(We recommend Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. – The Editors)

Bringing Fashion Thinking: Creative Approaches to the Design Process to life was a two-year process from proposal to publication. Throughout this time it became clear that designers themselves struggle to explain how they work. Reflecting on the “why” of their choices wasn’t always easy to explain and amongst the wider design community there was a reluctance to do so, as if speaking about the process devalued the end result. For me, this proved why the book was so critical.  In subsequent presentations after publication, I encountered widespread acknowledgment from the academy of the gap in the market for such a text.

One example that supports the theory of reluctant disclosure comes from Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons (quoted in ReFusing Fashion: Rei Kawakubo, MOCAD [Museum of Contemporary Art], Detroit Exhibition catalogue, March 2008):

“I couldn’t explain my creative process to you. And even if I could, why would I want to? Are there people who really wish to explain themselves?”

Dissatisfaction with a particular way of working can lead to a breakthrough. This was true for Kawakubo two years before her first presentation in Paris in 1979. She explained her epiphany in The New York Times in 1982 (emphasis mine):

“I felt I should be doing something more directional, more powerful … I decided to start from zero, from nothing, to do things that have not been done before, things with a strong image.”

Speaking of her decision, Harold Koda, Curator of the Fashion Collection at the Metropolitan Museum in New York offers some thoughts on Kawakubo’s process:

“If ‘to start from zero’ was how Kawakubo described her epiphany in 1979, it has become a constant of her design process. Season after season, collection after collection, Kawakubo obliterates her past. Because she was not trained as a fashion designer, Kawakubo’s creative process is not only idiosyncratic, but it also encourages an infusion of the unexpected and the spontaneous to each of her collections … Liberated from the rules of construction, she pursues her essentially intuitive and reactive solutions, which often result in forms that violate the very fundamentals of apparel.”

Comme Des Garcon

Comme des Garçons Spring/Summer “White Drama” collection. Exhibition at Cité de la Mode et du Design, Paris, October 2012.

What constitutes a good beginning concept for a collection is subjective. However, one could argue that any idea in the right hands can be moved forward into a plausible concept and subsequently become a tangible reality. Take for instance the example of Rodarte.

Evgenia Peretz interviewed Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind Rodarte, for Vanity Fair in March 2012 in her article entitled “The Rodarte Effect.” She describes their process as follows: “[Their] ideation process represents a chaotic mash of conversations and references, taking inspiration from such disparate themes such as: horror movies, Renaissance painting and now, opera.…They share fascinations, which is pretty much all things enchanted, child-like, macabre, primordial, nostalgic, wild, or scientific. Ideas, half-ideas, fleeting notions are bubbling in their minds constantly.… But, in fact, these seemingly random topics of conversation are their memories and their lifeblood, and the very foundation of their work.”

The work of Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte. (Image Credit: 212DressingRoom.com Rodarte Spring/Summer 2010)

The work of Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte.
(Image Credit: 212DressingRoom.com Rodarte Spring/Summer 2010.)

Both examples speak to an organic process that is responsive to the environment around the designer and their own particular set of interests in the world. The work is instinctual, authentic and uncensored. Designers work for themselves ultimately and the fact that anyone else loves what they do is icing on the cake.

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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