By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
But can you call yourself a designer just because you kind of taught yourself how to use a sewing machine? Does it help to move fashion forward when stores are loaded with overdyed nylon slips with rhinestone trims? Does the term designer even mean anything when all you need to do is turn a men's jacket from the Salvation Army inside out and rip the sleeves off?
"Just because someone dances on the weekend doesn't make them a professional dancer," says Traffic buyer/manager Carl Dias. And Richard Tyler insists that customers want quality and workmanship, especially in a down economy. I believe that the DIY trend has unleashed a ton of creativity on a stale fashion scene — although there is now so much crap in stores that this is in danger of becoming just as watered down and boring as the endless knockoffs from manufacturers.
However, doing up an old-lady skirt by adding seams and fraying the edges might very well lead someone to seek out more traditional training — which may, in turn, give them the chops to create even more outlandish designs. Alicia Lawhon, who has a secondary line of reworked used clothing, breaks it down this way: "Whatever you produce, if you stick your name on it, you are responsible." Which makes sense, to a point.
Ultrasuede jacket with hand-
knit silk collar and glass
Ultimately, it's the customer who decides not what's good and what's bad, but what she wants to wear (unless she's a label whore). The woman who sees a dress and falls in love with it couldn't care less if it was designed by someone with years of training or a creative kid who went wild with a pair of scissors and a '50s prom gown.
Sometimes you're Jackson Pollock; sometimes you're just dripping paint. Either way, nobody can tell you what to hang on your wall.
Fashions, after all, are only induced epidemics.
Like many designers, I eventually got bored with recycling and reworking other people's creations. I had ideas in my head and no idea of how to manifest them. Not to brag, but I was the first girl in junior high to fail home economics. It wasn't because I didn't want to learn how to sew, but because what I was required to sew was — be still, my heart — a dirndl.
Instead, budding punk that I was, I taught myself by cutting up my favorite blazer. Using the pieces as patterns, I made my own improved jacket. It didn't look too bad as long as you didn't turn it inside out. I got into hand-painting my own fabrics and figured out how to assemble and stitch up my own designs. Eventually, this led to orders from the same boutiques that had done so well selling my reconstructed pieces. And then German Vogue wrote an article about me, which meant that I had to produce my designs in different sizes. Like a real professional. I went about it by adding an inch here and a centimeter there. This worked occasionally. But more often, the garments produced in such haphazard fashion ranged from accidental doll clothes to blouses that would have given any non-anorectic pause. Normal-size women couldn't pull my clothes on any farther than their elbows, which didn't make me very popular with my customers. It got to a point where I needed to learn more than I could teach myself. Not about design — that can be nurtured, not taught — but about the practical matters required to transform my ideas into something a flesh-and-blood female could wear out of her house.
Not to sound like some fashionista Bill Bennett, but basic skills — such as patternmaking, sewing and draping — were exactly what I needed. If you don't learn how to make patterns and sew, you'll find yourself at the mercy of whoever does this for you. For the most part, however, what's being taught in fashion schools today as "design" is actually merchandising — which is fine if you want to open up a shop. I'm still not sure if it's important to learn how to sketch. Even in my days as head designer at Bebe, I couldn't sketch any better than the average third-grader. But what I did learn from years of getting it all wrong is how to communicate my ideas to the patternmakers.
I first studied with Karl Lagerfeld in Vienna in 1983. Call me naive. I didn't realize that just because somebody lends his name to a class doesn't mean he has to show up. So, I moved to L.A. in 1985 and went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, this time for almost a whole semester. That I never graduated is not the school's fault. By then my life had only two gears: I either shot enough speed to show up, in which case I was too antsy to sit through a class, or I didn't shoot enough speed, which probably meant I was out of money, in which case I couldn't afford to pay for parking even if I could have dragged myself to class. Eventually, I got my training the hard way. I ended up in an insane asylum in Vienna — years of shooting speed and heroin can do that to a girl.
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