Thursday, 10 September 2009

So You Want to Be a Fashion Designer?

Two summers ago, I took a design course at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. That summer, I happened to be interning with two designers (with one designer, the collection I worked on ended up in Vogue, while the other has appeared in W, i-D, and Muse). The only thing I knew about fashion was that it was prejudiced against 5'6", 150 ibs, big-boobed people like me and I spent a lot of time in high school designing things that could be worn by all body types. So, I could draw... and that was it. Through my internship, I learned how to swatch fabric (still my favoritest thing to do) and saw how the industry worked. With the FIT class, I actually learned how to design.

I took the Drawing and Illustration I class, taught by Anna Kiper, a former designer for Calvin Klein and currently a freelance designer and professor. Besides me, there was only one other girl who wasn't an FIT student/prospective student. She was an art student. I, as a Medieval and Renaissance Studies major, was the odd one out. (But this summer, Joan Rivers thought my major was totally cool, so you can all suck it.) Everyone else had either gotten in to the full time program (which is very difficult), or was directed by admissions to take this class as a remedial course and reapply in the fall.

We learned how to do draw the fashion figure (a horrible abomination--9 heads tall instead of the realistic 6 1/2-7, completely out of proportion but supposedly, when drawn on 11"X14" paper, 1/5 of the size of the actual garment. Whatever.); how to draw a 3/4 view face and figure; how to do fashion research; how to swatch; and how to render tweed, twill, herringbone, and checks.

Click the image for the rest of the gallery!

The first project was to do a 60s bathing suit line. When my professor said 60s, she meant those impractical cut-out bathing suits that have stumbled their way back into style. I was all, "Hells no" and decided to do something with a mix of early 60s Jackie Kennedy and late 60s Italian hippies.

The second project had a bit more freedom. We were to draw the figure in 3/4 view in an evening gown: the only requirements were that the dress had a bustier and a mermaid gown (i.e. a small train.) I, of course, went the Alfons Mucha route, because really, he's just the best. (This image was my inspiration.)

The final project was known as the Chanel Suiting Project. Basically, pretend you have complete control of the House of Chanel for a season. What are you going to design? We had to do a blouse, pants, a skirt, a jacket, and a coat. This project was meant to instill in us the joys of merchandising-- that is, making sure that all pieces in your collection go together both visually and physically. This was actually my favorite thing after swatching. We also learned how to render texture. I am not really a fan of Chanel (for reasons I will explain in a later post), but I remembcombine those late Edwardian designs with her love for military uniforms and got something that was both very Chanel and very yours truly. For that project, I swatched a salmon silk charmeuse for the blouse and skirt lining; a pink, turquoise, gold, and brown tweed for the jacket and skirt; a luxurious brown wool for the coat; and purple felt for the trim.

If you are interested in design, I highly recommend taking a class at your local state university, whether it's FIT or a less famous school. The classes are very cheap (as a resident of New York state, my FIT class was a pittance at about $300 for three weeks) and the quality is excellent. I stupidly transferred the credit for this class from FIT to Vassar, but I hope that, if I go for a second degree at FIT, I can transfer the credit back.

I worked nearby FIT this summer. Every time I passed by, I couldn't help but feel a ping of regret. Who knows, maybe someday...

P.S. As I hope you can see, I can actually draw faces. When I did the bathing suit project, I was all, "Oh, well the faces don't matter as much as the clothing." Wha wha. I was wrong. But really, I can draw people!


Do you have an art or design project you want to exhibit? E-mail me at cecholst [at]


  1. is this blog meant to inflate your own ego or inspire other people to get involved in fashion?
    - Laura RIley

  2. No, it's meant for everyone to talk about fashion--but I do have a very healthy ego, so thanks for asking! My e-mail is on the top right of the page, and I encourage all of our readers to submit articles if they so please. I admit that recent posts have been tilting to my interests, but as campus life gets into full swing and more people submit, I'll become more quiet.