Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Categorising fashion design - one example

Ok, got the book [Rennolds Milbank, Caroline (1985) Couture. The Great Designers. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Inc. New York], these are the categories and designers.

The Founders: Worth, Doucet, Paquin, Lanvin, Callot Souers, Lucile, Boué Souers, Poiret

The Artists: Fortuny, Callenga, Liberty & Co, Mary McFadden, Zandra Rhodes

The Purists: Chanel, Jean Patou, Molyneux, Grès, Augustabernard, Louiseboulanger, Vionnet, Mainbocher, Valentina, Halston, Sonia Rykiel

The Entertainers: Schiaparelli, Adrian, Maggy Rouff, Karl Lagerfeld, Marcel Rochas

The Extravagants: Dior, Nina Ricci, Balmain, Jacques Heim, Jacques Fath, Jacques Griffe, Jean Dessès, Norman Hartnell, Valentino, Givenchy, Galanos, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Yves Saint Laurent

The Architects: Balenciaga, Charles James, Roberto Capucci, Pierre Cardin, Courreges

The Realists: Claire McCardell, Vera Maxwell, Bonnie Cashin, Norma Kamali, Norman Norell, Pauline Trigère, Hardy Amies, Geoffrey Beene, Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, Kenzo, Giorgio Armani, Issey Miyake

Like I said, these categories have little bearing to what I'm researching, but it's really interesting to me nevertheless that someone has categorised fashion designers at least partly according to how they work. The designers of some or considerable interest to my project can be found under several of Rennolds Milbank's categories: Callot Souers, Fortuny, Zandra Rhodes, Madeleine Vionnet, Jacques Griffe, Balenciaga, Charles James, Claire McCardell and Issey Miyake. Of course, these are not the only designers that I've looked into; for example, the book is that much old now that Yeohlee Teng doesn't appear. Also, people like Thayaht (an Italian futurist that worked for Vionnet at one point) and Bernard Rudofsky weren't fashion designers, yet designed clothes at one point in their respective careers: clothes that wasted very little fabric. And of course, all types of 'traditional' dress from around the world are of interest to me, as usually very little fabric is wasted in their making. The kimono from Japan is probably the best known example in this respect.

I'm not sure it's within the scope of my PhD to attempt to categorise all different types of fashion designing, but I'm guessing that when I get to the other end, I will have some very good pointers toward such a categorisation. Or I might realise such a categorisation is not appropriate. I do know that different fashion designers have very different approaches to designing: some rely entirely on the sketch, others do not sketch at all and there are countless variations between the extremes.

Fashion design and making (part 1 of countless to come, no doubt)

I suppose that underlying questions in my research are 'What is fashion design?' and 'What role, if any, does making play in fashion design?' Increasingly, with the moving of clothing production off-shore, a fashion designer draws up a garment on the computer, specifies the dimensions of that garment through a set of measurements and emails these off to a manufacturer. A week or so later a sample garment arrives. After a fitting, any required changes are communicated to the manufacturer, usually again as a series of measurements (e.g. raise underarm 1cm; shorten sleeve 2.5cm, etc.), until a sample garment is approved for production. It is now possible to 'design' and acquire a finished sample garment without any direct contact with a patternmaker, or a cutter, machinist, etc.

A particular book comes to mind, titled 'Couture, the great fashion designers' (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1985). The author, Caroline Rennolds Milbank, covers significant fashion designers from Charles Worth (late ninenteenth century) onwards. I don't have the book with me now, but from memory, the book was in categories suchs as 'The Realists', 'The Architects', 'The Artists' and so forth. I'm not suggesting these categories are necessarily the right ones if one is to categorise different types of fashion designing, but the fact that the author has attempted to categorise these designers at least partly based on the way they work (again, I'm working from memory here) is really interesting. I also recall someone once writing that fashion designers could be divided into 'architects' and 'decorators'; while I don't necessarily agree in such a simplistic dichotomy (why couldn't a designer be both?), the labels are once again suggestive of how the designers work.

How does this relate to my research? To eliminate waste, the designer needs to be aware what the garment looks like when its components are separate and laid flat. I know from personal experience that some designers do not, and don't care. To others, the making of the pattern is absolutely integral to their design process, not because of waste, but... actually, I'm not sure why. For me, patternmaking is important because I know (most of the time) how the two-dimensional shapes will turn out in a three-dimensional garment. Now, of course, pattern is also important for me because it's key to eliminating fabric waste.

I'll get my hands on the Rennolds Milbank book at home, to see what the actual categories are, and which designers are under each.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Practice-led and practice-based research

This research is about fashion design practice, and part of the research will be conducted through practice, but I am not convinced 'practice-led' or 'practice-based' sufficiently describe the project. How I came to the research problem isn't entirely practice-led, either; things that I'd seen and read in books played an equally significant role.

The 'themes' for next year's Nordic Design Research Conference are Inquiries about Design, Inquiries for Design and Inquiries by Design. I think the first and the last reflect what I'm attempting, but the middle fits as well: I do hope that eventually other practitioners will somehow benefit from the research.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

My research and this blog

My PhD looks into a way of making clothes that doesn't waste any fabric exclusive of the garment. Put it another way: if you make a zero-fabric-waste shirt that takes 150cm of fabric, every skerrick of that 150cm length of fabric is in the finished shirt. Currently clothing production is somewhat inefficient (in my opinion), in that roughly 15% (Cooklin 1997, see below) of the fabric used ends as waste at the cutting out stage. The following texts give estimates for this wastage:

Abernathy, F. H., J. T. Dunlop, et al. (1999). A stitch in time. Lean retailing and the transformation of manufacturing - Lessons from the apparel and textile industries. New York & Oxford, Oxford University Press. The authors estimate the amount of waste to be around 10 percent for pants and jeans, but higher for blouses, jackets and underwear.

Cooklin, G. (1997). Garment technology for fashion designers. Oxford, Blackwell Science. As stated above, Cooklin estimates the wastage at 15% of total fabric used.

Feyerabend, R. (2004) Textiles Briefing Paper accessed 24/10/2006. The amount of waste varies between 10 and 20% of total fabric used.

Garment style (number and shapes of pattern pieces), the number of sizes in one marker (usually you can save fabric if you, for example, cut the Mediums and Larges together in one rather than two separate markers, but this is only possible if you are cutting the same number of Mediums and Larges) and the skills of the marker maker are some of the factors determining the amount of waste. Marker, by the way, is the cutting layout of a garment, containing all the pieces of a garment to be cut. It is the marker maker's responsiblity to try to fit all the garment pieces as tightly as possible; the motivation is economic, as a saving of, say 5cm of fabric per garment, translates into quite a big financial saving if you are making 500 units of that particular garment.

Now, if we wanted to eliminate this waste (and at a later date I'll write more on why I think we should at least reduce the aboove figures), the problem with the current practice is that the marker maker is limited by what has been designed by the fashion designer and patternmade by the patternmaker. I want to make clear that I am NOT researching a way of designing garments that use less fabric (put it bluntly, those garments would be shorts and crop tops), but rather, I'm looking at how fashion design and patternmaking are able to eliminate fabric waste: how to make clothes without wasting fabric.

This blog will hopefully serve a dual purpose: as a repository of my thoughts, and others', on the research as it advances, and as the written and visual record of the experiments that I will conduct. I am currently developing the design briefs for the experiments, drawing from literature on this kind of fashion-making. I know it's a little clunky to have the two separate blogs, but I'll try to cross-link the two regularly, and each has a link to the other in the sidebar.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


This blog is a place for me to document the makings of my PhD project. I will explain shortly what it's all about. Thanks, CT, for the excellent suggestion, and all the other ones thus far.