Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Design Opinions

Clothes should reflect the intensities we carry around within ourselves.

While I was out ogling the fashions (and the women ... and men... wearing them!) this afternoon, this phrase came fully formed into my mind. It expresses something I feel strongly about. I'd say about a third of the people I see dress in a way consistent with this statement. I can't say that all my clothes speak to it either. But it is something I think we should pay more attention to. Clothes, in my mind, should be "strong", they should make an unambiguous statement. Even if that statement is about ambiguity!

Note that the affirmation does not say that we should dress "intensely", that the clothes we wear should necessarily be "intense", although many of them will be if we try to live up to the statement. Instead, it is a statement about attitude, about how clothes speak for us, of us.

Many people dress as if to hide the intensity they carry around inside of themselves. This is regrettable, our inner intensity is part of what makes us, each of us, interesting, both to ourselves and to others.

Some people may think they are not "intense", but that isn't quite what I say either. We all carry with us an inner intensity, even if we don't think of ourselves that way. Sometimes, also, this inner intensity is tied up with painful things and feelings, but that isn't necessarily a counter argument either. We should have clothes that allow us to speak to such things as well.

I think people are drawn to designer fashions partly because designers struggle to do this, to express the intensities that they share with us, with potential clients. It is also about aesthetics, and style and those other things, but designers are also tuned in to this question of intensity.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On Fashion Drawing

In my efforts to develop a working design practice, I have struggled mightily with the problem of drawing. After thinking I couldn't "fashion draw" for years, because everytime I put pencil to paper the results were so bad as to not even contemplate, I finally remembered that, over a number of years, I have done watercolors while traveling instead of postcards with quite creditable results, so the reason can't be that I have no talent whatsoever! Perhaps what I lack is training, but who has the time to invest hundreds of hours in learning to "draw"...

Over the past few weeks, I have more or less solved the problem using a combination of techniques. I bought the "Fashionary" book from its Chinese author, following a recommendation from someone through BurdaStyle - essentially, the book is a drawing book with very discrete profiles of women printed in dots on the page. You have to look closely to see the dots, but they provide a template for body drawing. Since I already used templates in earlier efforts, this proved quite successful to get some initial designs sketched out.

Secondly, I am not a bad draughtsman, and I work professionally with maps where you use the 2D maps to infer 3D features of the landscape. I am thus quite good at visualizing the 3D results of a 2D garment pattern, and because I develop flat patterns, I can often sidestep the 3D drawing stage and go directly to a tentative pattern, then use this to backstep out to the drawing.

Between these two techniques, I can develop sketches of sufficient quality and detail that I can use them to advance my thinking about the designs, but the results are not professional enough to show to an audience. I have therefore also been struggling with this issue. And I think I've found a workable, albeit not perfect, solution to that as well.

I had been contemplating using photographs of women downloaded from the web. I did some experiments with fashion ads, where I replaced what they were wearing for the ad with garments of my own design. The problem, of course, is that the photos are too "realistic" to support adding on "cut-outs" and still look good. I did try degrading the quality of the photos, but there are other issues, such as how to remove the pre-existing garments.

Then I thought, why not use nudes... there are, after all, millions of nudes on the web. The problem is, of course, copyright. I'm sure you could get away with using arbitrary nudes, there are so many of them, but the solution doesn't quite sit right. Also, I need images where the hands and arms do not block one's view of the torso, as their presence makes the drawing of "cut-outs" considerable harder. It would be nice, then, to have control over my own model...

Finally, a light bulb went off. What about using Poser, or another 3D design software that incorporates human figures? I do own a version of Poser (Poser 7), but Poser is quite awkward to use if you want results quickly. However, over the past couple of years, I've been using a piece of software called DAZ Studio, which uses Poser figures and objects as well as objects in its own internal format. Although there are some downsides to DAZ Studio (file management, in particular, is messy), it is an environment which is much easier to use than Poser in terms of getting a workable result rapidly. With a small layout of funds (the DAZ Studio software itself is free), it is possible to construct some quite interesting environments and then pose a number of nude figures within these landscapes. So I spent the weekend testing this idea out, and the result is quite workable.

Shown in the image is a variation on the standard 4th generation figure used in DAZ Studio (Victoria or V4) - I have dressed her in a sports bra and panties that are provided with the figure, although I actually work with the nude figure. For a modest fee (I pay 7,95$/month), you can join the "Platinum Club", which gives you access to a large number of environments and figures at minimal cost. Hence the environment shown, called the "Veranda Cafe", is available for Platinum Club members for 1,99$. Within this environment, you can control the placement of all the chairs, the lights, the camera views and, for another 1,99$, you can choose different background scenery to be viewed through the windows. (I think the hair also cost me another 1,99$.)

Once I have "rendered" my scene (see first image), as for the photos I used earlier, I apply a Photoshop "filter" to get an image that is more like a drawing (i.e. it is simplified to form 8 different colors only), and then I can add my "cut-out" garments on top with a result that looks snazzy without looking too odd (larger image at right). As my ability to "draw" with the software improves, my "cut-outs" should begin to look better, and I think the result is presentable to a larger audience. Perhaps not quite as sharp as a good drawing, but the use of 3D graphics environments offers other advantages. It is true you are stuck with the landscapes somebody has decided to build and offer to the users, but the choice of scenery and environments is actually quite large, especially if you are willing to pay a bit more money (e.g. entire city blocks for about 30$, for example).

Using Photoshop to add my cutouts allows me, for example, to make small modifications or switch out one cutout element for another at the touch of a button.

In principle the garments could be "built" within DAZ Studio and their appearance entirely simulated within the environment, but this takes a lot of effort and know-how. I've looked into it, but unless you want to pay a lot of money, it is not presently doable to a "layperson" such as myself.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Corset-Making

I recently put the finishing touches on my very first corset - I made one for my cousin, who is still stunning to look at in her fifties and who was seriously interested when I told her I was learning to make corsets. This was actually my second effort, although it is the first one I've finished. I started making another corset for a friend here in Quebec City several weeks before beginning the one for my cousin, but I needed to finish hers first as I was traveling to England and could fit her for the final adjustments if I had a pre-finalized version ready.

Despite the fact that it took hundreds of hours to make (I took my time, because I wanted to do everything right, so I didn't actually count the hours - I'm sure as I make more I'll be able to bring the time down, but I'm told even the best can't do it faster than about 30 to 40 hours!), I enjoyed every minute of the process! The development process is complex, but carries its own charm - between the usual steps of laying out and cutting the fabric and sewing, one adds putting in the grommets (hammer and anvil!), the bones and the busk, along with finishing and lacing.

I also love the fact that though a corset is custom made for a particular body shape, the ultimate fit is handled through the lacing, hence no fiddling with small adjustments at the end of the process!

I was interested in corsetry also to learn more how to use boning to shape a garment. Although I'm very happy with my first effort, I shall need to experiment more to feel that I really master this latter issue.

There are so many different types of corset, the challenges seem endless - one can do historic corsets, fashion corsets, corsets for men (an area I could definately get into!), corsets for burlesque shows, ultra sexy corsets, underbust vs overbust corsets, corset variations (basque, corsellette, etc.), overwear corsets, the list goes on. And there is a kind of "subculture" of people who "dig" corsets, whether making them or wearing them.

Intermediate-Level Sewing at the London College of Fashion

During the third week of July, 2010, I took an intermediate-level "short course" at the London College of Fashion - it was called "More Sewing Skills". As a self-taught sewer (seamster?), I felt it would be useful to "even out" my skills a bit by taking a formal course, and also, the descriptions of the course included sewing stretch and on the bias, skills I have yet to master. I had no idea what the experience would bring me other than these very general expectations, nor who would take such a course. (The image shows the lovely little courtyard next to the entry to the Curtain Road building.)

The course was held at the Curtain Road facility, which I understand to be a more industrial setting than most of the sites of the LCF. London was in the middle of a heat wave when I arrived, although it cooled off over the course of the week.

Upon arrival at the site on the Monday morning, the cafeteria area served as an assembly point for the students, actually for two courses being given at the same time (I'm not sure what the other course was, actually). Although several had already arrived when I got there, I took a table on my own. After a few minutes, first one young woman and then another joined me at the table. We got to talking and I discovered one was Greek and the other Italian (but living in Ireland).

In a few minutes we were introduced to our teacher, Ms. Siaw-Lee Priddle, a diminutive Chinese woman, who took us to the back of the building to the rooms that were to be ours for the week. Within a short time it became clear that Ms. Priddle knew precisely what she was doing, but her English diction wasn't always easy to decipher! Nonetheless, she impressed me with her evident expertise and, over the course of the week, what I came to recognize as both a passion for sewing, and a passion for passing on some of her knowledge to others. I found her to be an excellent teacher, and would have no second thoughts recommending her.

Over the course of the week, we made miniature versions of a shirt, a lined dress (just the top part, actually, above the waist), a stretch t-shirt and a lined skirt cut on the bias. It was implied that these were children's versions, but at one point over the week, we discovered that the patterns were all in Ms. Priddle's size! She had recycled several patterns she had developed for her own clothing for our use!

Although I have made lots of shirts and several dresses and skirts, I actually learned a lot about different ways of doing these things. Ms. Priddle taught us to do things quickly and efficiently, with a minimum use of pins (which is usually where things slow down a lot!). She didn't actually forbid us pins, but whenever someone suggested using pins, for example, to set a sleeve, she laughed and told us we didn't need pins to do these things.

Unfortunately, over the early part of the week I developed a very bad cold with a hacking cough, which reduced my energy level and left me exhausted every day (with the cough I was having trouble sleeping). I ended up "skipping class" Thursday morning when my energy was at an all time low. This cold made it difficult to get the maximum benefit of the class (and the time in London!).

Overall, however, I've very pleased with the class. I believe I "honed" my skills - I learned a lot of tips and tricks for doing things faster and more efficiently. I finally understood what the issue is with sewing on the bias - it wasn't all that complicated, but it's hard to explain in (or learn from) written texts. It's the kind of thing you need to see, and then you understand it. So I got more or less what I wanted out of the course, despite my low levels of energy as a result of the cough.

When I asked Ms. Priddle what she thought might be appropriate as a follow-up course, eventually, she more or less said that I didn't really need one. She did suggest that the course on Jackets might be useful, however, which confirms my own opinion. She paid me a very nice compliment at one point in the week - I took in my finished corset to show them, and when she saw it her jaw dropped and she said "I thought you were joking when you said you'd made a corset!"

Two Cities, Two Fashion Cultures

Last month (July, 2010) I spent several days in Madrid, Spain, followed after a short interval by several days in London, England. Somewhat to my amazement, I found people in both cities to be highly fashion conscious. I have been reading lately in the academic literature on fashion a number of criticisms of so-called "street fashion", writers who are disappointed with the apparent lack of imagination of everyday people regarding fashion. I must say, however, that my experience in several cities does not support this jaded view. I find street fashion to be quite fascinating, especially as it seems to differ in "flavor" in different cultures. I wish I could share more photos from Madrid - I took several photos while there, but I then lost my camera with the images still not transferred to my computer, to me great frustration. I could have accepted the loss of the camera if I hadn't also lost a number of great pictures!

Madrid in July is hot and humid and filled with people - lots of tourists, yes, but also lots of locals. In the evening, the city is abuzz with places for eating tapas. There are streets more devoted to tourists and others which seem to cater more to the indigineous population. I went down one set of streets that clearly catered to the young crowd. (The photo is the only one I've got from Madrid - it just shows me in a restaurant that could be anywhere in the world... but it is a kind of "proof" I was there :) ... )

Everywhere you go, people dress up - they are extremely chic, men and women. The ones who don't are actually more the tourists. Fabulous clothes, many quite originally, for the most part very sexy, even, I would say, sensual. None of it in bad taste, none of it crass or vulgar. Often, very elegant but also very simple clothing, but lots of attention to how the clothes move with the body and not just how they look when you're standing still.

Madrid struck me as a very livable city, with a vibrant lifestyle and many different areas of quite different character. I understand it is listed as one of the world's most liveable cities - I can see why.

London, England, provides a very different sense of fashion, but no less trendy or interesting in its own way. The one label I would use to describe London street fashion (obviously more relevant to women than to men) is "cleavage, cleavage, cleavage"! This is very different from Madrid (or Quebec, for that matter). Londonians seem to think that cleavage is sexy (well, it is, too, but it can be rather overwhelming and not always appropriate, in my experience!). I would say that well over 50% of the women in the streets display a lot of cleavage, and this includes young teens as well as women in their sixties. Where women might wear a man's shirt in other cultures with the top one or two buttons left undone, in London it is likely that the top three buttons are left open, if not more. (The photo shows some cleavage, but is not a great example of the fashion-sense I found in much of London - perhaps more so in the green dress... I have to say that I discovered that the second floor of London's buses makes a great platform for taking interesting pictures!)

Londonian clothes in general I found to be eclectic and chic, but not stuffy or overly conservative, as I half expected. No doubt it depends which parts of London you visit, but I was staying in North London (Hackney and Islington), working in Shoreditch and visited areas in Southwark, Kensington and Greenwich/Blackheath. I'm sure if I hung around in more business areas, I would have seen more conservative dress, but overall I say a wide range of clothing and fashion styles.

The trip left me intruiged by the whole issue of street fashions. I wish I hadn't lost my camera, because I become convinced that good photos would help reveal these cultural differences from place to place. The world could use more "sartorialists" I think!