorite way to draw/sketch? What do you use?
I have a 8”x11” sketchbook that I carry around with me. I like to continuously draw and redraw the pieces until I get them right in the context of the collection.
Thank you for your time Nicole! I wish you all the luck in the world!
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