verbal croquis

project runway from a designer’s perspective

Posted in events,opinions by verbalcroquis on January 31, 2006

For my next installment of the state of the fashion union address, I want to focus on the what a designer’s job entails today.

When I posted a rant about work, Andy from Camarilla posted on his own blog:

“It sounds like some of the creativity and freedom has been lost, and as a designer for a small-medium sized manufacturer apparently designing is only 1/10 of the designer’s job. It sounds like a tough gig”

Creativity isn’t lost, it’s been held captive by businessmen who bow down to the bottom line, occasionally doling out allowances when their belly’s full. It’s not their fault, really, since there’s only a slice of the population that really wants something different. How else do you explain houses like Balenciaga and McQueen being threatened to shut down if they don’t start making a profit? Designers are constantly battling creativity with the commercial demands of this industry. It’s those designers who can make that healthy compromise who ultimately succeed.

You have one of two options as a designer. Work corporate, get assigned a tidy list of job requirements, do the same things day in and day out. You are responsible for A, B, and C. That’s it. You collect a nice sum and excellent benefits doing the niche bit of the industry you prefer. Or you work for a small company and do everything. And I mean everything. In return, you get paid a nominal fee to have another go at your education. Seriously. I’ve learned more from working at two ridiculously understaffed start-ups that went bankrupt in less than a year than you could imagine. (I’ll follow up with a post about this later.)

I love Project Runway. Not only is it just a really fun show, but it’s realistically indicative of what the industry really is like for designers.

Note that they give the designers only 30 minutes to design, an hour and X amount of dollars to buy fabrics, and 12 hours or so to drape, make patterns and sew. Then you have the night ahead of you to stress out before you can present on the runway and find out if your efforts were good enough. This is about as accurate as you can get when you look at design cycles in the real world. You have this short allotted time to design, select and source fabric and trims according to your given budget, a precise amount of time to make your samples in time for the shows. The vast majority of your time is spent in production. You put your product out there and the outcome is unpredictable. You could have made a killing one season (episode) but that doesn’t guarantee anything.

And, as Abby pointed out, you need to know everything about creating a garment. How much did we ridicule one contestant because she came on the showing not knowing the basics of draping? That’s just how it is, plain and simple.

It shouldn’t have to be that way. Yes, you should know the basics of everything, but you just can’t be an expert on everything. Everyone should have their area of expertise and work together to make garments together. There’s this weird hypocrisy in employers attitudes towards designers. On the one hand, you don’t need a degree to a fashion designer. It helps, but it’s not necessary, like passing the bar. But on the other hand, employers expect their designers to be multifaceted, multitasking superheroes, tirelessly working fittings, tweaking flats, comparing swatches, picking pantones, sourcing zippers, etc.

Another point that the judges are constantly driving at is the fact that it’s all about the client. This is so true. If you make this absolutely gorgeous suit, but doesn’t cater to your customer base, it just isn’t going to sell.

The most important thing about Project Runway that resembles real life is the fact that notoriety and networking capabilities are two of the most important things you need in order to be successful and dare I say, well-known, in this industry. If it wasn’t, these designers, and the slew of others who auditioned, wouldn’t feel the intense pull of being on this show.

And that is the state of the fashion union from a designer’s shoes.

4 Responses to 'project runway from a designer’s perspective'

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  1. Andy said,

    Interesting, I can see exactly what you mean. Regarding profit margins and company behaviour, I’ve experienced similar situations in other industries, though none as tough or extreme as the cirumstances you’re describing.

    I really like your comment about the educational value of small company vs a large company. Working for a small company is just like running your own, and you become a jack of all trades. Working for a large company becomes predictable and mundane. Why can’t we all be somewhere in the middle? It’d be great wouldn’t it?

    Project Runway is such a great concept because like you said, it’s a realistic representation of the industry from a designer’s perspective.

  2. ruhdugeard said,

    thank you for your work

  3. laidley said,

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