Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some stuff I learned at Theory...

So I finished interning full-time for five months at Theyskens’ Theory a few weeks ago.  It was probably one of the best experiences of my design career for a number of reasons…  I honestly don’t even know what I’m about to write about but the process of writing always forces me to make a bunch of epiphanies and crystallizes my thoughts so here goes…  Click on the YouTube video for a soundtrack to this blog post and what I played on repeat 30 times while writing this:

First off, it’s not a secret that there’s a lot more creativity in womenswear in regards to shapes, colors, fabrics and prints because women are more open to expressing themselves that way.  Now I don’t feel like working in that realm is where I am pulled at this moment.  However, it’s said, wisdom comes from having multiple perspectives.  There’s a lot of things I’ve absorbed from my time at Theory, and mostly from the Theyskens’ line, that have already made me a much richer designer able to pull from a wider swath of reference experiences.

The biggest walk away from working in womenswear for a bit was being much more cognizant of silhouette of a garment and look.  Said more simply, how slim or loose a look is in different areas and changing a classic shape (or not) to make a statement. 

There were a lot of times when the tops or bottoms would just be so exaggeratedly oversized it was crazy but it seemed cool within the context of the look.  One day in the Fall, I had to go out and basically get some “Mom” jeans from a thrift shop as a reference.  

It was a rough starting point for a pant silhouette they were working on.  This was one of the results:

Now, in my opinion, this look isn’t very flattering, in the classic, sexy female kind of way.  But it’s not really about being sexy, it’s about being cool… 

It's similar to the nonchalant attitude in a surfer girl with her tousled, perfectly-messy hair.

I’ve been toying with the idea in my mind that sometimes people can be attractive IN SPITE of what they wear, which in turn makes them look, not only attractive, but COOL, which I think is… pretty cool lol.  Hopefully, this doesn't come off wrong, but, in a way it’s like intentionally handicapping yourself because you’re so cool you can pull it off.   

Here’s two examples of my friends at the top of my Facebook Newsfeed today, that, at least in these pictures, look pretty cool in spite of what they’re wearing.

Rodderick looks a mess with ratty dreads peppered with beads you would normally find in an arts-and-crafts store and dons a shirt that I could imagine the fabric on clearance at the same store as the beads.  But, I mean, he looks cool in it in spite of all that and actually transforms it into something compelling based on how he styles it all together and carries himself.

Now take my friend Jen… wearing nerd glasses and a locket necklace she may or may not have jacked from someone’s grandmother.  Cool. 

Both have the same nonchalant “je ne sais quoi” that was in some of our pants for Spring 12 at Theyskens’.  Of course, on the wrong type of person, any of these would look clueless rather than cool.

Something else that really stuck with me is the willingness Olivier had to not be afraid to, in his words, “start from zero,” meaning start again with a blank slate.  Many times it’s simply better to begin anew on a something than to tweak an existing version repeatedly until it suits what you envision. 

One of the things I was responsible for there was maintaining all the hundreds of technical illustrations for Resort, Spring and Pre-Fall.  There were a lot of times when a garment would change significantly from what it originally was or be a different version of something else.  My initial instinct was to take the original and simply modify it.  Many times, this is a really smart thing to do.  It can keep the look of things consistent and buyers can easily judge the difference between garments on line sheets. 

But sometimes you can only stretch a picture of a skirt so far before it begins looking like a skirt that was simply smeared down to make it full length.  It beings looking sub-par.

Instead of getting too attached to old work I had done, I began to realize…

“Hey, I’m more talented now than when I originally did that before so why don’t I just do it again?  It’ll probably be even better this time around…”

It’s so interesting to look at a flat sketch of what was my best work in June was and see how my standards of quality and proficiency has evolved in just one season. 

I can’t even show my Pre-Fall work until the line debuts in December… but it’s even better than my Spring 2012 illustrations J

I also learned that, or rather was reminded, your best work and most creative ideas tend to come at the end of the process.  I guess it’s something that I had noticed in my own work habits and thought it was a thing I would grow out of as I matured. 

However, in the last week of the insane rush before the Spring 12 show, the dresses that made the biggest splash and that people talked about were birthed then (i.e. pre-embroidered fabric pieces being cut TWO DAYS before the show for a floor length gown…)  Seeing firsthand someone who has mastery in their craft go through the same mental process was very eye opening.

I went and saw Olivier speak at FIT last week and asked him about this: why it seems the best ideas tend to come at the end…

In his experience he said, the longer you work on a concept and immerse yourself in a certain theme and color palette, you start to see more and more connections and possibilities that you didn’t when you first began.  My own take on that is you’re gaining creative momentum the whole time.  At the end, even though you may be tired, your creative mind has been picking up speed, giving you easier access to your most brilliant self.  I also think when a deadline is near, your brain tends to just automatically get super focused because you simply want to put your best work forward.

So that’s just a smattering of some of the things I picked up while at Theyskens’ Theory.  I’m pretty grateful for being given the opportunity of working with such a talented, passionate bunch.

As for what’s next, after speaking with one of Olivier’s assistants, he allowed me see that the next thing I should be doing to get to the level I want to be at, is gaining experience in the art of classical tailoring.  Alexander McQueen, who learned as an apprentice on Savile Row when he was younger, said “You’ve got to know the rules to break them…” so I’m moving to Cincinnati to apprentice downtown with the third-generation master tailor, Mike Trotta.  I’m super excited to learn about the factors affecting fit and high-end construction techniques and am expecting to grow as much, if not more, in 2012, than I did in 2011!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Insights from the CFDA Awards

Last month, I was selected to be a volunteer for this year's CFDA Awards, which I was massively excited about!  I basically served as a placeholder for some of the choreography (no, I wasn't dancing haha) and helped with a few other things twice before the show.

On Monday night, I got to the venue in the afternoon, but there wasn't anything really for us to do so we just watched the models practice the choreography for the Mark Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award we worked the kinks out of previously.

The stage was incredible...  There were a ton of sweet visual effects projected against the jagged skyline-looking shapes and a brilliantly glittery Swarovski encrusted podium.

Though there were no empty seats or places for me to perch up to watch the show from in the crowd, as a volunteer, I did have a backstage pass.  So after we were finished for the day, I went right back to the Green Room and made friends with the guy in charge of handing out the boxed meals and just posted up and chilled for 3 hours until the awards started at 8 pm and I could watch it on the screen back there.

We started talking about all kinds of things, but one idea that kept coming up was that he was very insistent that being a successful artist means tapping into a particular lifestyle that a subset of culture also identifies with.  Among many examples he gave, one was the rapper Wiz Khalifa.  He was talking about how easy is was for him because since his lifestyle is "weedhead," there's automatically an audience for that by default.

I kind of resisted at first until I realized he was kind of saying something I really believe in, but in a different way...  I think it is massively better and more valuable to listen to people and find out what they're asking for and create something in reaction to that as opposed to making something YOU think is cool and convincing people how much they should like it.  One sells itself, the other requires a lot of effort to get it sold.

On a sidenote, this is only if serving other people's needs and wants is in part of your gameplan.  To the degree that personal expression and art is what you're trying to accomplish, is the degree that this is less and less important.

As the "get-to-your-seats" bell started ringing 15 minutes before the show, I started to get really excited.  I'd seen a lot of the show already since we'd done two run-throughs with many of the intros and speeches pre-submitted.  Of course, I didn't know who the winners were and obviously, there's always the x-factor of a live event...

There were a lot of things that stuck out, but there were two I've found myself thinking over the past week.  The first was from Founder's Award winner Hal Rubenstein, who actually quoted someone else, saying, "When someone wakes up in the morning, the first things that person asks himself is what am I going to eat and what am I going to wear."

The other thing that stood out was something Lady Gaga said about how the clothing that someone wears can alter their mood, thanking all the CFDA members, "It was all of you who made me feel like a star before I was one."

I found myself later in the week, while running errands in the Garment District, looking at each person walking by and being aware that everyone, at one time, decided to aquire every single article of clothing they were wearing, for their own individual reasons.  On top of that, each person woke up only a few hours prior and went through a series of mental yeses and noes to select the whole outfit covering their body based on how they were feeling or wanted to try to get themselves to feel that day.

I don't really consider this a good or bad thing...  I mean, for me personally, I want to evolve in a direction where I can draw whatever good feelings I want from within, and not be affected as much by random factors around me like the weather or the latest sensational story in the media or if my hair's not cooperating with how I want it or if my shirt is new enough.

However, the world doesn't always need to be a serious, philosophical place and, frankly, it can be boring when things get all theoretical or cerebral.  This used to be an issue I thought about, but, quite frankly, letting yourself feel better based on what your wearing is just like going to a comedy show to laugh and have a good time.  With clothing, the designer's own vibe or mood is carried through to that garment and picked up the same way a comedian does with the crowd.  However, unlike a comedian, the feelings from the expression aren't as fleeting.

All designers and artists want to express themselves but unlike graphic designers, painters or architects, a fashion designer's creations and visions for the future affect people's moods and feelings more than the  others by far.  For 99% of people, fashion has the ability to make someone feel good... or bad.

Just look at the absurd degree some girl's body images are affected by the artistic vision of fashion designers.  The designer or design community as a whole moves in a direction that they prefer a certain body type or look, which seems to always change over time.  And from that, there are all kinds of issues that come up from people with no sense of standards of beauty of their own as they are whipped around simply by what we in the fashion design community choose to showcase our new clothing on.

Some people hate fashion and the whole idea of it.  They say things like, "The fashion world is not just frivolous but utterly vacuous and ultimately meaningless. There are so many more important things in life."  In defense, I wonder what life would be like with no entertainment, art or imagination...  Artistic expression is, in essence, emotion translated into the physical world.  Sometimes people wish they could bottle the good feelings they have and share it with others; artistic expression (music, writing, drawing, photography, you get the idea...) is the only way this is done.

Further, the artistic expression that allows this to have the most impact on the person enjoying it, is fashion.  I stand proud to be a part of that community.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Beautiful Calamity

Long overdue is a complete, professional shot of all my looks for my collection "Beautiful Calamity."  Huge shout out to Francisco Castro for doing the photography.  Click on the image below to see the looks in more detail:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Teams and Collaboration

I've had a perspective shift recently in regards to the power of an individual in the context of high achievement. I used to really believe in the strength of a single powerhouse muscling his or her way to what they wanted to get. One influence was the work of one of my favorite authors, Ayn Rand. The heros in her books tend to be the types that just totally kill it in their crafts and the value of them as the central driver is really played up… to a large extent, this IS mega important.

But I've been noticing more and more that the people that are real beasts at what they do are always surrounded by other people who are at their same level. Not necessarily in the same craft, but on the same or higher level at what they've chosen to do.

Related teamwork, here's the video that inspired me to get me thoughts written down about this from Kelly Cutrone of PR firm, People's Revolution. Even though it's related to fashion, it's so obviously applicate to anything else:

Just because I've recently really been into the song "Government Hooker" that Lady Gaga debuted at the Theirry Mugler show a month or so ago, I'll take her as an example...

Now even though there are people who say she has no talent, I also feel that some people always have a negative knee-jerk reaction to pop music. Hell, I have it with country music, so I can't be all that judgmental.

However, Lady Gaga's someone who, from a musical-talent standpoint (i.e. on-pitch vocals, accurate sense of rhythm, etc), has it. However, there are a lot of super-talented singers… Akon signed her (and presumably advised her related to the business side of music), she has Nicola Formichetti working with her for styling, and has producers like RedOne collaborating with her for musical direction.  An all-star team...

Here's the result of that collaboration and teamwork (plus of Sébastien Peigné, the designer working with Nicola at Mugler now). Each excelling at their strengths: Peigné and Formichehetti excelling at designing and styling the clothing, Gaga providing amazing vocals and getting the crowd riled up and hooting DURING the show and all set to tracks of a sound shaped RedOne:

No one is an island...

I remember like six years ago that a person's income is an average of the five people he or she spends the most time with. I think not only is that applicable to income, but to everything: tolerance, intelligence, fitness and health, creativity… We tend to become our peers so it's important for me to consciously select my "team" around me.

Friday, March 4, 2011

FIT vs. Parsons Collection Preview - Beautiful Calamity

My inspiration for Beautiful Calamity came from two sources... The starting point came from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Causing tremendous disruption to our environment and animals (humans included), it was a very emotional topic... and rightly so. 

Of all animals, humans have the capacity to feel the greatest range and depth of emotions. I believe when our emotions are stirred, the best creative output occurs.

My outlook on the world is very optimistic. Therefore, I always strive to find the best in a situation. Setting aside any political commentary on lessons learned from the disaster, one thing I couldn't help but be mesmerized by was the colors of the brown and auburn orange crude oil swirling with the blues and whites from the ocean.

My mind then drifted off to thoughts of the incredible ingenuity our species has, to be able to pull from a mile under water the liquified remains of animals that walked the planet millions of years ago. With that, we drive things like cars, planes and motorcycles by igniting the oil in a controlled manner. This led me to explore motorcycles and the style surrounding those who ride them.

I view bikers as a very practical, functional and masculine type. Motorcycles are many times enjoyed in solitude with no others on the back. In the same manner, I included details that are meant to be enjoyed by the wearer of my garments, even though others may not take notice, the raw edge of jeans piped with shirting fabric or contrasting inner cuffs on a woven shirt. Replacing traditional tailoring canvas, coat collar bands are made of pliable woven brass stitched inside and molded around the neck for a perfectly ergonomic shape. The material also just so happens to be used for filtering the petrochemicals that inspired the collection.

In whole, Beautiful Calamity uses mostly desaturated shades of wool, leather, ultra-suede, waterproof chino, rayon/cotton blend jersey and poplin... with a little woven brass peppered in for some attitude and function.

Beyond providing you with entertainment today, as a designer, I strive to make the world a more beautiful place to inhabit in the short amount of time I'm blessed with. I hope I inspire in you the idea that life is precious and every moment of it can have an element of beauty in it, if you're receptive to it.

Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts on the show!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Fashion Cycle

Inspiration can come from all over the place.  I got inspired a few weeks ago from a business report I ran at work!

So Lacoste launched a shoe collection mid-December called the Legends collection.  12 artist from different genres were given the chance to design their own sneaker.  There was a lot of creativity infused in nearly all of them.  I kind of had an intuitive sense which shoes would be one the top and bottom sales-wise.  After nearly a month of data, I decided to check the numbers Monday afternoon...

The top three shoes were all sturdy looking, leather high tops.  The bottom three were all based on the same model of the super flexible, canvas shoe...  Think Keds.

Does that mean shoes that look like Keds are poor design?  Ugh... Yeah right.

Does that mean the designers that selected this shoe model to use as a base didn't consider a KEY part of fashion design?  I would venture to say one of the top, if not THE top thing to keep in mind is the context the creation is to be used in. While context is crucial in any design discipline, the right product at the right time is 100x's more important in fashion.

In my opinion, there's a macro and micro component to this.  I noticed something around New Year's when I went shopping with my darling girlfriend Rachel for some snow boots when she was in NYC during our monster of a snowstorm...  Almost all the places we went were sold out of a good amount of their snow boots!  Can you believe it?  Several feet of snow and people buy snow boots en mass.  Meanwhile, tucked cozily away in SoHo were Christophe Lemarie's white canvas sneakers being outsold 20-to-1 by a pair of brown leather high-tops.  
Christophe Lemaire is a great designer and now designing for Hermès, by the way.  But low-top, white, canvas sneakers in December in NYC is blatantly rebelling against context.

Even if you're selling super high-end where your customers regularly travel to warm places in winter, my perspective right now is that it's still not "the right product at the right time."

Besides season, the "right time" also includes the right moment in the culture for something.  
They say you can tell who's gonna win a November Presidential election by which candidate sells more parody Halloween costumes.  I thought it was interesting that with Snooki's notoriety being mammoth at that moment, many retailers not only stocked unusual amounts of leopard print dresses around the holidays, I remembered a few like Express running subway ads featuring them as well.

Then there's also a little more zoomed out view of this when a trend hits.  I'm sure looser pants on guys will be more common as the trend of skinny jeans is in Wal-Mart and thus in the bottom of the decline stage of a trend.  People will still wear them (like me), but the notion of it being on trend will pass.

So even more zoomed out from a specific trend is a new LOOK.  One example that comes to mind is Tom Ford.  One of the contributing factors in his exploding Gucci is because of the breath of fresh air he provided to the atmosphere at the time, which was 90's grunge: sleek, sexy clothes dripping with luxury.

Finally, the most macro sense of "right product at the right time," doesn't really have to do with a specific product, but rather a way culture moves as a collective.  We have "Hippie" fashion in the 1960's, Disco and Punk in the 1970's, electric, vibrant colors in the 80's and Grunge in the 90's.  More or less, none of these were dictated or started by any specific designer or company but were rather a reaction of a certain group of people to what was happening in the world around them.  In a lot of ways, these "trends" are reactions against what is popular...

I think punk was a reaction against disco, and grunge was a reaction against new wave fashion and the shoulder-pad, power-tie wearing suits that characterized the 80's.

So where's fashion going next?  As someone super-wise advised me, fashion is cyclical so it's not a matter of where things are going to go next.  The question is, "Are the distribution channels consumer's buy clothes going to stay the same.  The answer is no."

While the exact types of style movements change, the pattern I've noticed is a struggle between two groups: those that want to show other people that they care and those that want to show people they "don't" care.  Of course, I'm MASSIVELY oversimplifying things, but there is definitely an element of that. 

Poodle skirts and Leave-It-To-Beaver style was rebelled against by free-loving, thrift shop-wearing hippies wearing tattered bell bottoms.

Glittery disco wear with shimmery and silky fabrics was rebelled against by snotty, spiked leather wearing punk rocker style.  

Vibrant, loud and vivid style of the 80's was followed by grimy grunge with baggy flannels and torn jeans.


From where I'm standing right now, it seems like the characters may change but the plotline stays the same.