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!


  1. Fantastic synopisis on your experience at theory.

  2. love it!