Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My 80th birthday celebration with proteges and fashion meet up friends

It was the greatest birthday celebration, at the Charlesgate Hotel, by the Boston Fashion Industry Meetup. On the left is Ann Steeves (Gorgeousfabrics.com) then me. On the right are 3 proteges, Ann Russo (Technical Design Services), Tess Coburn (Teresacrowninshield.com) and Mika Nakafuji.

Here's two of my favorite people. Ron Ranere, who started the Boston Fashion Industry Meetup with me in 2004 and a great photographer - and his wife, Charline, both who have done so much for me.

The delicious birthday cake made by Kathleen Wright, another protege, who, unfortunately could not make the celebration.

Thank, thank you to all.

Friday, March 08, 2013

True Fashion Design is a Moving 3-D Sculpture

  The Boston Globe had a photo today of (above) one of the most beautiful stoneware sculpture by H. Nakashima at the Museum of Fine Arts. It prompted me to think about the beautiful 3-D curves in great fashion design. Nakashima’s sculpture has a feeling of motion in observing it, but fashion is greatest when on a moving human body.

  One of my proudest 3-D fashion sculptures is a 6-ply pure silk crepe I sold to Neiman-Marcus in 1958. (left) The cape sleeves start as a sleeve in the front, form a cape in the back and come around to the front to finish as a sleeve. It moves beautifully when moving your arms.  


  Another of my favorites that illustrates fashion as a great moving 3-D sculpture is my “Sunburst” dress, of bright orange silk pesante.(left) The accordion pleating goes all around the body and comes together in one point in the front, finishing with a sunburst pin. The pleating had an amazingly beautiful motion as the woman walked. The photo was in a full page article in the Boston Sunday Herald in 1962. It was also a favorite of my customers, who bought many of them. 

  Both of these styles required great expertise in sculpting fabric in outer space, feeling the motion in “inner visualization” – not fitting tightly to a dress form or model, as so many young designers learn to do when draping today – or when being committed to the rules of drafting. As Frank Gehry, the famous architect and jewelry designer, said, “Beauty without rules.”

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tess's Coat at Obama's Inauguration


  It is a proud moment for me as a mentor to see one of the  coats designed by my great protégé, Tess Coburn, worn by one of her customers at the Obama inauguration. The photo on the left is one of fifteen taken by the New York Times in their January 22nd issue of our president's inauguration. The customer, wearing Tess's coat is in the lower left hand corner. The photo on the right is the same coat on a fashion model.

  Tess began independently while living as an English teacher in China, and in a few short years her collections have become very successful, growing the company 50% each year. She has been working with me, Shirley Willett, for the past 10 years, returning to China to produce each year . Recently, with her now great production knowledge, she produces in Massachusetts. 
  Many have asked about specific relationships in the way my protégés and I, as their mentor, work. Each one is very different with special needs and desires. It is not education itself, although some need more of my teaching than others – but all of them need pieces of my deep knowledge and experience, particularly in pattern making and production, and/or my unique creative ability to solve their special problems. Whenever someone needs just my knowledge to solve a specific problem, especially a business one, I consult, but do not continue a relationship as a mentor, guiding them.

  I have had many protégés off and on over 50 odd years. Presently I have four protégés, all in their own businesses and with different degrees of success. Tess Coburn is my number one protege. She designs elegant silk and cashmere jackets and coats. I met her through the Boston Fashion Industry Meetup,   http://fashion.meetup.com/1/ , for which I was the Organizer. She was doing beautiful trimming but her jacket and coat shapes needed work. She began working with my Stylometrics blazer jacket template, and all her jackets and coats since have great shape and consistent good fit.  

    Being very creative herself, I encouraged her to experiment with new shaping. The photo on the top shows the studied develop-ment of a beautiful raglan sleeve and a nicely shaped shawl collar. The next photo  is recent and shows how her creativity with sleeves became a great line in this elegant motorcycle type jacket. The elbow expansion shows her excellent learning for great easy motion.
  An email from Tess (2.5.10) shows the closeness of our thinking: 

Hi Shirley,

Been thinking of you daily.  You are always present in my studio while I work-how would Shirley drape that?, what would Shirley say about that line?, Shirley would say it looks too bound up and it needs to be released, not tightened....:))


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Boston Fashion Industry Meetup with Jay Calderin, Boston Fashion Week

The group photo was taken by Domenico, at the Boston Fashion Industry Meetup, July 24, 2012. We are the six organizers: Joseph Gualtiere, Vicky Anson, John Bilotti, , yours truly, Shirley Willett, Kathy Benharris, and Ron Ranere. If you want to know more about our meetup, go to  http://fashion.meetup.com/1/   We would love more fashion people, especially designers, to join us.

 The other photo is Jay Calderin, founder and organizer of Boston Fashion Week. He gave a great talk about all the exciting details of the week in the fall. If you want to know more about Boston Fashion Week, go to http://www.bostonfashionweek.com/

I have great news about myself. I will be the feature article in the fall issue of Boston Common Magazine. They are doing a Boston heritage issue and will talk about my involvement as Boston’s number one designer in the 1950s and 1960s, and then my suede manufacturing in the 1970s. I am not sure when the next issue comes out, either August or September. If you want to know more, go to

Sunday, June 24, 2012

DIY (Do It Yourself) Manufacturing

DIY (Do It Yourself) manufacturing is actually a very old idea brought to the 21st century through new technologies. A recent newsletter from IMT (Industry Market Trends) asks:
"Is This the Era of DIY Manufacturing?"
Traditional models for manufacturing are rapidly evolving, as increasing demand for customized, individually-oriented products and the desire for "personal fabrication" capabilities are drivinga revolution in do-it-yourself production. Coupled with the latest advances in 3-D printing and digital fabrication, which are bringing sophisticated technologies into the home, the world many soon be entering a new era of DIY manufacturing.

Most of what is happening commercially is in industries other than apparel manufacturing, except in basic clothing. However, as IMT further discusses, "mixing traditional mass production with individual production", I am convinced, could really be the new future for creative design and manufacturing.There is a great deal to understand in order for what I call mass customization to evolve. And this is exactly what young creative fashion designer-entrepreneurs need, and the more creative and personal clothing consumers want, but at an affordable price.

I have personally been dreaming of these ideas in some ways, since the 1950s. And today, after a very successful manufacturing business of high fashion design for 20 years, I am still devoted to both the fashion consumers and to young fashion design-entrepreneurs, some of whom I mentor. In the early 1960s I composed a booklet Creative Kits, which shows my passion for consumers, and wanting them involved. Some pages from the booklet are seen below. The cover shows a suede trench coat that the consumer can put together themselves by punching holes in the right size of marks for them. They are supplied with rivets and the tool to rivet the coat together. No sewing! Just fun. Page 3 is a suede coat that is whipstitched together with suede lacing, and me modeling. You can figure that next year I will be 80!

The next one on page 5, was the best seller. They punched the holes according to a pattern, and were given various bright colored lacings to embroider with. Page 7 is a man's laced suede Eisenhower jacket, and page 20, riveted pants for both men or women. The crocheted vest, page 14, and the latticework vest, page 25, I also made complete ones for the store Apogee, owned by Marylyn Riseman - a very popular store on Newbury Street in the 1960s

I ask everyone to please study the past and help me and others with ideas for the future success of the apparel industry. Remember my slogan, History teaches the present how to redesign the future. I look forward to hearing from you.

Cover of booklet

P3. Whipstitched coat

P5. Embroider weskit

P7. Laced Eisenhower

P20. Riveted pants, M & F

P14. Crocheted vest

P25. Latticework vest

Saturday, June 02, 2012

DesignEd Symposium by DIGMA

DesignEd Symposium by DIGMA (Design Industry Group of Massachusetts

May 4, 2012: There were some questions proposed to answer. The one that attracted me" How should Massachusetts design education evolve?"
[Photos by Jay Calderin, Boston Fashion Week & SFD.]

Rather than go into all the points about the question, I talked more about the critical problems that the fashion apparel industry was facing today, not only in Massachusetts, but all over the country and all over the world. It is not something that education alone can answer, but has serious consequences for fashion design students, who can no longer find jobs. I made the decision to send the following paper to a group of those who would be especially interested in the critical problems of the fashion apparel industry. It doesn't answer the problem, but identifying the problem is 50% of the solution. I hope my readers will read and think about possible solutions. And I will put some ideas in my next post. 

"History Teaches the Present How to Redesign the Future" (Shirley Willett) 

Pattern Design and Engineering is the Beginning and the Foundation for Fashion/Apparel as an Industry

The textile industry was brought to America in the 19th century from England. But the apparel industry is an American creation later in the Greater Boston area by Jewish tailors. Prior to their efforts garments were made individually for each woman by dressmakers. These Jewish tailors became aware of some commonalty in the shaping, fitting and making of garments, and pattern making for production was born, one pattern to  fit more than one woman. They developed a mathematical sizing system to accommodate most women with very few patterns. As businessmen they continued developing these patterns to become paper “information systems” engineered to control quantities of exact reproductions in cutting and stitching clothing in mass production systems. 

It was in the 1950’s, graduating from college and working in the design rooms of New York, that I learned something very different about fashion schools and colleges.  Teachers were primarily “dressmakers” and emulated the Paris couture system – and they taught this to other teachers, becoming a narrowing circle of knowledge and experience. All workers hired in design rooms were taught in schools, not from apprentice experience that taught critical production knowledge. I easily excelled way beyond them with a technical pattern expertise learned from my own experiments as a teenager coupled with the knowledge of stitching in production. Creators of high fashion styles today make “First Patterns”, which they spend endless time redoing for quality, but never preparing for production. While creating high fashion styles my First Patterns were “Engineered Patterns” to immediately reproduce creations into ready made garments for cost-effective manufacturing. A positive effect from these fashion schools is that America began producing more creative designers, but the negative effect is an ever widening gap between creative design and pattern engineering. In my National Science Foundation grants,1980s, I designed a graphic that explains it well: “The Wall Between Design and Manufacturing”. By combining great creativity with unequaled technical expertise, I became extremely successful as a high fashion designer and manufacturer of quality designer clothing at low cost, selling nationally to all the top retailers from the 1960s to the early 1980s. One driving point I continue to make in my grants and to students is that decisions of marketing and production, costs and quality must be made at the “Point of Design”. (P.O.D.)

Unfortunately, as Boston firms went south in the 1960s and then overseas in the 1980s, to reduce increasingly heavy production costs, Boston's technical expertise faded dramatically. No longer were there firms to apprentice pattern designers, so pattern making was only taught in schools from books. Overseas manufacturers, in Italy, France, London, and today in Japan, China and Korea, copied these systems as well, but none of them learned it by hands on stitching and other work in production that makes an expert pattern maker. The result is that today’s pattern designers and engineers can reproduce the sameness of clothing design, but cannot create technical pattern design and engineering systems, nor can they ever work with creative styling to make them into efficient production systems. 

Adding to the demise of creative technical expertise are the CAD/CAM vendors selling technology into the apparel industry production systems, which had to emphasize “sameness” to justify the costs. Those elements that are  mathematically oriented, such as “grading of sizes”, and “marking of layouts” for cutting, are very efficient technological systems. But no CAD vendor has designed a pattern making system that can deal with creative styling, or fitting of differences in women’s bodies. The result is that all over the world we have an anathema of sameness in the  mass production market, and far out creativity that is enormously high priced  - with a gap that is an ever-widening schism. 

When I sold my manufacturing business in the 1980s and won the NSF grants, it was for the sole purpose of using our great history in technical pattern design to create technologies that could work with and for, creativity. I have been accepted all over the world for my creative technical expertise, but not by the American fashion industry, nor by their schools. I reached an apogee in representing the whole American fashion industry at an MIT workshop on comparing design practices between industries. Now, in the 21st century, I am determined to do whatever I can to “redesign the fashion industry in America”, by teaching my “Stylometrics Pattern Design” and developing a system of apprentices to become Fashion Design Leaders.

Fashion schools graduate thousands of fashion designers that can’t succeed in fashion nationwide. Consumers are frustrated and bored with sameness, not finding creative, quality fashions that will fit them without paying thousands of dollars. Consumers are becoming involved in designing in various ways. I hope that my creative methodologies will be adopted, and you will take them for your personal success and to show others. 

The Wall Between Design and Manufacturing

The plate and the text comes from a Willett paper, “Syntax and Semantics of an Image Communication Language for Design Management’ presented at the Technical Design Conference of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1990.

For communication tools to be useful in design management, they must be based on a language that supports standardization of representation, linkage of production requirements to product representation, use of building blocks to avoid repetitive effort, and incorporation of syntactical information to aid in understanding of the represented product. The Stylometrics language was designed with these goals and purpose in mind. 

CAD technology has exacerbated the problem by developing programs for apparel design that have little regard for the users. Perhaps the primary cause of this wrong direction is the total lack of understanding and respect for what design engineering is, and what the design engineer does. 

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Problems in Fashion Design & Production – Ideas for Solutions

The following paper was presented by the Organizer of Boston Fashion Industry Meetup, Shirley Willett, and founder of Boston Design Laboratory, February 19, 2009. The paper illustrates her continued commitment to create solutions for the problems and difficulties faced by young design entrepreneurs in the fashion industry today. See more at http://fashion.meetup.com/1/


1. Their production lots are too small to do it overseas – with expensive shipping costs, and paying someone to carefully watch quality control.
2. Production knowledge is not taught anywhere. In the past it was learned by apprentic-ing in the factories. All fashion schools teach 19th century couture for first patterns, which is the process done in the design rooms – making a wider and wider “wall” between de-sign and manufacturing.
3. DEs must increasingly do everything themselves, their own patterns, their own selling and increasingly their own stitching.


Frederick Taylor at the turn of the 20th century developed mass production, especially for the auto industry. The basic condition was quantities of sameness. Ford was known to have said: “The customer can have any color they want but it must be black.” Mass production and factories in the apparel industry were developed by Jewish tailors in their patterns created for production of quantities of the same style. They continually developed ways for lower and lower costs.
With the advent of the computer, design rooms disappeared and product development took its place. Everyone designed – sameness, and more sameness. Young DEs can not compete with the way all of them work today, producing one or very few of one style. The solution is to build a large collaboration of designers, whose patterns are all built on one common set of standard (same) pattern templates (Stylometrics). There are many other ways to build some commonalties or sameness as the foundation,(fabric pooling) (systems for cutting and stitching) etc. while uniqueness, customization, and personalization can be done at a higher level. Boston Design Laboratory is committed to research and create ways to achieve affordable production.
This system has not been done yet, but it CAN be done. Only it will take time and the right people – and commitment.

The suede evening gown in the photo was designed in Shirley Willett’s manufacturing business in the 60s, 70s and 80s. She created a totally new production system with sketches on stitcher’s machines with numbers and letters. They made the shell of the gown in 15 minutes. Willett could not sell it that cheap so she made a 60% profit on each. The photo is by Ron Ranere www.positiveimage-boston.com

1. Start with a competitive market price of a product – say $200 to the consumer.
2. 50% (often 60%) on average to the retailer. This leaves $100. Selling direct is better, but there is still costs and more labor involved – but reduced by collaboration.
3. To be very general and using my mfg. business as example, make 50% for factory, design, pattern, and other overhead. (Overhead can be reduced substantially here by collaboration.) This leaves $50.
4. If splitting it to $25 for materials, trims and supplies, the materials must be bought wholesale in order to only spend $25 for a garment that the consumer will pay $200 for. This is do-able by collaborating and pooling resources.
5. That leaves only $25 for all labor costs, cutting stitching and pressing. Think of how fast it must be produced to make a quality $200 garment and still get a decent hourly wage. The only way this can be accomplished is in production patterns, and collaborative production systems.

A database management system of offers of skills, needs for skills, and project ideas in the Boston fashion industry. Hopefully we can start with “MyZDesign” See www.zweave.com


1. A leader establishes a possible project, and searches database for right people.

2. Each person involved in the project is self-employed & responsible for all their own business processes, and for all decisions. Each has registered on the database what skills they offer and what skills they need.

3. Each buys from others as they need, or forms separate collaborative groups to own a part of the pattern design, production making, promotion or selling of a total project or product.

4. For every transaction a contract is agreed upon and signed dealing with price, time and conditions when paid.