If you have to cry, go outside

I quoted a past professor the other day: “I asked what you think, not what you like.”  We were looking at color.  Color.  Big deal, right?  Well, it wasn’t until I saw them placating one another.  “That’s cool.”  “It’s pretty.”  “I like it.”

Placating is infectious.  And critiquing is a skill.  Tom Ford (successful, smart, savvy, experienced, good-looking, white, male) said, “I think the women’s fashion business is probably the hardest, toughest business in the world.”

“It’s pretty” just won’t cut it.


I admit I found myself placating, getting lazy with my observations after 10 or so critiques. I tried to find something new to say, something outside of what I usually say to young designers who make the same journeys and therefore, the same “mistakes.” I want to say something that I can learn from too, create a discussion for god’s sake.

Because I still need to learn how to accept a critique as well.

So, two quotes to think about.  Let’s start with a whopper from Aristotle (I’m SO smart): “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Yeeeeeoooouucchhh!

"I'd buy that skirt."
“Cute skirt.”

And then I heard this doozy from Alrik Koudenburg (cool, Dutch, designer whose website takes a long time to load): “To be outstanding, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  All of a sudden those sweaty, awkward, and painful moments hanging out in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana make sense.

Hearing those things makes me want to either hide or “be tough” but we know that neither choice is effective in designing, fittings, sewing a french seam, or even emptying the litterbox or standing in line at the DMV.  I’ve been trying to cultivate a sense of equanimity, choice-less awareness.  Finding that balance between toughness and mushiness is essential, but even though I entered the endless world of critiques and feedback long ago, I still think the experience will play out as follows:

1. I show my work.

2. They like my work.

3. I leave.

But you get an "F" for clip art.
But you get an “F” for clip art.

It’s crazy that I still have an instinct to think like this because my critique experiences really run the gamut and depend on so many factors:

  • Once I had a critique and I cried (sleep deprivation and relief it was over).
  • Once it went “really well” (I worked really hard).
  • Once I could CARE LESS about what they said (I hated the project but the work was decent).
  • Once I realized later they said nothing of value (the critic was esoteric and my work wasn’t up to par).
  • Once I could tell that he didn’t want to be there and he couldn’t critique (I liked the project, was proud of my work, and felt cheated).

But what if I loved the project, I wasn’t tired, I made strong choices and I genuinely liked and respected the critic and their feedback and I wasn’t being tough OR mushy, BUT I still felt wounded?  It wasn’t like I was hearing it from Kelly Cutrone.  What happens then?  You take the amazing and intelligent insight, apply it, and then take the credit when everyone loves it.

So here goes, my respected friends whose opinions I deeply value.  I finished a mini-collection for a collaboration for Design Philadelphia.  This is what it looks like.  What do you think?

Stay gold, Ponyboy.
Stay gold, Ponyboy.

6 thoughts on “If you have to cry, go outside

  1. Like you, I always find that a lot of people are either at a 1 (placating) or 10 (disrespectful) when it comes to the critique. Most want to avoid becoming that person who speaks their mind and crushes spirits in the process so we either lie, are too nice, or say nothing like the old saying goes. However, it’s hard to grow or change without a really good outline of how you did. Given the spotlight on bullying, anonymity of the internet, and high sensitivity to any criticism these days I can’t see critiques gaining any more finesse. How does one learn to separate what they like from what they think? -Nizzy

    1. Hi!

      I think it takes a lot of practice to separate the two and it takes a willing participant (read: not defensive) to make a productive discussion. I still work on it (as a critic and a designer). During a critique, I try to ask myself, “What is this communicating to me?” or “what is their intention?” Going back to these questions will usually answer concerns of craft, cohesion, and whether an idea has been fully realized or a goal achieved. For instance, if someone’s fabric swatches are hastily applied, falling off the board, un-ironed, I can glean a lot from that, but most of all, it’s hard for me to discern what choices were made. Say someone isn’t the strongest at drawing, but through their flats I can see an awesome collection: I can easily understand their vision and not dwell on the drawings. On the other hand, if the goals aren’t clear, then I often see work that hasn’t matured or developed beyond the initial design stage. In these situations, it’s good to ask the designer about their intentions and expectations.

      I think this certainly takes practice and empathy. When I ask my students “What do you think?” it often disarms them because they haven’t acquired the vocabulary and experience to critique. When I lose my way, I go back to these rules.

      Good luck and thanks for the question!

  2. *finally* got around to reading this – you are, as always, so right about the balance issue. It’s hard to accept that we are multi-faceted people who can be both tough and mushy and something in between.

    anyway, on the collection, here are my thoughts:
    Presentation – I like the way this is presented – very unified and cohesive. the background gives it a nice cozy feeling and you communicate a lot about the type of customer who is going to wear these garments with it. Its a fun way to present gold clothing as it’s more casual and homespun instead of precious. My only problem is that it is hard to tell what the fabrication is across the garments, especially since the color palette is so tight.
    Garments: the designs are great – i like the blocked look and how they play off each other. I also think it’s a clever pun on gold bouillon (was that intentional?!). The lines are very simple but the seaming is very complex, and the finishing unexpected (from what I can see – some pieces look very finished, others, more raw).
    Again, the only crit I can see right off the bat is that the merchandising is off – the three dresses are great because they are different levels of sophisticated, silhouette-wise but the tops don’t go with the skirt and the apron goes with….nothing? I find it intriguing but I can’t tell what this girl is going to wear it with.

    so that is my quick crit. thoughts?

    1. Thanks for the awesome, smart feedback! It means a lot to me that you saw the “casual and homespun” within the gold and I first struggled with making the textile work with my simple shapes. I wish I could say the gold bouillon was intentional. What a cool idea though–to design a collection around a pun. Fashion needs more humor.

      I totally get what you mean by the merchandising being off. I couldn’t stop designing dresses but the fashion student in me told me I needed a tops and bottoms so they kind of got tossed in there. The bigger goal is to add some leggings and a knit tops eventually. You’re right–I think once I take pictures on a mannequin or human the fabrication will be clearer and the apron might make more sense. If aprons make sense at all these days.

      I didn’t even think about the taking pictures part when I ventured into this. I was lost in the moment. And now the collection is asking things of me. I hope it doesn’t ask me to do a fashion show.

  3. I just stumbled in here looking for something else. Wow I like it. I love the gold color, the sheer elements the pockets, mixture of fabrics. The placement of the sheer elements (unexpected) with the gold.

    I like the moving emphasis on the body the fitted, the blouse accenting the face, the skirt and apron the legs and the sleeveless the arms and shoulders.

    I like it for the wearability. I could see myself in these pieces.

    I know you asked for a critique, but I’m a Pollyana and your collection caught my eye because of the above

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