“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” (Coco Chanel)

Coco Chanel aptly captures a misconception that fashion is merely about clothing. Fashion acts as communication, both individually (in the manner in which we dress) and as a collective commentary on the zeitgeist of our times.

In the famous scene in the movie Devil Wears Prada where we witness Meryl Streep’s character Miranda Priestly brilliantly deconstruct the process that dictated Andy’s seemingly innocuous choice of her blue sweater, we get a window into how the fashion system informs our choices on a daily basis.

Fashion Design as a discipline is more complex than most imagine. Ultimately, design is about making the imaginary tangible. As a teacher I witness my students navigate a myriad of unconscious decisions simultaneously: fabric, color palette, silhouette, details, hardware. In school they learn how to communicate a yet unrealized idea in a tangible way so that in the industry they can do the same with pattern-makers and sample-makers who will then translate their designs into reality. This is not easy and requires a complex skill-set.

 Dyed textiles by Jovana Mirabile; © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Dyed textiles by Jovana Mirabile; © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Watching creative students week after week struggle to express their ability to communicate design, I realized that it is not enough to simply teach the fundamental skills. Students need to understand how incremental decisions shape the final outcome. Self-reflection is critical. My mandate is not only to teach students how to design. I must teach them how to think, see, and make connections between their work and what they seek to communicate through the work.

Jie's notebook,  © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Jie Li’s notebook; © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

As I searched for academic textbooks in the field of fashion that might provide support I found none that fully unmasked the design process. Many act as mere “show and tell,” with images of mood boards, research, and final sketch presentations. These books often demonstrate a rote and redundant approach to fashion design. Clearly there was a need for a book that celebrated the various entry points into design, rather than simplistically catechizing students in only one philosophy or method. This is the book I determined to write.

(To be continued)

Fiona Dieffenbacher currently resides in New York City and is the Director, BFA Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email The Editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.


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