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.