Friday, December 21, 2012

The Bespoke Sweatshirt


I just recently finished making an oversized sweatshirt as a side project incorporating a lot of what I've learned from the craft of tailoring, while marrying it to a fashion perspective.  It could very accurately be stated that I made a bespoke sweatshirt...


Apprenticing with a tailor for the last year, I've gotten a lot of experience working with woven wools and understanding how they behave, the nuances between weaves and how these fabrics can be manipulated.  However, the fashion DNA in me has really made me crave newness, and I get really excited when I get to work with novel fabrics.  As the kind of man who has us make a custom suit in Cincinnati tends to be much more conservative, most fashion-forward fabrics I see come from alterations we get on designer-level suits.


One of the most memorable was a Givenchy brown linen jacket that had treated (either by pressing, waxing or mercerizing) and looked like leather from across the room.  Linen is notorious for being prone to shining if pressed incorrectly, so to see this done on purpose was really exciting.


And actually after working on this jacket, it inspired me to play with pressing materials that traditionally are supposed to never be ironed, like silk, corduroy and leather.  In my opinion, the most interesting was with a lambskin I ironed, making sure use a lot of steam.  It became super smooth and shiny.  I used a hole-puncher to make a few hundred sequins out of the now-glossy hide and embroidered them onto a piece of wool for a sample.  Could be amazing on a lapel for a New Year's Eve jacket, no?


So anyway, obviously texture and shine have been exciting to me, as of late.  With this "bespoke sweatshirt," it all started when I was in New York in October.  In my downtime, I was shopping around for fabric for two scarves I promised my girlfriend I’d make for her.  As I was wandering around Elegant Fabrics, lacksidasically running my hand across some womenswear fabrics, this really plain-looking, black knit caught my eye.  It actually caught my attention because of the simplicity of it amongst its peers in the high-end section where you weren’t allowed to cut swatches.

I took a closer look at it and it was just a black basic jersey knit, but the texture and feel of it was so perfectly unusual.  Strange… but in the best kind of way.  The look of it reminded me of wet blacktop.  


It had a really crunchy, springy hand on one side, while the other was the exact same knit, but in a soft, comfortable cotton.  I really liked it but restrained myself a bit because it was a $50/yd Italian fabric.

I ended up leaving for a few hours but I just couldn’t stop obsessing over it.  Whenever I really like something, clothing, music, ideas, etc, I tend to get obsessed.  I remember a long time ago when I bought my first pair of $150+ jeans, I wore them literally nonstop for days (yes, I slept in them too).  Whenever I discover a new song I really like, it’s not uncommon for me to exclusively listen to it on repeat for days.


Anyway, after milling about the Garment District for a bit, I relented, went back and had them cut me two yards.

I walked down towards FIT to meet up with my former Menswear classmates, Wonki and Mackenzie, whom I hadn’t seen in about a year.  Wonki and I split a $5 Footlong from Subway for old time's sake, while Mackenzie gave me some feedback on a collection I was working on to put in my portfolio.  Here's the end result of that, by the way:  


I was only able to stay for about 30 minutes because I was supposed to meet with one of Olivier’s assistants from Theysken’s Theory, Chris, who kept a watchful eye on me last year when I was an intern…  He ended up having to push it back a little later that night so I killed time in the park near Gansevoort by listening my iPod and mulling over what to do with this strange, Italian fabric. 

Anyway, I eventually ended up having a drink at The Standard with him.  We kind of bonded a bit over really innovative fabric treatments we've come across or made recently.

He told me about this feather-light embroidered fabric a place in the city was developing for a special order wedding dress they were working on.  After that, he gave me some really helpful artistic and career advice about interning abroad…  It was a very inspiring night for me.  

When I got back to Cincinnati the next day, I hadn’t really a clue what I wanted to do with this fabric yet, just that I wanted to make SOMETHING out of it.  A month after playing with it at the tailor shop trying to see how it behaved, I decided I wanted to make an oversized sweatshirt out of it…  I had in mind as a starting point this neoprene sweatshirt Nicola Ghesquiere did for Balenciaga FW12, albeit womenswear. 


I wanted to reinterpret it for a guy.  The nylon in the fabric certainly would provide the same spring that neoprene would which would aid in keeping the bulky silhouette.  This was about what I had in mind for shape though:


I decided to keep the design really simple and let the fabric be the showcase…  However, I wanted to incorporate a detail I designed for a muslin a few months ago that had a leather panel under sleeve. 


When I made the pattern for the sweatshirt, I moved the under sleeve back so that it wasn’t visible from the front and a little more discrete. 

At first, I sewed the leather panel with a black lambskin…  However, since the hide was rather thin, it didn’t have enough body to stand up to the nylon double knit when I basted everything together and kind of collapsed.   So I tried using a cowhide that was roughly the same weight as the knit, it came out nicely.


Once the fabrication and shape of the garment was in place, I was able to really get into the nitty-gritty details.  Normally, simply surging the raw edges of a sweater  would be perfectly acceptable.  But when I tried it on after stitching the front and back pieces together, the raw edges of the nylon felt as scratchy as a burlap sack.

“Is there any way I can get out of piping these 16 seam edges?” I thought.  “Nope…”  So I went about cutting bias strips from the Bemberg lining we use around the shop…


After addressing the raw edges, controlling the bulk of the fabric became a major theme of the construction.  Basically, I had to avoid having three layers of the fabric or leather, which were both an 1/8” thick, at any seam.  So that being the case, all the seams needed to be pressed open and topstitched down.

That pretty much took care of things until I got to the cuffs, hem and collar where I got to flex my creativity/problem-solving muscles a bit.  From most of the sweaters and sweatshirts I’ve seen, the cuffs and hem are actually ribbing of the same yarns as the rest of the sweater.  Since that option didn’t exist for this fabric, I decided to think of ways that I could replicate it.

Months ago, Mike was telling me about how his father used to make one-piece back jackets that fit the body perfectly through a process of stretching and shrinking the wool in key spots.  


Applying the same principles to the nylon, I went about stretching the fabric and pressing it under tension to set it in place.  The “ribbing” being sewn to the lining and the heat actually melting it into its stretched shape (like how you can melt a permanent crease in synthetic blend pants) should help prevent it from relaxing back into its original state.

Another key detail was that the neck, cuffs and hem were only ribbing on the outside.  On the side facing the body, I used the same lining that I used to pipe the inside seams with.  This cut the bulk significantly in these areas and made the garment sooo much more comfortable against the chest, neck and wrists.



How funny it is that so much thought and work can go into something so simple looking…  This sweatshirt is a bit like a mullet, business in the front, party in the back.


After I finished, Mike did a debrief with me on everything about it from construction to the fit...  There are some definite issues that would need to be addressed if I were to do a second sample of this that would include sloping the shoulders way more and making angle of the hem less severe.


The construction on the other hand came out fantastically.  I knew the biggest challenge going in was to prevent the seams from getting too bulky.  Adding the lining to the underside of the ribbing pieces was a creative, not to mention luxurious, design decision that enhanced the look and feel of the garment.  I think so much of what makes good menswear is in details... discreet, little touches that sometimes only the person wearing it notices and experiences.

The idea to stretching the knit to make ribbing came out exactly how I envisioned as well.  I had to fight with the fabric to get it to behave how I wanted but ultimately I got it to submit to my will ;)


When the fabric was all stretched out in the middle and the ends were still unstretched, I couldn't help thinking that it would be such a clever way to do a peplum bottom with no seam at the hip for a woman.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

To My Friend, T.J.

My fingernails have been clipped, filed and gnawed at so much these past few days, they’re sore.  

My good friend TJ was hit on his bike by a car recently and passed away two days later in the hospital.  He was 32 years old.  He's been on my mind so much this week, but that's because he gave me so much to remember.  


Soon after I found out, I went to the store and got Guinnesses and what I needed to make jamón serrano sandwiches, TJ's favorite foods, which I shared with my girlfriend, who had yet to meet the guy. Over the next two hours, I told her about who he was and what he meant to me...

I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time when I was 18 as I was beginning to start the UC Running Club at the University of Cincinnati.  He had recently graduated himself, was working in the local running store, Bob Roncker’s Running Spot, full-time and was continuing to train, after being one of the top guys on the UC varsity team.  We hit it off, and pretty quickly, he started picking me up in the legendary mud-brown Ford Pinto for 8 a.m. Sunday group runs at Awakenings coffee shop.  The car was such a jalopy, he left the keys in the ignition in hopes it would be stolen, so he could collect the insurance money!

I didn’t realize just how much of rockstars the guys I was running with were…  Here's a pic I took of TJ and his friend Chris Reis finishing #1 and #2 in a Thanksgiving Day race of 10,000+ people:


Truth be told, I only ran with the top guys when they decided they needed an easy 7:00 mile warm up before they jetted.  The first time I went, I ended up totally lost in the neighborhood and tried to hitchhike back.  When I finally discovered my way, 1:20 later, TJ was standing outside with another shirtless runner, hands on his hips, a cocky smirk on his face, and sporting shorts so short he looked like some dude that rolled out of bed in his underwear having his morning joe in the comfort and privacy of his own home.


On one of the Sunday rides I got to share with him back to Calhoun dorm, when he was asking about my family, it came up that my mom was a flight attendant and I had flight benefits.  When I told him I’d never been to Europe, his eyes went bright.  He started gushing to me about Madrid, how magical it was there and how they have a tradition on New Year’s Eve, where at the stroke of midnight…

“You TRY to pop a grape in your mouth on each chime of the bell and wash it all down with champagne at the end.” 

Then, in a way that seemed very non-sequiter, he asked me what I thought the purpose of life was…   I forget what I said, but the topic wasn’t something I’d seriously considered outside the context of Sunday school and with a perfunctory nod. 


“It’s in the question, man.  The purpose of life is to live…” he poetically expounded.  I mean, he certainly drew me in, and I could see the soul in what he was saying…  But what he was talking about was so outside of my thought process at the time. 

“Who is this guy?” I laughed to myself about the Pilates-practicing free spirit next to me.

Over the next few months and years, I started to find out who this guy was.

Without fail, when I would spend time with him, he would expand my reality in some way, however small.  One night, we went to Awakenings to share some hot, freshly brewed green tea with a buddy of his.  When the tea came, TJ laid down the rule that no one was allowed to refill his own cup.  He didn’t have to explain how is was supposed to remind us to be sensitive to the needs of others.  It was understood.  


By now, I was getting more used to TJ’s poetic behaviors.  They were beginning to seem less and less something I would chuckle at and more and more something I was letting sink in.

When we traveled to Spain later that winter, my world was widened once again, thanks to him.  We left for our connection flight in Atlanta from Cincinnati on Christmas Day because that’s when stand-by travel looked the best over the holidays.  Even despite this, it was going to be close getting from Atlanta to Madrid.  If we didn’t make the Christmas Day one, December 26th, when people where beginning to go back home from the holiday, would be even less forgiving.  Then...

Boom! 

Not only did we get on, but we got upgraded on our 9-hour flight to First Class!

We shot the breeze and talked about nothing in particular (certainly not everything with him was so serious, poetic and deep).  Reclining in our two Lazy-Boy-large leather seats, we were served a great dinner and noshed on cheese and chocolate-y port wine for dessert that we slowly and thoroughly enjoyed.  


At 3 a.m. our time, we were awoken from sleep by warm, damp hand towels, fresh squeezed orange juice and breakfast.  After we touched down, he was incredibly spontaneous, gusting in on old friends out of nowhere and with no prior notice of him being in town…  The first night, we shacked up at a hostel, but, by night number two, he had gotten in contact with his old Spanish teacher and arraigned for us to stay there with her and her elementary school aged daughter, Sion.  She didn’t even know he was coming but happily opened her home to us both.  Then, the fun really began...


Once during the week, we snuck past the guards into Spain’s Olympic training facility to do 1-km repeats with some of his elite runner buddies.  I had to do every other one with them, of course, because I needed way more recovery than they did.   


We did a little shopping at Zara and enjoyed countless types of tapas, churros and espresso, beers, wines and sangria.  He had already introduced me to jamón serrano from Trader Joe’s back in America, but it didn’t even compare to the fresh-off-the-bone ham legs in bars that were freckled all over Madrid.
 

The official excuse for going to Spain was to run in the San Silvestre Vallecana 10K on New Year’s Eve.  We were running in the international race, only open to a pre-qualified group of 1,000 runners with guys like Paul Tergat dotted in the mix.  Since there was the public race with at least 10,000 people right before, and since it was NYE in a major metropolis, the entire 6.2 miles was a continuous tunnel of men, women and children blowing air horns, cheering and spraying silly-string and shaving cream at us.


It amped me up so much actually that my 5K split was faster than my 5K PR at the time!  It WAS as amazing as it sounds and definitely a peak experience of my life.  The idea of living… actually living life... was something I was liking more and more.


Since I spoke zero Spanish, I needed TJ to be my in-between there most of the time.  However, luckily back at the apartment, his teacher spoken fluent English.  Her daughter didn’t… but even with me not knowing Spanish and her not really knowing much English, Sion and I made friends.   We form friendships with pets all the time without dialogue, but it seemed very eye-opening and special that you could form a relationship with another person without being able to actually exchange words.


While he was still living in Ohio, he continued to rub off on me more and more.  My life started to head in a really nice direction, but I still wasn’t really sure where I’d end up in 10 years and dipped my toe in a few different ponds trying to see what felt right.  You know, the common experience of finding one's way.

We went and got coffee at Sitwell’s in Clifton one night…  I remember I was wearing a beanie pushed back about an inch past my hairline over my long-ish hair at the time.  I think I probably saw TJ wearing his hat like that months ago, thought it looked really cool and swagger-jacked him.


Anyway, we get to talking and he tells me he was planning to move, probably to Colorado.  He was saying stuff about needing to get out of the city, make new friends and shake things up.  The latter two sounded plausible but I didn’t see why he needed to move.  He basically said, in a big-brotherly sort of way, I’d probably understand when I was older…

I only visited him once after he’d moved there and crashed with him for a few days.  When I arrived, I got on the Denver-Boulder bus stop, texted him I was on my way and began listening to a seminar talk on my iPod, a habit I'd been developing, this one about finding passion and purpose in your life, social dynamics, business advice, being inspired and all that kind of good stuff.


Being around TJ had really pushed me to step up in my own life and try to become someone I thought, by my own standards, was super fucking excellent.  I don’t know if he was naturally always the embodiment of all that is cool and attractive (charismatic, thoughtful, childishly mischevious but wise like an old man, plays guitar, speaks Spanish, unstifled, great style, funny, worldly… do I have to go on?) or if he because that way consciously and intentionally at one point…

Regardless, I wasn’t like that naturally and the only way I knew how to do that for myself was to try to try really hard and just model people I thought were cool in their behaviors and actions and listen to how they viewed the world and hope it seeped in eventually.

When TJ rolled up to get me, probably much to his dismay, no one had stolen his Brown Pinto yet.

We went out for burritos and beer, talked about life, girls we were dating, finances, what we’d been up to and what kind of things were exciting to us currently… 

When we were headed to the car to meet some of his friends, we were talking and he said to me, “You can take this as good or bad, but you remind me so much of myself when I was your age.”  I gave it a nonchalant chuckle, but, honestly, I was just playing cool.  I admired him a ton, so I took it as a massive complement, especially since he was only five years (to the day) older than I was.

Afterwards, we went to his new favorite pub, The Hungry Toad, to hang out with some of his buddies and share Guinesses and Mudslides before retiring. 


In the morning, we crawled into his Pinto to go get these Asiago bagels from Panera he said were amazing.  What kind of music is playing in his car on he ride there, you ask?  His new musical obsession was old, folksy Country music. 

“This guy…” I shook my head, laughing.  Always keeping things interesting and unexpected.

Of course, the bagels and eggs he cheffed up were amazing.  This was TJ, after all.  


Very sensitive about his food, he was.  A day or so later, he even cautioned me, I kid you not, about “bruising the wine” when I was carrying the Cabernet Sauvignon we were bringing to a friend’s party.

That was the last time I was with him in person, though we still stayed in regular contact via cell phone.  We talked this year when he called me on February 23rd, our mutual birthdays, and we talked for a good 20-30 minutes.  I was telling him how I was planning on moving to Europe in 2013 to intern in probably Paris or London, and he was saying how with his job, he was going to be getting the opportunity to work in South America a lot and was thrilled about it.  After that, the last time we heard from each other was him being the first to comment on my last blog post in May…


So many of my memories with him involved food and drink.  I don’t want to try to speak for him, but I do think it would be safe to say, he enjoyed delighting all five of his senses.  Just look at this picture he took, reveling in the sublime beauty he noticed at the "ordinary" sight of melting butter:


When I was flying to his memorial service on Thursday, I really tried to take in all I could when I was having my meal on the plane. 

And regarding that flight, the last time I was in Atlanta, I was with TJ on the way to Spain and got bumped up to First Class.  Well, same thing happened again!  Not only did I get on ONLY because four people no-showed the damn flight, the gate agent pulled some strings and put me in First. 

So my only times flying out of ATL where both with him, in person and in spirit, and both times, I get prime seats.  How fitting…  After mentioning it in my talk at his service in CO, his mom said when she heard that, she looked up and gave him a thanks. 


As I was saying though, on this flight, I really tried to delight all five of my senses too and experience as much as I could from my lunch of a roast beef sandwich with carmelized onions, potato chips, pineapple and grapes, brownie and the three, full glasses of red wine.  Besides the tastes, of which I discovered how savory pineapple and brownie dabbed in salt can be, I did things like immediately hiding the packaging the brownie and chips came in because I thought they were ugly and distracting, listening to the crunch of the chips in my mouth, inhaling the wine deeply before I drank it, and feeling my molars snaps and burst the grapes in the back of my mouth… really trying to appreciate being able to enjoy it. 

In hearing the stories about TJ at his memorial and at The Hungry Toad afterwards, it was cool to see that many people shared a lot of the same experiences with him.  His friend, Lee Troop, who welcomed me into his home to stay at for the memorial, said it showed TJ was the same guy with everyone, was real and didn’t act differently with different people.  He was a rock-solid friend.


Paradoxically, I learned many of his friend’s first impressions were negative...  “Why is this guy trying so hard?”, “Who does he think he is?” and, the best, “I’m definitely not gonna be friends with that guy,” said by his buddy, John.

The thing was, John did end up being great friends with him.  He told me when he met TJ, he had an Accounting degree but really wanted to coach running, as that's where he was gifted and it's what excited him.  He actually got offered a position once but declined it because his Accounting mind was telling him it wasn’t a good ROI.  Enter TJ, who then became the grain of sand in John's eye that told him he should still do it and pushed him to basically “follow the pulse of the wind,” TJ's motto.  Now John coaches Division II in a state known for the high caliber of their runners.


TJ had the same affect on me, his spirit being an irritant in my life to live with the amount of soul he did and pursue my own dream.  Our Sitwell's conversation about me "understanding when I was older" his move to Boulder, came true...  A few years later, I packed up my own life to move to New York City to begin my path towards a career that excited the living daylights out of me.  I believe one of the most precious things about TJ was that he challenged people to contemplate what they valued in life and what their ideals were, while simultaneously encouraging them to live in alignment with them.

I’ve heard so many inspirational quotes in my life…  But seeing a demonstration of the ideas is a hundred times more impactful and likely to have an tangible effect on someone, to actually affect his or her future actions and not just the private thoughts and perspectives bouncing around between their ears. 

There are so many clichéd sayings and attitudes like “live with passion,” “your life is your message,” “be in the moment,” “just be yourself” or “love life,” they almost can become platitudes.  How incredible it was though to have had someone who was an example show me how it’s done...  When we see something done that many people only dream about, it changes our thoughts on what can can be accomplished.  Just look at Roger Bannister running a sub-4 minute mile.  The amazing thing about that, besides the insane level of strength and endurance needed to run a mile that fast, was that a bunch of people did the same thing soon after, in response to Bannister’s performance.

Within a year, 20 other people had run sub-four minute miles!


Of course, TJ wasn’t perfect.  He dealt with ups and down, moments of apathy and confusion, boredom and had weaknesses and vices that he struggled with his whole life, like any real person.  But he was only 32, after all...  It's still tearing me up how young he was, how much more he could have developed and how many other lives he could have touched and inspired.

Regardless, in my world of friends, he was by far the best example of a great guy that I had.  I'd be thrilled beyond belief if, in five years, I have anywhere near the same level of curiosity, charisma, and zeal for living life he did when he passed.  I knew of no one else like him.

For me personally, TJ has been a Roger Bannister-type guy for living an awesome life.  It makes me very happy to know that a lot of other people shared so many similar experiences with him.  I hope he already has or will be playing a similar role for the others that knew him, as he has for me.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tailoring My Future

I’ve had some pretty good things come my way since the last time I wrote in November… The biggest was moving to Cincinnati to apprentice with the 3rd-generation, Italian master tailor, Mike Trotta. 


I remember watching the film “Valentino: The Last Emperor” a few years ago.  In one part, it talked about how Valentino learned haute couture techniques from the old masters, that there’s hardly anyone left from that generation alive anymore to teach and a lot of that knowledge will be lost once they’re gone. 

That’s a pretty similar situation with the art of tailoring…  I don’t know of any tailors that don’t have grandchildren!  And it’s not necessarily a hot trade in today’s increasingly disposable society so, naturally, I feel very fortunate that Mike’s taken me under his wing.  I help out a lot with regards to alterations on garments and assist him in fit sessions and taking measurements for some of his custom clients.


I love working with Mike. There’s a rich history of tailoring in his family that started with his grandfather, who immigrated to America from Campobasso, Italy quite some time ago.  If I wasn't already learning French, it'd make a lot of sense for me to start learning Italian, since half the time, that's the language being spoken between Mike and the seamstress, Cornata.  I've picked up "va bene" and "piccolo" though... so it's a start...


He’s always mentioning how his dad was such a pro when it came to the craft.  And actually as a side note, he was telling me that when Proctor & Gamble was developing the disposable diaper in the 1950’s, under their soon-to-be brand, Pampers, they hired Mike Trotta Sr. to work out the shape of it to get it to fit correctly on a male toddler.

And speaking of diapers, did you know Saks Fifth Avenue was the first retailer to sell the precursor to the disposable diaper in 1949?  Yup, I learned that in my first weeks training there, as I’ve also started working at Saks on the sales floor!  Following to the advice of two people in the fashion industry whom I have tremendous respect for, I've been getting retail experience at various companies for about a year and a half now. Is retail selling something I'm going to be doing for the next ten years? No. But I am becoming more in sync with what people value and find special and getting an understanding of how clothes are moved.

Saks especially is great for me because, unlike the other two places I’ve worked, Lacoste and Banana Republic, Saks sells multiple lines that all have different points of view.  Plus, from a designer's perspective, Saks is as much a customer as the one wearing the clothes, since Saks has a buying team.  So it's mega valuable to get an insider's view on how they operate. (Side note: Someone just asked about the background my wallet's on below... it's my dresser I made when I was 16.)


Another huge benefit I didn’t anticipate when I took the position is the people from outside the Cincinnati store that come to talk to and educate us. Besides different brand reps that come through for trunk shows, there’ve been a good amount of people that work directly with/for Saks.

Recently, I got meet the guy in charge of creative direction for Saks’ own line, 611.   The funny thing was I was having an unusually easy time remembering his name...  Usually, I'm good with faces, but my memory can be shoddy at times in regards to names.  But not with this guy.  Well, we got to talking and I realized he was an adjunct professor in Menswear my first year at FIT and taught half my classmates!  One of his favorite students was one of my best friends, Woohyun Jang, who I just flew up to visit and catch up with for one day because he invited me to the Oscar de La Renta F12 show lol…


Small world, huh?  So naturally, I took him and the rep from Saks he was traveling with out to a really cool area downtown (Over-the-Rhine) for drinks and dinner. I had a really great time with them both and got some killer advice, direction and perspective.

And on top of that, Steve Sadove, the CEO of Saks, came through a few days ago.  He had a great vision for the future and was a really engaging guy.  I got a chance to talk to him one-on-one for a few minutes about what his thoughts on recognizing “white space,” or opportunity no one is filling, at Saks were.  Priceless. 


Saks is turning out to be one hell of an addendum to my degree at FIT!

But then, so is working with Trotta…There, not only am I developing a sharp eyes for the nuances and subtlety of fit, we do a lot of alterations on high-end goods (and actually a small amount of fast fashion type garments) and I get to see the insides of a lot of the garments that sit at Saks. It's interesting to see how brands like Billy Reid, Armani, Charvet, Zegna Couture or Givenchy do things and then be able compare and contrast that with the custom jackets, trousers and shirts we do.


It has also been nice to be able to compare that with more down-market pieces like this jacket from Zara… I recently did a little nip-tuck so to speak of the sleeves on it for a female friend of mine.  I'm quite happy with the pitch of them now:

Super clean.

This year so far, I've been really fascinated with the design philosophy of the German industrial designer, Dieter Rams, which he summed up as “Weniger, aber besser” (In English, “Less, but better”).  Here are his views more expanded, including his Ten Principles of Good Design: http://www.sfmoma.org/about/press/press_exhibitions/releases/880

With that rattling around in my head, I went to the Detroit Auto Show in the winter, and among all the novelty, glitz and sex appeal of everything there, what grabbed me most was the devastatingly simple sketch Porsche used for their signage and Lincoln’s new headrests in the upcoming MKZ models:



It’s a great set of ideas for any designer to integrate, but, I’ll admit, it’s a little trickier to stick to in fashion.  After all, he did say “Good Design… avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years.” 

Now, fashion designers have absolutely come up with long-lasting designs…  Think of jeans, the suit jacket or the tee shirt.  But a sizable part of what excites people about them is the constant variations designers make on the colors, details, proportion, fabric, etc.  As Mike Trotta has reminded me about many things, specifically in the clothing business, “The target is always moving.”


Rams' philosophy isn’t as smoothly transferable into fashion as industrial design because significant part of what makes people enjoy fashion is the unneeded decoration and novelties that change multiple times a year.  I’m not sure I’d ever be able to design totally in alignment with all of his Ten Principles of Good Design, but I think a very large portion of it is applicable.    

One of the few people Rams has praised for his design work is Jony Ive at Apple.  After reading Steve Job's biography and comparing the creations of both men, I can see why. 


One of the takeaways I had was the reminder of how much obsessing over the tiniest details matters. There's a part in the book where Steve and his head designer, Jony Ive, were traveling and going through a culinary store looking at pots, pans and all sorts of cooking utensils. They both separately found a knife with a beautiful shape and good weight but both put it down in disappointment because of the smallest detail: a tiny sliver of dried glue that oozed from the handle.  The book talks about things that make Jony a world-class designer.  Among them, here's one of my favorite quotes:
“Simplicity isn’t just a visual style.  It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter.  It involves digging through the depth of the complexity.  To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex.  The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured.  You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.”

Hearing things like that make me very happy that I’m learning so much about fit and construction of clothing from Mike.  In the book, Jony’s praised: “Unlike some designers, he didn’t just make beautiful sketches; he also focused on how the engineering and inner components work.”  I have been making an effort to do the same thing in my craft too by doing things like taking apart quality garments and really trying to understand how all the parts were put together and their functions.



Let’s not be mistaken though, beauty can just as easily come from complexity and the ornate.  Case and point, this incredible part of a still-life oil painting I snapped on my phone (shh, don't tell security) in the Cincinnati Art Museum.

  
Isn’t that just sublime?  I ended up by bizarre coincidence finding this painting on a silk scarf in the gift shop, which I snapped up as a gift for someone special ;)

Another example of something with a ton of complexity being beautiful is my favorite tie!  From afar, it kind of just looks like a solid dark gold:


But when you look closer and see it move, you see it’s a super complex jacquard pattern with an incredibly subtle plaid.


I think the juxtaposition of simplicity, complexity and having parts of a design that people feel like they “discover” is what often times makes the coolest stuff be cool.

But back to that Zara jacket... After I altered it, it had a great silhouette and really elegant lines to it in general.  However, when I looked at the center back seam, there was a random topstitch at the vent (click on the image to get a closer look).  Ugh!


I mean, it wasn't really random because I know it was there for reinforcement, but, aesthetically, it totally interrupted the flow of the design… just like how the glue messed up the design of the knife Jony and Steve saw.

Needless to say, after I was done with the sleeves, that vent stitch was pulled right out and I cross-stitched it on the inside.

I read recently that Tom Ford is someone else who obsesses over lines in his clothing and has the back of his trousers extend into the pocket in the front rather than having the standard seam for the pocket facing at the side.


So if Tom Ford and Steve Jobs pay attention to this kind of minutiae, I'll continue being OCD about it too haha...

Ok, that’s enough for now.  At Trotta’s, I’m starting to work on completely changing the fit and silhouette of this Hugo Boss tux jacket monstrosity.  Can you say “wrong size” haha? 


As much as I’d like to “keep it simple,” this is gonna be pretty complex to get right.  Oh well, it’ll be great practice.  Stay tuned!