It’s a moment of relief when a collection is finished. You’ve made your final adjustments and everything fits perfectly, photoshoot edits are all neatly saved in a folder, the runway show was standing room only and filled with applause. This is an overwhelming moment as a fashion designer (or any artist for that matter), when all of your hard work has been cultivated so beautifully. Months and months of poring over designs, making phone calls, rescheduling, sewing with wobbly fingers.. and it’s finally done. Despite now needing four cups of coffee every day, all of your plans went so well - you can hardly believe it. But there’s that little voice in the back of your head at the afterparty saying,
“Oh. Well, what am I going to do next?”
Let’s talk about finding inspiration, and starting from scratch. Am I talking about taking time for peace, doing a little self-care, maybe going off-the-grid to a cabin by a lake to have deep thoughts and record an experimental jazz album? This is the fashion industry, after all. Lots of people say fashion is art (and it is), but it becomes more complex due to the behemoth nature of its industry. Fashion is art, science, psychology, and economy rolled into one. Finding inspiration to start a new project will inevitably come from a place of extreme pressure to make sure you aren’t forgotten. Taking months to perfect a new idea is an illusion, and those months are instead trying feverishly to pore over new designs, schedule new things, make more phone calls, and reenter the cycle of hyperintense runaround we were just catching our breath from. How can we balance our creativity without becoming burnt out?
I might be glossing over the exhausting nature of fashion on all fronts (and there’s no point in doing so. We’re all tired.), but there’s truly nothing else like it. The satisfaction of creating a dress that fits a client absolutely perfectly, and watching someone become more confident in themselves makes all of the stress wash away, even for a little bit. Creativity exists in many ways - we might find inspiration as a problem solver, as it’s part of the gig. Rescuing some old fabrics from an estate sale and giving them new life, collaborating with causes that are important to us, sourcing garments that create jobs that contribute to an effective local economy. It could be Wikipedia deep-diving into hydroponics systems in agriculture and the science behind it. Maybe creativity can be found by working with people outside of fashion altogether - a video game developer, a painter, or a professional bowler! Who cares? Maybe finding inspiration means going in the opposite direction of what we’re typically drawn to.
At the beginning of every new collection is a departure from what was just done - it could be diving deeper into your prior collection’s themes or looking at it from a different perspective - or you could depart completely, and take on a new theme. In this case, your creativity could begin wherever you like, but getting out and experiencing is key. Find your source - I always like to start at the library, quite possibly our greatest public resource. Taking a day to sit on the floor, surrounded by information and photography can be very inspiring! You never quite know what you’ll stumble into. Maybe the shape of that building in a travel guide will make a beautiful silhouette to model a dress cut after. The look of some baskets made in 1524 will create a beautiful texture to emulate. Take photos, read newspapers, hoard ticket stubs and pamphlets. Journaling and keeping a small notebook around is handy.
With your information in tow, it’s time to experiment. Sewing some small squares, embroidering, stamping, collaging, drawing and folding and drawing again. Or more bluntly, throw some shit at the wall and see what sticks. What do you like? What do you dislike? Then do it again. This stage can get repetitive and even frustrating if you have an idea in mind, but can’t quite reach it yet. I try to avoid looking at any fashion at all during this stage because if it's there to look at, it’s already been done.
Then we can start sketching looks. Draw. LOTS. Then go make some tea. Review your designs with fresh eyes, make some tweaks, cross some out, and draw some more. Bring in some color, or prints! Grab some markers or pens to keep yourself organized...your notebook might start to look a little rowdy.
Now, it’s time to take a break from paper and get into a fabric store. Look for the right textures and weight, consider some zips or buttons, take some samples with you so you can align them with your designs. Then, time to sew! Make some samples. How do you want your garment to fit? How will your garments look paired with one another? Do they go together at all? These are all questions that you will be able to answer more fully now that you can see a draft edition of your garment moving around. Make some tweaks. Maybe we’ve gotta draw some more. Edit, edit, edit.
Once everything is looking correct in sample form, we can start to build the real thing! On the final stretch. While you’re sewing, think about the extraneous details - how will the photos look? Look back into your initial information and see what places would make a great background. Who is wearing it? You might need to make some phone calls. But you’re nearly there, and it’s looking great. You’re doing it again.
When starting a new project in fashion, it can feel like time is never on our side. The seasonal clock never to be tampered with: Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter, Resort, maybe a holiday release, or timing a collection perfectly to coincide with other events for the sake of eyes looking. The pressure might cause us to make compromises in our creativity. But this, in turn, leads us to more problem solving. Which leads to a brand new creativity. A process we know to be predictable, with infinite avenues to be strange, different, and wonderful.
It’s an exciting, albeit overwhelming at times, cycle to be a part of.