Thursday, March 06, 2008

the designer genius

A while back I commented on Kathleen Fasanella's blog that I sometimes fantasise of there being some legal protection for the term 'fashion designer'. It was mainly an emotional response after two recent requests for work, from people that were utterly clueless. Once upon a time I was not very choosy at all as to who I worked for, but now I simply say no to anyone that needs to have fusing explained, not to mention the notches on patterns, why it's ideal to follow the grainline I've drawn on the pattern, etc.

Reading Kate Fletcher's book on the flight today, I discovered a very different view, carefully considered (not that I'd expect anything else from the author), and found myself learning and agreeing. The final chapter, 'User Maker', is critical of how "the industry controls and 'professionalizes' the practice of designing and making clothes" (p. 187). According to Fletcher, this results in "passive fashion" and deskilled consumers reluctant to customise, repair and transform the increasingly homogenised clothes on offer (I will rewrite the paper I presented at Dressing Rooms in Oslo last year, after I've finished with the book). Fletcher is critical of the myth-building by the industry - the designer as a creative genius - and this is where my pulse went up; it's an issue that has annoyed me for years. Read almost any article or book about a fashion designer (Colin McDowell's books on Galliano and Gaultier come to mind first) and there you see it: the designer presented as a creative artist. You see, in the early phases of the project I was trying to find out how fashion designers actually work, so I could eventually perhaps understand how fashion designers might work in a zero-waste situation. There isn't much out there, that isn't dressed up in the mythology of fashion design. One might as well watch The Bold and the Beautiful. I tried to categorise fashion design and patternmaking practices at Nordes, and whilst I see holes in the thinking of that paper, it is something I will take further as the project progresses.

But back to Fletcher's ideas. I certainly love the idea of a garment that is not finished when the designer thinks it is, in the sense that it may later transform into something more special in the hands of the consumer. Cameron Tonkinwise has written about this in Design Philosophy Papers (Issue 3, 2004), about design that is not finished, about things that can keep on keeping, I think he put it. It's a beautiful paper - read it.

I'd go on but the internet cafe in Melbourne doubles as a sauna, apparently - I'm literally dripping. Tomorrow, for the papers!

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