Sunday, November 26, 2006

1960s Fashion Show in Italy * More on SELF

One summer in the mid-60s I was invited to teach fashion design in Florence, Italy for an American college’s program called “Garland in Florence”. At the time I was chair of the fashion department at Mass. College of Art in Boston, so I had many of my own students with me. As a finale for the course we put on a delightful garden fashion show, and I added some of my own designs. It was a grand opportunity to use some of the magnificent Italian fabrics.

These are two of the group I designed. The photos, however, were taken in November, 2004 at my fashion show “Half-Century of Vintage Designs” by a great photographer, Ron Ranere, who also co-organizes the Boston Fashion Industry Meetup with me. It’s a great photographer who can take such good photos when models are concentrating more on moving fast for a show than on the photos. You can see more of Ron’s photos at, and learn more about the Boston Fashion Industry Meetup at

The dress on the left is in a four-ply pure silk crepe, and cut on the bias. The big bold black print was very 60s, as was the dress length. The unique feature was the neckline, which I call a “bib”. It was cut as a halter tying in the back, and the front was a few cowls shaped upward to form the bib shape. The dress on the right is in a 100% wool woven with gold and silver threads. The top is cut as a blouson, and the skirt is cut as a yoke skirt. The pleating was formed by tucking in an “umbrella” shape.

S.E.L.F. “Self-Employed Laboratory for Fashion

I’ve been getting a lot of requests from young designers who want both the Stylometrics Pattern System and the instructions on their use for quality, efficient, and fast pattern making. However, I am building a “research laboratory” with a few committed assistants who are self-employed in their own fashion design businesses to test further development. This takes time to make these beautiful for you with instructions for use. So, I beg your patience. I may have some beginning things after the first of the year.

We have agreed on the five primitives, and are in the process of deciding on what generic patterns we will have. Many pieces from my vintage collection will be used to explain some of those generics and how to use them. As, for example, we will have a “generic blouson”, and a “generic yoke skirt”, as developed further in the photo above. Eventually we will have a series of necklines and collars, such as a “generic cowl” neckline. If any of you have specific needs, please email me and let me know. It would help to add those needs into our plans, and you will benefit later.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

SELF (Self-Employed Laboratory for Fashion) – Coming!

In 1980 I published a book, “Let’s Design A Dress”, mentioned in an earlier post. I had developed a set of nine Primitive patterns to make high-quality pattern making much easier. Many have asked me for this book. But I took it off the market later in the 80’s when I was awarded a series of National Science Foundation grants for researching and developing this system, I called Stylometrics. The book was only 2-D, and now I had the system as 2-D, 3-D and 4-D. I tried for years to get the CAD-CAM vendors to work with me, but they only stole certain parts, never the whole system. In January, 2004, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Engineering Dept. asked me to represent the fashion apparel industry in a workshop to compare design practices between industries, and talk about Stylometrics. It was then I realized that the way to get this system out to the world was to teach it to young designers and help them start a whole new kind of fashion industry that will benefit them instead of big retailers and apparel manufacturers.

Teaching alone, however, wasn’t working that well. Only a very few could really go further by themselves without continued help. This past year I began to take on protégés that I would mentor. Tess, (see the post on her success and production in China) is one of those protégés. As more young designers want this, I realize I cannot continually take on single ones to mentor. Now going on 74, I realized I must create a “business system” that can be passed on to some, who can then pass it on to others. SELF, Self-Employed Laboratory for Fashion, is the result. As a research laboratory it will be structured to accommodate the continual and fast changes in the fashion industry. Having my Stylometrics Pattern Engineering System, as a base is a recognition that what makes any high fashion apparel business successful are the patterns, their beautiful shape, fit, and the cost-effective production systems they are designed to achieve. This is far more important than simply getting low-cost production overseas.

The fundamental product of SELF, therefore, will be patterns. After years of testing the set of nine Primitives (P), I discovered there were really only five that were important, P-1 Bodice, P-8 Skirt (as a dress in first sketch); P-2 Blazer, P-7 Pants (in second sketch); and P-9, Gored Skirt (in third sketch). I have a team of five young designers, each of whom will have their own design businesses. We will start with their needs, and develop a list of “Generic Patterns”, or the next level up of pattern design changes. There is a great deal more to this whole idea. I have four steps, all very creative processes, in the product lifecycle: 1) Creativity, Research & Resources, 2. SELF Pattern Designs, 3. Production, and 4. Marketing & Sales.

This is all I’m saying about it now. But, please ask some questions and let me know your interests, because it can influence our direction to help all of you. I will continue to tell you more in the next posts.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

4 Successful Vintage Fashions * Join Our Live Chat

To join our “Live Chat”, with many other fashion designers and consultants from around the country (California, Texas, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, and hopefully China) who will be there, you must click on the Fashion Product Development Meetup to find out the time and other details.

The 4 fashion styles in the above photo were voted by the consumer audience as their favorites in the NEFI (New England Fashion Industry) show in November, 2004. I showed over 60 pieces from my half-century of vintage collections. Ron Ranere of Positive Images took these great photographs while the models waited to go out or while moving in the show. See: If any of my readers want to ask me any technical questions, I will answer them. But for now I will simply tell you about the style details and the dates.
1) The first on is from an early sixties custom collection, a royal blue silk crepe, and consists of vertical bias panels in the front and back that are basket-woven with horizontal bias panels from the hip-bone to the empire waist. You can’t see in this photo that the panels in the skirt are free to move very beautifully as you walk.

The next three are in a very soft lambskin suede, and were from my collections in the 1970s that I manufactured for many of the top designer retailers in the country. I did very well, and sold the business, when it was making a million dollars, to a men’s wear manufacturer in the 1980s.
2) A wrap coat, buttoning with one large very old button, and with raglan sleeves. This coat was enormously successful in selling because it looked flattering on a tiny petite, or a tall, heavy woman. Although there are very few I will design for today, I did repeat this one recently for my favorite customer (from the 1960’s) in a brown cashmere wool.
3) The third one was my successful suede evening gown that I talked about in a previous blog,
It was the one around which I designed a very new kind of production systems for my 25 stitchers, that made me reap a 60% profit on each, even with selling it wholesale. The gown wrapped in the back and tied in the front, and I sold it as well to some celebrities.
4) One of a collection of “landscape fashions”. The flared skirt was cut in pieces in which the aqua color represented waterways, and the beige color represented sand. You can see the bare brown tree on this side, but the other side had a series of houses. I had a girl, Toula, who had just come over from Greece, and who took these home to stitch together, the few hundred I sold. The top was a halter with a collar that wrapped in the back by brown belt ends that came to the front to be buckled.

Let me know if you have any questions. Today, I am totally committed to helping young designers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My Sunburst Dress, 1962, Intricate Pattern Design

The sunburst dress was a piece in my spring collection for 1962. A proud moment was when the Boston Sunday Herald photographed it for a full page article in its Sunday Magazine, March 4, 1962. Under the photo was the following:

“SUNBURST is the name given to this new style by young Boston designer Shirley Willett. Of bright orange silk pesante, the dress is hand pleated and all the fit is within the pleating.”

It certainly goes along with today’s spring 2007 collections in which orange is a color choice of Paris fashions. A piece from the article:

“SHIRLEY WILLETT is one of Boston’s new young designers who shows an originality of design and individuality of concept that is unusual for her twenty-eight years. She is an exponent of cut and shape and believes that each garment must have something unique as well as flattering for the wearer. Shirley also feels that high fashion design warrants superior workmanship in order to be recognized as true couturier. Because of her fresh young approach we felt her styles will be of great interest to the new, young brides of 1962.”

The early 1960s was a time of extensive technical research for me, a time of intense creativity that would challenge every engineering skill I could dream up, in order to result in simplicity and the ability to reproduce easily, yet maintain the intense originality. It was a time of fashion shows, and a small but loyal group of customers, before I went into manufacturing and selling to retailers. However, because I was so devoted to research and self-learning, I made no money. But, it didn’t matter. I was a “fashion sculptress”, and supported my art in other ways. I look back at that period nostalgically. It was my kind of schooling because everything I know was self-taught. That self-teaching is what helped me to create the original technologies and educational principles that won me National Science Foundation grants in the late 1980s, after I sold my manufacturing business.

Saying the “fit is within the pleating” means that all the shaping for the bust, the waist, the hips, and in the back as well as the front – all comes into the sunburst point in the front. The way I approached the pattern then was to “slash the paper pattern” wherever I wanted the pleating to fall, and add in whatever amounts I determined. It was very complicated, a technical challenge. Today I would do it quite differently. In fact, as I tell my students and protégés, the best quality and easiest approach to complicated draping as here, is to start with my basic “dress primitive” and then drape on top of it. This is very simple explanation of something that needs a lot of visuals to help understand the principles.

Another feat I accomplished is the soft armhole. Women in the 1960s considered the armhole line hard and ugly, and did not like showing their underarms. Study the soft drape I achieved over the arm. It means the lining does the work of being a support , a different shape than the shell, in order to support the drape. Again, it would take some visuals to full grasp the technique.

I get so many questions on how to achieve some of these things that I am playing with ideas of how to do this online. What do you think? Let me know.