Friday, October 27, 2006

1960s: Hemlines and the Stock Market!

Here’s a fun post for my readers. The newsletter was sent out by Harris Upham, Inc., a stock brokerage firm, in May, 1967. My roommate at the time was working as a trader for the firm, and brought home the newsletter for me to see – since I was in the fashion industry. Hemlengths were a big fashion discussion topic in the 1960s and 1970s. Whether you believe it or not, these brokers really did believe that there was a relationship between the two. A newsletter one month later had Ralph Rotnam, a stock analyst for Harris Upham, saying that “as a barometer this chart is 100% correct.” Here is what the 1967 newsletter says:
“For some time there has been a suspicion in Wall Street that the stock market and the hemlines of women’s skirts move in the same direction. To find out if this was true we sent our textile and apparel researcher, Foy Roberson, to the library to make a detailed study. The results are shown on the chart on page one. From the days of street-sweeping skirts in 1897 to the days of Twiggy in 1967 the market is up 2100% in value. And as the chart shows the hemline changes and the direction of the market have been amazingly parallel. Perhaps we should be listening more carefully to the planning in Paris. Someone has called this a “Mini Market”. There are mini skirts, a mini recession and mini stocks.”

I used this later in the 1980s, when teaching about fashion marketing, production, and trends. I explained that a lot of fashion trends have to do with “collective social emotions”. And those affect general business, stocks, politics, etc., as well as fashion trends.

We’re getting some fashion people from other parts of the country joining us in “Fashion Product Development Meetup” on our “Live Chat”, which will be in a few days. Go to:
It’s going to be a great Virtual, 21st century, Web 2.0 experience.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Logo & Label for Designer Identity & A New Chat Room!

It has taken awhile to set this up, but we finally have a Chat Room so we can chat with young fashion designers and others interested in fashion – all over the world. You know that Tess, one of my protégés that I mentor, is now in China producing her collection of cashmere and silk coats and jackets. Hopefully, we may be able to chat with her in one of the scheduled chat room times. The way it is structured, so that we don’t have people from the Internet we don’t want, is to have you join the “Fashion Product Development Meetup”, that I organize.
It is free, you answer at least one required question: “What experience in fashion design, patterns, production, do you have?” You can answer with “aspiring designer”, or just interested in fashion and talking to others in fashion. I accept you quickly and then you can see the scheduled times for the chat room. I hope all of my readers, who are a great audience, will join. If you click on the chat room any other time, there will not be anyone there. But you can click on the Bravenet chat rooms, to discover other chat rooms and topics.

One of the first discussions that so many have asked me about is “Designer Identity”. First, you need to be sure of the direction of your fashion product development. That is, you know that your fashion product is saleable and has some uniqueness that the product can be identified with you. Then, it shows a high degree of professionalism if you design a “logo” that is completely yours, and people will recognize it as such. My logo I designed in the 1950s, when I started in business. It is an abstract fashion figure (very 50s) and also represents an S, my first initial. Next, when you are designing a label to go into your fashion apparel, consider the impact of the “lettering”. Again I designed this label in the 1950’s and used it throughout every business I developed, in custom and in manufacturing for retail stores – to this day. The black lettering is woven into the label, and it’s base is a pure white silk satin.

Please sign up for getting my posts by email, and sign up Fashion Product Development, so you can be a part of our Chat Room. I love questions, and love to answer them. And, as you have seen, I will make posts on those answers.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bias Shaping? Answering Sarah's Request

On a post a week ago, “Creative Technical Design Solutions, 1960 Bias Shape”, Sarah asked in a comment, “How do you stretch the bias? Are the skirt panels cut mirror image for symmetry?” I repeated the photo for everyone to see again. Note that the skirt of the dress I cut on the bias, and it is attached at the empire line. It is cut in four panels, a “pair” in the front, and a “pair” in the back, because the front and back, of necessity, are slightly different shaping. “Mirror image for symmetry” is a correct understanding, but we use the word “pair” in the industry. Also note that it “skims” the waist rather than revealing it, and it is an “A-Line” shape from hip bone to hem. That is, the flare of the hem is a straight line from hip bone to hem. All 3-D curvature is caused from the bias and the flare at the hem is caused by stretching the bias at the empire line.

I made three sketches to describe the process. These two words are emphasized because I want all to know this is not telling you how to make the pattern. They are rough sketches to help you see the process in your mind. The first is simply a 2D sketch of how the eyes sees 3D. So many beginners do not understand this, and call it 3D. The second sketch, please note has the same hem sweep, but is much narrower at the empire waist, and is stretched to the proper measure for matching the top. The third sketch is the lining, that has a dart to shape it. It is sewn totally free from the skirt shell. You need to develop the lining shape first, which then, on the dress form, is a base for stretching the bias of the shell in silk doupioni properly, by draping the pattern shape. Every different fabric has a different falling bias, and needs to be draped. This kind of shaping can never be accomplished flat on the table.

Interestingly, in one of Tess’s new shaped coats, I had her stretch the cross grain of wool at a high rise waist to accomplish something similar but much less sweep.

Let me know what you think, and if you can understand this in words. I’ve always done it by demo’s.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Inner Visualization of 3-D / 2-D Translations in Pattern Making

In 1980 I self-published a book, “Let’s Design A Dress”, and advertised it in Glamour Magazine. The book’s purpose was to present to young designers a new and far more efficient way to learn pattern making, especially for production. The system involved a set of nine Primitives (slopers) as a standardized base for all women’s clothing. For students, starting with a standard pattern with industry production information encoded, leaves the designer freer to create. In the late 1980’s these “primitives” became the basis of my National Science Foundation grants, and I took the book off the market.

The first graphic is a page from that book. The process of pattern making that I teach, as I taught myself as a teen, is first done by visualizing inside the mind, rather than follow a set of rules, drafting and measurements that stultify creativity. To train students to “see” in their minds, the 3D clothing style and translate to the 2D pattern pieces, I prepared various exercises. The chart of five everyday 3D objects, translated to their 2D pattern pieces, was one of those exercises. Study each one, then close your eyes, and visualize the 3D object unfolding to become the 2D pattern pieces. And then, start with the 2D pieces, close your eyes, and visualize how the pieces fold into the 3D shape. Do this over and over and its amazing how it trains the mind to begin making patterns inside, as great engineers are capable of.

About twice a year I teach a class, “Fashion/Pattern Design for Beginners” in which I use this chart, one of which I started last night. To my great surprise , the October 8th Boston Sunday Globe Magazine cover had a picture of the 5th object in the chart, a baseball unfolding. It was depicting the Red Sox falling apart. It is ideal for those that have difficulty with “spatial relations” of 3D – 2D translations.

(Note) Sarah, in a comment, asked about how I “stretched the bias” in “Creative Technical Solutions, 1960 Bias Shape”. In another day or two I will post a sketch explaining just how I did that. Remember, everyone who reads my posts, you can sign up to receive them in an email through FeedBlitz. And, I always love answering questions.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Tess, Protégé, Producing in China

Mentoring individual designer/entrepreneurs and leaving my 57 years of expertise is my greatest satisfaction in life, especially now in my senior years. Tess, “Teresa Crowninshield”, is one of my “student/protégés”, of whom I am extremely proud. She went to China a few years ago to teach English! She couldn’t find nice clothing for herself, but she fell in love with China’s beautiful cashmere wool and silk brocades. So she went to a tailor and had him make her own ideas in these fabrics. With no formal training she sold some to others around her, and then began to bring some production lots back to Boston to sell at trunk shows and boutiques. The cashmere coat on the left, and the silk brocade jacket on the right are two examples from last year’s collection.

I met her about a year ago at the Boston Fashion Industry Meetup (see link in sidebar), for which I am Organizer. She had been doing the production for a few years utilizing beautiful trims on basic shapes, and now wanted to learn more about high fashion shape, motion and fit of coats and jackets. I took her on as a student/protégé, and she has blossomed into creating exquisite, exceptional styles, with her own unique designer identity – and with technical excellence. She worked with me about nine months, then went to China in September to produce her collection. In a telephone call a few days ago, she told me she needed to upgrade her factory in China, and is going to go bigger!! Hopefully in about a month, we may be able to see some photos of these beautiful new styles.

The important message for all the designer/entrepreneurs who read this, is how critical good communication is. I started Tess and others with a beginning study of “inner visualization” and “our standard set” of the meaning of terms so we could communicate well by phone. When she has a problem in pattern making or production, she has even called from China, and we discuss it, and solve the problem. There are some basic “principles” that I teach (never rules – as Frank Gehry, one of the world’s great architects says: “Beauty Without Rules”). In other words most technical fashion problems have the best results when creating the solution. I teach only one class as a group, “Fashion/Pattern Design for Beginners”. Learning to SEE Is the primary focus, so thereafter the class, you can learn to create your own solutions.

I am also Organizer for another fashion meetup, “Fashion Product Development Meetup” (see sidebar for link), that I am trying to figure out a way to take “virtual” and link to this Fashion Solutions blog. That is, have all the members (even around the world) meet online at a certain day and time, to discuss, and solve problems for designer/entrepreneurs. If anyone can help me with this (maybe chats?) I would really appreciate it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Creative Technical Design Solutions, 1960 Bias Shaping

Many have been asking for more stories on my past creative technical solutions. When you are intensely creative then you also desire to create different ways to solve technical problems, while making the style even more beautiful in shape for the ultimate consumer. In my early collections in the late 1950s and early 1960s I did a lot of bias cuts, which I love. As I played with the bias I realzed that you could do some masterful tailoring by manipulating the bias in various ways.

Here, in this silk doupioni dress, the skirt section was bias cut, and I "stretched" the bias at the empire line seam, and the fall over the body and indenting at the waist was superbly feminine, with it's gentle waving at the hem. The top was a series of tiny box pleats, with the pleated frill a separately sewn piece. It was easy in the 50s and 60s for a young designer to get small lots of this pleating done. The model is Jo Summers, who today, owns the Copley Seven Model Agency, and owns some of my past styles. In fact, I sold this model quite well, directly to consumers from fashion shows.

If any of you want to know more about this creative technical bias cutting, please email me and I will do some diagrams to show you.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Pattern History of Fashion Apparel Industry

The textile industry was brought to America in the 19th century from England. But the apparel industry is an American creation at the turn of the 20th century in the Greater Boston area by Jewish tailors, who engineered dressmaker patterns into patterns for mass production . Prior to their efforts, in the 19th century, garments were made individually for each woman by dressmakers who went to each woman’s home. These Jewish tailors became aware of some commonalty in the shaping, fitting and making of garments, and production pattern making 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, interested in lowering costs, 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.

The apparel industry grew from these tailors/businessmen, as they built manufacturing factories for production, which pattern engineering accommodated. The chart above was drawn for my National Science Foundation grant report, 1991, “A 3D-4D Computerized Model for Human-Machine Integration in Apparel Manufacturing Engineering”, to show the “Fragmentation of Designer and Maker Skills, Distancing Them Further and Further from the Consumer”. Pattern engineering grew a great industry in the early and mid-20th century. But, by the end of the century, our great American apparel manufacturing industry began to fade. My personal belief is that it was much less, going south and then overseas for production, and rather these “old hat” manufacturers inability to change. They were stuck on both style and production sameness, the foundation of mass production, in order to keep costs low. As a result, they never knew, nor listened to consumers for any of their needs, and consumers are less satisfied. My grants researched ways to do “mass-produced” custom (and later “mass-customization”), computer technologies that could make consumers an integral part of a “future fashion apparel industry system”. Unfortunately, I was ahead of my time in the early 90s, and even the apparel industry’s CAD-CAM vendors, took parts of my ideas, but they too, were unwilling to change. (Perhaps I will tell some interesting stories about these vendors, later.)

Pattern making was first taught to “apprentices” who were called “designers” in the Boston area. Creative designers of styles in America didn’t exist in the early 20th century. Americans were “copyists” or interpreters of the creative ideas coming from Paris ever since the 18th century. Later some designers created booklets for teaching these systems mathematically – that came to be called “pattern drafting”. In the 1940s, when 16, I was old enough to work in these factories as a stitcher on sportswear, and met some of these pattern designers, whose information was passed to them by the old apprenticeship system. I also learned first hand about mass production systems that made America, and Boston area specifically, so famous for quality/quantity production – a system that in the second half of the century we taught to the rest of the world. (Another story later of my experiences in the 1960s that validates this.)

It was in the 1950’s, graduating from college and working in the design rooms of New York, that I learned a sad truth 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. So, an even more extreme distancing from the consumer was taking place in the education of young designers for the industry. All workers hired in design rooms were taught in these schools, not as an apprentice in manufacturing, 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. (Click the “Wall Between Design and Manufacturing”) By combining great creativity with unequaled technical expertise, I became extremely successful as a designer and manufacturer of high 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., another chart I will post soon).