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Part 2: The Fashion Design Process from Idea to First Sketch

Wanting to launch your own fashion brand is on the wish list of many fashionistas. While many dream about it, only a few get to see their idea realised on paper. The fashion design process takes time and what may have seemed like a simple idea at the start turns into Pandora’s box.

In Part 1 of this article, we focused on the research required to develop an initial idea. Continuing from there, we delve into the post-research stage and into the process of ideation.

The most exciting part of the fashion design process is when you have gathered all of your research material and try to make sense of its myriad tentacles, which can take you in many different directions. Prior to reaching this stage though there are a few fundamental tasks you need to focus on.

Try to remember that all of these processes should be fun and that you’re effectively fuelling your creative nous in order to produce interesting new work.

Please note that this article is in continuation of our previous article on the fashion design process. Please read part 1 before as here we are assuming you know some of the terms and steps explained before.

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.

Step 4: Where to find your research material?

The internet is a great place to start your research as it is the most accessible way to gather information from all over the world. It also enables you to make contact with fabric and trim suppliers who will be able to provide you with swatches.

New technologies and their myriad uses are at the forefront of fashion.

The tech industry has found a natural habitat in its coupling with clothing and accessories designers. The Unseen, led by Lauren Bowker developed a range of dyes that react to heat, pollution, moisture, friction, electrics, chemicals or pressure and they have been applied to leather and fabric as well as hair.

Fashion Trend Forecasting agencies such as WGSN are companies that have been set up to specifically look at current trends and cultural pursuits. Through market research, they’re able to offer ideas and directions that are becoming popular in society. These ideas are identifiable as fabrics, colours, shapes and details, all of which are needed to fuel the creative process as a fashion designer.

Many an original idea has developed through the study of Street, youth and subculture trends. These trends can include anything from the clothing these groups wear to the make-up and hairstyles that adorn them.

Identify what is new, fresh and directional by filtering out the interests and trends but don’t stop there. Look further back to the past for old street style influences for these can also impact on contemporary design ideas.

The Film, theatre and music industries have 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. The music industry is now so closely linked to fashion that rap and hip-hop artists are creating their own fashion lines and are featured in many ad campaigns for top designers. You could consider using a music star as a muse for inspiring your collection or the theme of a film as the starting point for research.

Travel – as a fashion designer, keeping your eyes open and your mind active allows you to discover new and exciting possibilities for design development. Consider that everything around you has the potential to form part of your research and this also 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.

Vintage shops and flea markets are perfect 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.

Art galleries and museums are a wonderful source of primary research 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.

Magazines are useful for revealing what is happening in fashion at the present time. It’s interesting to discover what other designers are creating, not for the purposes of copying but to give you an understanding of what has already been created and the possibilities that are open to you. Try to discover the less obvious magazines as these will focus on niche markets and feature new talent as well as new forms of art direction, new photographers and stylists and hair and make-up artists.

Step 5: Compiling your research

Compile your work in a Sketchbook and treat it as a diary to record your findings for the collection you’re yet to design.

Within your sketchbook you will, no doubt, exercise your drawing skills. Focus on all or part of the objects you draw as this will give you a greater understanding of how they are shaped and formed.

Use different types of mark making materials such as paint, biro or felt tip pens and exploit the styles and qualities of line, texture, colour and tone.

Collage is a great way to compile your research material. Cutting up material, photographs and fragments of artefacts and sticking them together on a page, can add depth to your research and even inspire new ideas for textile creation.

Juxtaposition is a method that can unite disparate elements that share similarities in spite of their differences. The Deconstruction of your research simply allows you to view it in a different way.

For example, by magnifying certain areas of an image, you’re able to focus on a detail and to arrive at an abstract idea from the original source. Furthermore, you’re also able to break the information up and reassemble it differently to create new shapes, lines and abstract forms to work from. Deconstruction methods, applied to clothing, can also enable you to learn how vintage garments were constructed.

Patterns can be made from the pieces and could be translated into your own design ideas. Your initial research may be quite confusing and abstract but by cross-referencing it you will start to look for related visual references or ones that complement each other. These can then be grouped into early themes or concepts for you to explore further in the fashion design process. As the essence of cross-referencing is to mix sources of research that have similar qualities, it’s an essential part of any good research and the early analysis of it.

Compiling Mood, Story and Concept boards is a great way to instantly relay what it is you’re trying to say about your work, to other people. They could be your tutors, other designers, clients or financial backers. The boards (fashion moodboards) could be called the window to your world and should tell a story by presenting selected snippets of information.

Analysing research

You should organically reach the stage of discovering a potential direction for your design, after having previously explored and compiled ideas and concepts through cross-referencing and collage.

Your analysis should take shape in the form of drawing shapes from your sources, experimenting with close-up studies and mixed-media sketches, details for construction and linear drawings. Consider the exploration of ideas for pattern, texture and embellishments in your drawings.

‘Collaged research on a drawn figure’, this technique allows you to immediately see the design potential of some of the images.

Step 6: Design

Now that the hard work has been done, the fun stuff, namely designing from your research, can begin.

The design is about creating fresh, original products by way of mixing up known elements in new and exciting ways. It is also about utilising the in-depth research you have gathered and exploiting it to reach a successful outcome.

In order to make the jump from research to solid design, there are three approaches you should consider.

  1.  The model-and-drape technique which focuses on the draping of fabric onto a mannequin until you discover new shapes and structures.
  2. The second method, which is great for a new designer, is collaged research on a drawn figure. This technique allows you to immediately see the design potential of some of the images. In the first instance, take plenty of photocopies of your research material. Then draw out some fashion figures, front views initially. Follow this by cutting out aspects of your photocopies and stick them to the templates. Focus on several anchor points on the body: neck, shoulders, bust, waist and hips as well as arms and legs. This technique essentially concentrates on the possibilities of silhouettes and shapes on the body. It could also suggest colour, texture and print but that is dependent on the research images used.
  3. Photomontage with drapery is the third method and is essentially a combination of the previous methods. The images that are used for the collage are derived from photographs that you take of the draping experiments on the mannequin. You will, again, need to use fashion figures and should also focus on the anchoring points of the body. In addition to simply sticking the photographs onto the figures, you could also change the scale and placement as well as draw onto the photomontage figures to add greater depth.

It’s important to be aware that essentially there is a process for design and an order that can be applied to the design method.

Through the exploration, you will achieve a greater and more in-depth understanding of your collection and the concept you have developed. To help you along the way, adhere to the following design elements:

Silhouette: Try to consider the silhouette from all angles, including front, side and back views.

Proportion and line: This refers to how the body is divided into lines or through the use of colour, texture and fabric blocks. Straight lines are more masculine, curved lines are more curvaceous, horizontal lines add width and vertical lines elongate.

Function: What is the garment going to be used for? This question refers to your brief.

Details: These are just as important as the line and silhouette of the garment and will define and distinguish it from your competitor’s work.

Colour: Colour is the first thing to be noticed in a collection and can set the tone and mood for it.

Fabric: Your choice of fabrics is typically determined by the season you’re designing for whether it be Spring/Summer or Autumn/Winter.

Print and embellishment: Not all collections require a printed or embellished element. However, introducing them can define your range and add depth to it.

Historical references: These can inspire the silhouettes of your collection as well as your construction methodology.

Contemporary trends: Seek out contemporary trends in street style, global and social interests and through forecasting agencies.

Market, levels and genres in fashion: It’s imperative, as a designer, that you define your market level and where you fit. They include; High-end luxury, Mid-market and high street.

Now that we have taken you through the fashion design process from idea to the first sketch, perhaps you have already understood that in the competitive arena of fashion design, it’s imperative that you give yourself a fighting chance by standing out from the crowd. As a new designer you will, no doubt, be excited by the prospect of creating your own collection.

But remember that research is king and if done thoroughly, it will enable you to create unique and interesting work that bears your own distinctive handwriting.