I actually never read that essay. I just did some lazy internet research and realized it’s way more of a feminist statement than I intended. I really meant to say that you just need your own room. You need your own space. Basically, a designer needs their own studio.
As I shuffle between freelance to teaching to home, I’ve been thinking a lot about the space in which I get my work/daydreaming/grading/puttering done (Yes, I’ve been daydreaming about the sensual and mystical topic of work areas). My “space” is everywhere. I have a small studio at home, an office at school and can make myself comfortable almost anywhere to talk with clients. I have a laptop, an iPhone, an iPad and iMac (don’t rob me), apps for life hacking and productivity, software for creating and destroying, access to three libraries and a car with hands free. All I’m missing is a jump drive port fused into my neck.
In trying to find that “place”, I have made it everyplace and that’s not good.
I realized this issue when I gave my students time to work in class. “Work in class,” I said. That’s what it’s called. You’re here, you have work to do, do it now. Work. In. Class. They were paralyzed at the opportunity and alarmed at my doggedness (I can be intense). I could tell they were thinking, “I just want to get home and have all my stuff and then I’ll be able to concentrate and be inspired and that’s when I’ll really get it done. That, or I’ll do it at the last minute and I’ll stay up all night.”
Oh, no. Oh, nonononononononono. Nope. Here. Here is where you’re doing it. Here is perfect.
When they realized it was going to happen at that moment, they focused quickly and soon all I could hear were dainty mouse clicks furiously drafting vector images and the pop sounds of Lady Gaga seeping out of their headphones. I think it also helped that I hovered over them and analyzed their work like a good art director. The “space” we look for is also in our heads so I try to teach students (and myself) to be able to work, doodle, and play even when they think they aren’t ready. Mentally preparing for work, creative work is a luxury.
Full disclosure: getting fashion work done isn’t really a reasonable task. It’s kind of impossible. I had a teacher rather simply say, “There’s never enough time and never enough money” and I think about that every time I buy a t-shirt and know they’ve engineered it to take 5 minutes to sew. An average day in the studio is filled with interruptions and non-work activity: set up, go to the bathroom, get a phone call, answer someone’s question, get something to eat, answer a text, refill the meter, get really thirsty and angry, frustrated, stuck. They’re all minimal distractions but getting into and pulled out of pattern making/design brain is like going in and out of seeing a 3-D IMAX movie. It’s a struggle.
That’s why you need a physical space too. One to leave all your design crap out. One to let things sit, process, and simmer while you’re away so you can pick it right back up when you have only two hours to get something done. Setting up is a bitch.
I’m going to make you gag by ending this post with a quote by Picasso: “Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.” I like to tell myself this when I think I need a better setup to get work done. It’s important to fan your flames and be able to work anywhere, even when you’re not ready, or interrupted or don’t have all your stuff, but you should stop yourself from working everywhere.
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!
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.
They have every kind of facility, resource, machine, table, station, computer, bucket, and book you can imagine. Get ready to swoon.
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.
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.
I get a lot of students asking me how they can get into the fashion industry and I always end up telling them to get an internship. I don’t know anyone who didn’t start out with an internship. I had one when I was in school and before that, I apprenticed with a tailor. Since then, I’ve interviewed a lot, hired many, and had to fire a few interns over the years. I’ve been baffled, frustrated and insulted by interns. I’ve also taught, been inspired by, and become friends with some. I know I might have scared a few too. I’m really sorry if I did because I always believed they are valuable, talented, and hard-working people and the fashion industry would hardly survive without their support.
One day a few years ago, I was hopped up on anxiety and adrenaline and composed the following email when I was asked about embarking upon a first fashion job. It’s a little stress-inducing so I peppered it with scary and humorless smart and serious ladies:
I’d say it’s not unlike applying for any job, first off. You’ll definitely need a cover letter and resume, a portfolio of some kind, any garments or treatments you may have sewn or experimented with, and it’s always nice to have a design journal that shows your true creative side. Most interns, after I interview them, give me a “leave behind” piece which is a little creative summation of their work. It can come in various forms but it’s supposed to help me remember them. I interview at least 30 interns a year. I know bosses who don’t even bother to remember the names of the ones that get hired.
And finally, you should always follow up with a thank you email with a question or thoughts about the company or position. I would never ask when they can tell you if you’re hired or not. Also, as a test for people I interview, I often give them my business card and ask them to contact me. If they do, then I know they can follow simple directions. If they don’t, I probably won’t hire them.
As far as the interview goes, you should know as much about the company going in. I get emails and interviewees who misspell or mispronounce the company or even worse, don’t have even a general question about it or who I am or what I do. It’s okay to not know what you want to do or how the industry runs but at least have an idea of what the company is about.
I know this sounds intense, and you may just be going into boutique shops and seeing if they need a hand but I still strongly suggest you prepare everything you can in order to be taken seriously. But don’t expect to be seen immediately if you’re going in cold. Ask or call ahead to know who to speak to. I know that even the smallest apparel operations with a single home sewing machine in the back are struggling and want people to help and support them and treat their 24/7 business with as much respect as you would Donna Karan’s. It will also show that you’re a hard worker and don’t intend on zoning out over fashion sketches and gossiping over the patternmaking table. We get many unprofessional (albeit enthusiastic) inquiries but I’ll hire you in a second, even if all you have on your resume is a hostess position at Chili’s, over a semi-professional, die-hard fashion lover with fresh talent any day.
And unfortunately, it’s customary that fashion internships are unpaid. There are some out there that are if you’re lucky. This sucks and I have some valuable interns I would love to pay but the argument is that this is a skill that takes a long time to learn that most people don’t end up having a stomach for. I do a lot of hand holding and damage control even with the best but I don’t think of them as free labor. Further, there just isn’t enough money in the industry to make paid interns feasible. I hope this will change one day.
Hopefully, you will work for someone who is kind, appreciative, patient and really good at what they do. These people are few and far between in any industry. If you can find someone who is simply good at what they do and willing to take you on, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Thank you for staying with me. To tie this all up, and get those daydreaming embers going again after a heavy dose of reality, I want to revisit and remind you of what inspires you. As I mentioned before, your inspiration has all the information you need. When you lock into it and honor it, it’s authentic and people recognize that. And what you thought were scary fashion ladies are only your imagination getting ahead of you.
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