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Top 5 best fashion inspiration sources for designers

Ever wondered how top fashion designers manage to create multiple collections per year? Season after season, year after year, seemingly never running out of ideas. It can look like designers have pre-agreed on a theme and are just presenting variations of it. Truth is, fashion inspiration is behind it all!

Fashion inspiration comes from various sources. Its influence can transcend time, geographical location and then manifest itself everywhere. It is the outcome of creative research, which in turn is an essential part of the design process. It is the sourcing of and collection of ideas prior to design.

Once you have defined your subject, the research you undertake should be experimental and investigative. It is an essential tool in the creative process and will provide information, inspiration and creative direction, as well as a narrative to your collection.

Gathering information, to nourish your mind and to inspire your next collection, can easily be done by viewing myriad selections of style websites or browsing through the latest editions of travel and fashion magazines. However, there is nothing more satisfying than discovering a little gem. It could be in your favourite museum in the heart of London or a busy market in bustling Istanbul – any could provide primary sources of inspiration for you.

Fashion Inspiration is also covered in our book – BECOME A FASHION INSIDER

Here are our top 5 international sources for never-ending fashion inspiration.

1. Museums & Art Galleries

These are a wonderful source of primary research of fashion inspiration as they firstly contain a vast selection of different types of artefacts, objects and historical treasures.

Secondly, they’re host to many speciality exhibitions, whether that be in regards to fashion designers, artists or architects.

Sir John Soane's Museum fashion inspiration


a) Sir John Soane’s Museum – London

This historic house is a museum and library of the distinguished 19th-century architect – Sir John Soane. He requested that the house remain untouched after his death – almost 180 years ago. Soane amassed an extraordinary collection, full of curiosities and surprises. He collected antiquities, furniture, sculptures, architectural models and drawings, and paintings including work by Hogarth, Turner and Canaletto.

It is truly world-class, spanning continents and millennia.

Many objects are on permanent display. Others – including 30,000 architectural drawings – can be seen by appointment at the Research Library.

You can also access The Collection online and browse the highlights or search thousands of objects on the database.


musee dior granville fashion-inspiration


b) The Christian Dior Museum and Garden – Granville, France

This cliff-top villa on the outskirts of Granville was Dior’s childhood home.

It made its debut as a museum in 1988. In addition to featuring the designer’s collections, it also houses pieces by the fashion house’s other notable designers, such as John Galliano and Yves Saint Laurent.

It’s perfect for lovers of vintage fashion to explore techniques from the past and to apply them to their contemporary creations.

museo ferragamo fashion-inspiration

c) Museo Ferragamo – Florence, Italy

For all things, craftsmanship, the Ferragamo Musem in Florence is the place to visit. Located at the Palazzo Spini Feroni in Florence, it also houses the company’s headquarters and harks back to the 13th century.

Opened in 1995 at the initiative of the Ferragamo family, for the purpose of letting the public discover the artistic qualities of Ferragamo – the man himself, as well as the important role he played in fashion history.

Ferragamo emigrated to the USA to explore the popular footwear industry but returned after twelve years. He set up his business in Florence where he remained faithful to Italian craftsmanship while elevating it with some of the lessons learned from his experience abroad.

MoMA Tim Hursley garden fashion inspiration


d) MoMA – New York

The Museum of Modern Art is a favourite gallery for many students, designers, architects and creatives in general.

Located in the heart of New York, it houses one of the most influential collections of modern art in the world, with works by artists from the Americas and Europe.

The building itself is inspiring; designed in glass by Yoshio Taniguchi.

The best designers don’t always buy fashion books, they’re more interested in books on great photography and general culture.

2. Vintage Archives

The vintage scene is perfect for fashion inspiration and for getting up close and personal to the construction methods used in historical clothing and accessories. It doesn’t stop there as there’s nothing more satisfying than leafing through old books or magazines and discovering something unique between the sheets.

Discovering vintage finds online is overrated as you’re more likely to discover period clothing and discarded artefacts by poking and prying around archival treasures.

a) Vintage Booksellers – Global

Once a secretive market that was available to only the most discerning and exclusive fashion houses. Since the emergence of dealer accounts such as Idea Books and November Books, on Instagram, we are all privy to view and purchase their wares.

These books are not copied in their entirety, they’re purchased to inspire and set the creative juices flowing. According to the owner of Idea Books, David Owen, the bigger and more successful the designer the further the end result is from the starting point.

The best designers don’t always buy fashion books, they’re more interested in books on great photography and general culture.

b) Vintage Fashion Archive – Los Angeles

If you’re looking for clothes from a particular decade, you’re more than likely to find the biggest collections in the cities that were booming at the time.

One of my favourite decades, the 70’s, produced Halston and all fashion that could be worn at Studio 54. 1970’s, Los Angeles, was where it was all happening and The Way We Wore has an amazing selection of items that are true to this favourite decade of mine.

c) The Vintage Showroom – London

My first ever design and subsequent designs were based on military parachute bags and siren suits. These items were given to me by a friend who worked at the Duffer of St George, in Soho in the 90’s. My love of men’s military clothing continues to this day so I had to include the awesome Vintage Showroom Ltd.

It was formed in 2007 to house an ever-growing archive of vintage showroom and accessories collected by co-founders Douglas Gunn and Roy Luckett.

It has gone on to become one of the leading resources for vintage menswear in the UK, with the archive covering the early-mid 20th century and specialising in international work, military and sports clothing, classic English tailoring and country wear.

In September 2012 a selection of the archive was published in the title ‘Vintage Menswear – A Collection From The Vintage Showroom’ for Laurence King publishing and “The Vintage Showroom – An Archive of Menswear” followed in December 2015.

3. Films

The film industry has always had very close links to dress and fashion. Using film as the starting point for primary research is something designers have been doing for years. Catwalk trends have been started by the release of iconic films as designers tap into the visually stimulating and immersive world.

a) Breakfast at Tiffany’s (set in Manhattan)

Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe by costume designer Edith Head was the stuff dreams are made from.

Her iconic black dress was designed by Givenchy and the remaining items would have been made by the studio or purchased directly from designers working in the 50’s.

Fashion ‘inspired’ films from this era were an excuse to create a moveable catwalk that displayed the most covetable items.

Nicolas Ghesquiere’s Fall 2008 collection for Balenciaga, for example, seems to have been inspired by the little black dress in the movie.

b) Marie Antionette (by Sofia Coppola)

Sofia Coppola’s film was dubbed ‘a scandal’ by Liberation’s film critic, Agnes Poirier. ‘History is merely decor and Versailles a boutique hotel for the jet set, past and present,’ is extraordinarily rich in texture, textile and colour.

It’s a fashion designer’s dream movie as it tantalises the taste buds while transporting you to other realms. With the costumes designed by Milena Canonero, it’s a historical drama for the Wallpaper* generation. All sumptuous interiors, dresses to die for, and an oh-so-ironic Eighties glam-pop soundtrack by Sean O’Hagen.

c) Moulin Rouge (by Baz Luhrmann)

With costumes designed by Catherine Martin, whose other credits include, Strictly Ballroom, and Romeo and Juliet, this film helped create a lot of interest in the burlesque and corsetry trends seen on the catwalks in 2001 at shows by YSL and Balenciaga, and also on the high street.

The costumes were not historically correct but referenced more contemporary corsetry from Agent Provocateur. It was important to Martin that she create a contrived look as this transported the 21st-century audiences back to the original Moulin Rouge and allowed them to feel the same erotic frisson.

Here are 17 Classic Fashion Films and Series that are a must-watch

4. Markets

Most fashion designers cannot think of anything more inspiring than a visit to a flea market.

Objects found can become the starting point of an imagined narrative for your design muse. Discovering a history of these objects can stretch your imagination until you then have a sketchbook full of ideas to aid your design process.

a) Saint-Ouen Flea Market – France

The Saint-Ouen market is recognised as one of the largest flea markets in the world.

Set in Porte De Clignancourt it doesn’t look anything like a traditional flea market, more like an edited selection of posh mini shops; a dream destination for a designer. It is home to 14 different markets with more than 2,500 stalls full of treasures awaiting discovery.

Some markets are covered, some are open but all are bursting with vast selections of classic antiques, or restored fine goods. Things like original vintage posters and paintings, furniture, objets d’art or tapestries as well as chandeliers, bric-a-brac, amazing vintage clothing, shoes, accessories and curiosities.

It’s impossible to leave empty-handed.  It opens early from Saturday to Monday and if you’re a serious shopper you’ll arrive at the crack of dawn. Selling a  Camard, the reputable shipping service has a stall in the middle of the market.

They will take care of all of your shipping needs should you purchase larger items, and will deliver anywhere in the world.

ASK DESSY | Fashion trade fairs are also a great tool for fashion inspiration and fabric sourcing – check out our Youtube Video.

b) Portobello Road Market – London

This is one of the largest antique markets in the world and the dealers know their stuff.  It sells a big selection of Bric-a-Brac and vintage clothing in addition to the antiques it’s more famous for.

The market is a fashion inspiration of choice for many up and coming designers as well as established ones. They visit frequently and soaking in the atmosphere of the area, bussing with stall sellers and tourists is as inspirational as throwing through the market stalls.

c) Feria de San Telmo – Buenos Aires

Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo, with its cobblestone streets and century-old buildings, is home to this market.

Open on Sundays only, it attracts an international clientele who are attracted to vintage glassware, jewellery and more on offer from the 270 stalls.

The covered marketplace in the Dorrego Flea Market has more than 150 booths and shops. Here you will find period furniture, brassware and more glassware.

As a new designer, it would be worth considering that a holiday abroad could also be an opportunity to gather research and find fashion inspiration for your next collections.

5. Travel Destinations

As a fashion designer, keeping your eyes open and your mind active allows you to discover new and exciting possibilities for design development. Everything around you has the potential to form part of your research and this extends to travel.

Discovering and learning from other cultures and countries can provide you with a rich source of primary research material and should form part of your research for new collections. This wealth of information can then be translated into contemporary fashion design.

Large fashion houses send their design teams abroad for research purposes. They keep a photographic diary alongside sketches of their discoveries and this information will support any other finds. These might include fabric cuttings, jewellery, artefacts, garments and accessories.

As a new designer, it would be worth considering that a holiday abroad could also be an opportunity to gather research and find fashion inspiration for your next collections.

It is impossible to cover all inspiring places around the world, but the below list are our top picks.

a) Florence, Italy

One of Europe’s great art cities, Florence will enthral you with works by Giotto, Michelangelo, Botticelli and da Vinci.

There is a plethora of great art and architecture to inspire you. All of the major art and historical sights are within easy walking distance and the open-air attractions include scenic gardens and piazzas.

The Florence University natural history museum contains a great selection of old-fashioned botanical and zoological specimens. The craftsmen’s quarter is called the Oltrarno, the area of the centre stork just south of the river.

Here you will find a handmade paper workshop Il Torchio, and a master goldsmith Alessandro Dari’s museum-workshop. In addition to people watching consider a day trip to Prato which has been a cloth-trading centre since the middle ages. The textile museum is housed in an ex-19th-century cloth mill.

The centre of contemporary art is also an attraction.

b) Saint Paul de Vence, France

This commune in the Alpes-Maritimes in southeastern France is one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera. It is renowned for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries such as Foundation Maeght.

It’s typical of a small French town with its markets, beautiful scenery and slower pace, perfect for finding inspiration.

c) Tokyo, Japan

Japan’s insular culture makes Tokyo one of the strangest and most fascinating places on Earth. It’s hardly surprising that the city’s unique fashion ecosystem is home to some truly legendary labels.

Split into distinct areas, the city delivers unique, immersive experiences at every turn. The city’s whirlpool of trends and subcultures make it an inspiration for countless brands, designers and stylists across the world, too.

You can find Fashion inspiration in anything, even the smallest most ordinary of things. A creative mind and eye doesn’t see in mono colours. There’s more to this than meets the eye.

What inspires you? Comment below


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