The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A completely and Utterly Useless Rant

And I do mean rant. You have been warned.

So there was this article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago (September 11, 2006, The Marketplace section; the article was written by Ben Winograd and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan) that incensed me to no end. The article was titled "Can Fashion Be Copyrighted?"

This is the part where you imagine me with fireworks coming out of my ears.

The article says:

The central question is whether fashion design is an art worthy of protection or a craft whose practitioners can and should freely copy one another.

That, to me, seems a little too narrow. There are so many different ways to spring-board off of this, one hardly knows where to start. If one really wanted to get to the central issue, I suppose one would say the question is if anything can truly be copyrighted. Is anything really totally new? Isn't everything influenced, referenced, or copied in part from something else?

But, if we accept them at their premise, that the question is whether fashion design is art or craft, one would still think that the article ought to be about defining what makes art. Is the goal of art to make money? Can art really be copied, or does all art carry part of the artist? What makes art important?

Instead, everyone is arguing over whether or not knockoffs actually help the fashion industry (how can you possibly call it both an industry and an art?!). The idea is that if knockoffs actually help the industry, they should stay legal. But if it harms the "artist/industry/designers", then, de facto, it ought to be illegal. In other words, as far as most people are concerned, this is neither an ethical question, a question of art, or a question of protection. It's only a question of economics.

"If copying were illegal, the fashion cycle would occur very slowly, if at all," they write in an article to be published in the Virginia Law Review. While they concede copying can harm individual designers, they say Congress should protect industries only when piracy stymies--rather than encourages--innovation.

So how about the consumer? Aren't we being discriminated against if we're not allowed to buy a cheap knock-off? (And by knock-off, I mean a garment that looks similar, but doesn't claim to be the same, not someone pretending to be someone or something they're not.) Why should the high-end commercial artists be able to lock us into paying exorbitant prices? Isn't this what a free market is about? Open competition? These people are trying to get three years worth of protection for designs for everything from dresses to belts and eyeglasses. Why should the industries get the protection, and the consumers get abused? The proposed regulations "would cover the overall appearance of the item in question, barring even those made with inferior fabrics."

Some people do think that it's good to knock-off designs, and bring them within the price range of a mere mortal. The article says:

But fashion designers--who invest time and money drawing sketches, ordering samples and making adjustments--say such arguments ring hallow. Designer Catherine Maladrino. . .maintains that copying isn't the only way to bring fashion to the masses. "If you're creative, you can design original designs that are affordable," she says. "You don't have to knock off what other people are creating."

Well, no duh. And just because you are creating "original" designs doesn't mean you have to make people pay through the nose for them.

It's a well-known fact that those who are good at mass producing are rarely good at making "original creations", and that people who are good at creating are rarely good at mass production. Sometimes these two beings get together in a symbiotic relationship, with each helping the other in their weakness.

Usually, though, the one "creating" charges high prices, can't meet demand, or relies on a one-trick pony for all their business, wanting to lock it in as theirs and theirs alone. Then they throw a hissy fit when someone else finds a cheaper way of doing the same thing.

And I don't really buy into the whole idea that mass-producers are spared a lot of work--I'd bet that any company that knocks-off a design still has to order samples, make adjustments, source fabric, and get whatever patterns they need drafted. They only thing they're "stealing" is the design idea--which the "original" designer undoubtedly came up with after seeing something(s) similar, to begin with! So they have no excuse, because the very things they judge other people for doing they are guilty of doing themselves!

The only person in the article who seemed to have their head screwed on straight was a Mr. Valvo.

. . .Mr. Valvo says he's been copied so much he now shrugs it off when he sees styles that imitate his work. He finds the idea of legislation "insane". He says "Fashion is more evolutionary than revolutionary--you're always inspired by something else. Besides, I don't think anyone copying me would be able to do it in the same way."


I think that mass producers will be mass producers, and it's stupid for those that aren't to pretend to be. If your strength really is your creativity, stop throwing hissy fits. You're only going to be able to be "original" with one design for so long, then, move on. Make something else original. Your strength lies in constantly changing and creating, not locking in the market. The mass producers will always be trailing behind you--you lead the way. If all you really care about is the design, you should be pleased with the integrity of your own design, and view the popularity of that design as witness to the quality of your work. And if all you are really worried about is making money, maybe you should quit being a designer--and make knock-offs instead.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Defining Designer

Several months ago, I was excited to hear that one of the articles in an upcoming Threads magazine was titled "Be Your Own Designer". Clothing design is something I'm quite interested in, after all. However, upon receiving the magazine, I found I was quite disappointed with the article. For those of you who don't have the article, I'll give a brief summary of the article (but, of course, since it's been filtered through me, it will be the article as I understand it):

  • Don't design individual garments; think in terms of collections.

  • Gather images that appeal to you aesthetically; especially gather colors and color combinations.

  • Look for themes in what you have gathered.

  • Invent a title to help you define the look you envision.

  • Flesh out your collection with details and sewing patterns.
My first disappointment with this article was how little the "professional" design process had been adapted for a single person.

A "professional" designer is creating a line to be sold, and many pieces are a very good idea. They are trying to appeal to the largest group possible (for the most amount of customers). What looks "a little over the top" to one customer could be perfect for another. What may seem "subdued and boring" to one might seem "refined and understated" to another. Having the same thought repeated in many ways increases the likelihood that it will be presented in a pleasing way to the most amount of people.

A lone person may be much more concerned with getting one piece right (for an important event), or may not want such a single-story wardrobe (different moods, company, activities, occasions, or just plain tiring of repeation could all influence this).

This rift between "professional" and "personal" design can also be seen in the method for selecting a theme. A "professional" designer does not have someone specific in mind. She (he, them) is trying to appeal to as many people as possible without knowing any of those people on a personal, detailed level. It is therefore important to come up with something as interesting, aesthetically pleasing, and unified as possible, even if that something doesn't make sense on a personal level.

Take, for instance, the author's example of using "Marlene Dietrich on Mars" as title for a collection. Who, besides Marlene Dietrich on Mars, would want to look like Marlene Dietrich on Mars? (That's a hypothetical question; please don't answer it.) The thing is, while the designer may have "Marlene Dietrich on Mars" in their mind while designing the collection, that very well may not be what the consumer sees at all. While the phrase may help the designer keep themselves focused, it's really a rather abstract thought. What the designer thinks and what the consumer sees can be totally different. Maybe some people would see the collection and think "Space age glamour!"---but just as likely, they would merely think "That's great dress!"

The "personal" designer, on the other hand, wouldn't want to design something for "Marlene on Mars"--unless she (or whomever) actually wanted to look like Marlene on Mars. For certain, every time the personal designer looked at the dress, she would think "Marlene on Mars!", not "What a great dress!" There is nothing wrong with designing clothes with specific thought in mind; but if it is not a thought specific (or personal) to you, it won't work out very well for you.

This, then, is the distinction: "Professional" designers are designing for large, general audiences. "Personal" designers are designing for a single, defined audience. The former can afford--indeed, benefit--from being a bit vague. The latter would do much better to be specific.

For instance, I could title a theme "Feminine Troll". It would use linen and wool, and leather accents. The buttons would be wood or bone. The garment shapes would be utilitarian, and a bit unrefined--more boxy than fitted. However, I would also incorporate details such as pin-tucking or embroidery, and certainly use colors, not drab neutrals. While this might work splendidly to fulfill my theme, would it really suit my entire wardrobe? Can the whole of me and what I want to be and wear be summed up in two words with broad meaning? I don't think so. I think it would make an interesting garment collection, certainly, but I don't think I'd want to buy the whole collection, purge my closet of nothing but, and wear it every day.

If I had written a designing process (and I am not a professional consulting designer for several commercial fashion lines, just a highly opinionated blogger), it probably would have been like this:

  • Examine your goals for the piece(s). What will you be doing while wearing the piece? What mood do you want it to set, or what do you want the piece to say?

  • Gather images and colors that develop your goals. Pay attention to shape, texture, color and color combinations, and especially details, which can make all the difference.

  • Subtract elements until you are happy with what you have. There's nothing like going over-board to ruin a good idea. Choose only the elements that are the most effective and work well together. Leave the other elements behind for some other day.
If you'll notice, I basically turned the "professional" method upside down. She has you pick images and colors first, and then a goal. I have you pick the goal first, and then find colors and images. She has you pick the bare-bones, and then flesh out. I have you start with a lot, and then subtract. This might work well for a "personal" designer, but any "professional" designer would probably find it abysmal.

If I already had my own opinionated ideas on how to design, what did I want out of the article? I wanted to learn more about how to convey ideas or emotions with fabric, proportions, shapes, colors and textures. Many are the people who tell you to make "design boards" (bulletin boards of inspiration), but few are the people who tell you why they chose that proportion, that shape, that color. One is left with the idea that it's all about "listening to your inner self", a rather mystic process that cannot be taught, only experienced, as one is guided along by their "art".

It's true that some people do have an "eye" for artistic things, just as some people are talented in music. But that doesn't make it mystical; both can be improved through practice and study. Having some one tell me why they made the design choices they made has always been far more helpful that the seemingly far more numerous advice on gathering inspiration. Inspiration can come easily enough; refining it to something more than inspiration is harder.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More and More patterns

I just listed another dozen or so patterns yesterday, and I hope to upload more scans to my Flickr soon (today or tomorrow). If anyone sees a pattern they like that isn't currently listed on eBay, please send me an email at tatterdemalionshouse at gmail dot com. Listing patterns is time consuming and quite miserable; you will be saving me much time and grief (or at least tedious time-wasting, which amounts to the same thing).

Birthday Girl!

I have a friend by the name of Abigail. Her oldest daughter is about the same age as my youngest sister. She recently threw an impromptu birthday party for said daughter (Millie), and invited me and my sister. By "impromptu", I mean she gave me all of two days' warning.

As soon as my sister found out she was invited, she went about scheming to wear her "Fancy Dress". I say scheming, because, unlike many people predicted, she doesn't wear this dress non-stop. I think she finds it too much of a bother. In fact, she usually only chooses to wear this dress when she knows she will have an audience to admire it.

"Sure, sure," I thought. "Outshine the birthday girl."

And then, the other, trouble making side of me says, "Not if the birthday girl had a fancy dress, too!"

"I can't make a dress with this short notice!" Speed sewing is not my strong point.

"Couldn't hurt to try, could it?"

"But where would I get the fabric?"

"Oh, you have some fancy pink remnants. Millie loves pink."

"I didn't make a fancy dress out of that earlier because there wasn't enough!"

"You don't have to use a fancy pattern. . . the fabric would be fancy enough."

thoroughly talked into it, I commenced to making a dress. In less than two days.

Alas, speed is not my strong point. I was sewing the buttons on in the car, and I never did finish the seams allowances. Super-model Millie sure can make my sewing look good. . .

When Millie discovered the pink thing at the bottom of the gift bag was a dress,I couldn't decide which reaction was more amusing:

Abby: Did you make that?!

Me: Yes.

Abby: In two days?!"

Me: Yes!

Abby: Are you CRAZY?!

Me. Yes!

All other proceedings ceased, in favor of trying on the dress. The dress was then put through all necessary testing--for instance, does it properly twirl?

I think the dress passed the test.

The dress has been cleverly made with 1 pink satin remnant, 1 plus-sized discarded silky-polyester blouse, some of this mystery peach pebbly-crepey-shiny synthetic fabric, and some of this synthetic pink mock-embroidered organza, a few lengths of ribbon that didn't match the color of any of the fabrics, and 4 buttons from my great-grandmothers collection. Here, you can see the peach fabric peeking out from behind the transparent pink fabric, and you can see the detail on the buttons a little better.

I hear Millie has been wearing it whenever possible. Which is good, because it certainly won't be fitting her next year. (Don't worry, she has two younger sisters.)

But I think, not to be too presumptuous, that probably there's a pretty good chance that I might be invited to her birthday party next year. ;)