Chapter 3. Creative Research – How to Create Your Final Collection



Creative research is a milestone in the design of your final collection; it kick-starts the creative process of its design. Previously you researched and analyzed markets and trends. Keeping in mind the information collected, you must now generate ideas and design and create the garments of your collection. These two stages, the first analytical, the second creative, require different mindsets.

When asked how he would describe the creative process, the French sculptor Rodin answered: “First I experience an intense feeling, which gradually becomes more concrete and urges me to give it plastic shape. Then I proceed to plan and design. At last when it comes to execution, I once more abandon myself to feeling, which may prompt me to modify the plan.” (Cited by Johannes Itten in the Theory of Color Design, 1961.) Creative ideas often find their origin in, and are inspired by, experiences or influences that resonate strongly with the designer or artist; it is the “intense feeling” Rodin mentions. Creative research looks for such inspiration in the hope that it will feed the designer’s creativity throughout the design process.

For her collection “The Dream Life of a Family of Monsters,” Camille Bellot found inspiration in human and animal parts bound to provoke emotions. (See case study on page 164)



Inspiration is the spark that fires creativity. While creativity is sometimes understood as producing something from nothing, more generally it is seen as the transmutation or transformation of something already in existence. This starting point is the influence or inspiration of a creation.

Fashion designers often name a woman as the earthly muse who inspires them. Catherine Deneuve, for example, was Yves Saint Laurent’s appointed muse over several decades. The muse, however, should not be confused with the woman who represents the target market of the collection as described in Chapter 1. Today’s fashion muses are often famous women whose endorsement of a collection is also useful for communication and marketing.

Creative research is an alternative and reliable source of inspiration. While the next chapter, Development and Sampling, is focused on producing new ideas for design, creative research is an exploration during which you will consider and analyze material produced by others. It is very much a personal journey in search of material that will inspire you.

This material need not be related to fashion or garments. It can take the form of an image, idea, emotion, experience, or narrative. As you approach this material, you must observe the effect it has on you. Does it interest you and why? How does it stimulate your creativity? Like Galliano you may be fascinated by ethnic and historical garments, or like Roberto Cavalli you may find the animal kingdom an endless source of design and prints.

You may decide at one point to investigate further certain aspects of a subject. If you were to choose the early twentieth century Art Deco movement, for example, you would need to get a better knowledge of the styles and achievements of that period. Through your research you may notice that the streamlines which first appeared on the automobiles of that era found their way into many other areas of design. Streamlines had enormous cultural significance and are powerfully evocative of the 1930s. By getting a full understanding of the dynamics and mechanics of your subject, by becoming an expert on your chosen theme, you increase your ability to use and transform it. You should also seek to make this research subject you own, to appropriate it and seek an individual and subjective perspective. Both expertise and an individual point of view should be visible in your research files.

Eventually you will narrow down the influence of your collection and, in order for it to effectively inspire your creativity during development and sampling, you will gather a selection of material, visual or text, onto a theme board. This theme board is destined to be the “design gene pool” of your collection while the remainder of the material gathered will not only contribute to your understanding but constitute a reserve of inspiration.

Convergent And Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking is what you do when you try to solve a mathematical problem. It requires focus and attention. It has a starting point and a conclusion and ideas in between are logically articulated and progress step by step, converging toward the one correct solution. When you analyze a subject such as your market, you rely mainly on convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking is used to generate ideas and creativity. It does not attempt to find the one correct answer but to produce as many valid propositions as possible. This mindset is typically used in brainstorming. Divergent thinking favors association of ideas and relies on perception rather than logic. It is playful and does not require concentration but rather an awareness that welcomes influences and new ideas. It benefits from a meandering approach and rarely has one single starting point or conclusion. Divergent thinking allows one idea to lead to another and to be pushed further.

While you will be relying mainly on divergent thinking during the creative process, from time to time you will need to review and select from among all the ideas you have generated, those that best answer your brief. This selection will demand that you exercise critical judgment and will rely on convergent thinking.

To produce a successful collection, therefore, you will need to balance the convergent and divergent thinking that support critical judgment and creativity in light of the understanding you have acquired of your market and competition.

While coming up with truly original design is not easy, students often fail not because of a lack of creativity but because they are unable to edit or discard many of the ideas they have generated. Often students maintain a false sense of security by packing their designs with too many features.



A good source of inspiration is first of all one that affects you; it must be appealing and meaningful to you and is likely to be related to a personal experience. Such an experience may take place at any time and as a designer you must make yourself available to it, be willing to absorb it, and ready to document it for later use.

Such records are usually collected in a sketchbook. Since this needs to be kept simple and accessible, a small artist’s drawing book and a pencil usually work best, as you can easily take notes, draw, or attach other material to it. To complement this sketchbook you can also store and organize on your computer digital material you find on the Web.

Your sketchbook is a good place to refer back to and look for ideas and inspiration; it is where your creative research should start. Think of your sketchbook as the unwavering witness of your creative life. If you have not yet acquired the habit of keeping one, now is a good time to start. You can instantly produce material for it by revisiting memories. Remember an experience that made an impression on you, consider the context in which it took place and the sensations that it evokes. Try to relive this moment and identify what makes it valuable to you. Finally, document it; you may want to look for images or you may choose to draw a picture or write a short text. All these things have a place in your sketchbook.

In her sketchbook Claire Tremlett’s ideas quickly transform into garments. (See case study on page 170)

These extracts from Matthieu Thouvenot’s sketchbook show how he has explored different aspects of his theme. (See case study on page 146)



If your sketchbook does not provide a starting point for creative research there are specific subjects you can explore for inspiration, each with their own sources for information and material. There are no right or wrong sources of inspiration and influence; the list is endless. The following paragraphs are intended to provide just a starting point.

As mentioned in Chapter 2, trend forecasters have identified different influences that affect the development of fashion. They include: societal and technological developments; youth culture and street fashion; achievements in the arts from architecture to graphics, film, and music; celebrities and public figures; and of course current fashion. Any subject able to affect fashion trends may provide you with the ideal influence. Only the most recent manifestations of these influences are useful when identifying emerging trends; however their historical development may also prove inspiring.

These potential sources of inspiration are all “man-made,” that is cultural. Other cultural sources, such as folk or ethnic costumes and cultures, myths and legends, stories and narratives are of little value to trend forecasters because they are mainly historical, but they can be utilized by the fashion designer. Finally, the natural world and everyday life have provided inspiration for artists since the Renaissance.

Such themes can influence designers in one or two different ways. Some, such as the film Death in Venice, for example, are more likely to provide an atmosphere, an impression, or a story. Others, such as the Art Deco movement, might be more concrete— their aesthetic and designs may be deconstructed and directly exploited. While they have cultural significance and evocative power, the design elements of some influences are so well defined that the two dimensions can be treated separately. Ethnic costume or a military influence, for example, can provide an atmosphere but also specific designs. Junya Watanabe’s Fall/Winter 2010–11 collection, for example, employs military detailing but the silhouettes and the atmosphere to which he refers are Edwardian.

Commercial designers often draw inspiration from the fashion industry itself, whether from past or recent work of other designers or trend forecast reports. High street (mass-market) fashion designers, for example, design according to formal trend forecasts, while designers in long-established fashion houses rely on the house archives for inspiration. Fashion labels must maintain a design identity and the designers’ brief is often to actualize the house style, adapting it to be sympathetic with current trends.

Fashion students who choose their inspiration in the fashion world, must produce something genuinely new in order to avoid being accused of plagiarism. The student ownership of the final design must be obvious and its influence only evoked. This is in fact a very difficult exercise; one solution to this problem is simply to draw inspiration from a subject removed from fashion.

Influenced by manga and other comic strip drawings, Andrea Tramontan created these visuals that inspired his collection. (See case study on CD)

Inspiration for fashion design can be found in a wide range of current or historical subjects covering cultural, natural, and everyday life.



While books, magazines, and museums remain very good sources of information and material on most subjects, the advent of the Internet has removed many restrictions imposed by physical location.

Relying too much on the Internet for creative research, however, presents some drawbacks. Search engines favor popular websites and ignore material off the beaten track. The format of the Internet weakens the experience it provides. The quality of visual material available is usually low resolution and there is a risk that the large quantity of material accessible reduces its impact. Time spent looking at images on paper or on screen rarely carries the same weight as first-hand experience, where details, movement, texture, size, and proportion may make a strong impression on you. A picture of a fairground will never replace the experience of actually being at one.

Inspirational material can also be collected in everyday life, from the street, department stores, second-hand shops, flea markets, or from nature. Travel can also provide useful material—an outsider’s perspective can be surprisingly stimulating.

An image only offers a certain point of view while first-hand experience allows a range of sensations.



The purpose of creative research is to find material that will feed your creativity. As you explore themes and subjects, new material might overtake that which was previously in your mind. Keeping hard evidence and documenting your journey in research files is, therefore, very useful. Looking back on the accumulated material, you will be able to confirm that you are making progress, or you may decide to explore a direction you have so far ignored.

Playing with this material will also help you to get involved with it and to strengthen your experience of it. Stimulating your senses and strengthening your perception of the material will foster divergent thinking and nurture your creativity. Depending on the nature of the material you have collected you can do this in different ways. You could simply sketch it or produce new visual or narrative material around it. You could invent an experience, the reverse of what you did when you explored your memories to find inspiration. You may have noticed an eighteenth-century dress in a museum, for example. While you look at it try also to experience it in other ways: imagine how it may move, what it must feel like to wear, or what would happen if you were to unpick it and take it apart.

Besides sketching, you can produce visual material through collages or other visual manipulations by hand or digitally. The purpose here is not to transform the material to produce new designs but to gain familiarity with it and to forge a point of view in order to facilitate further exploration. Deconstruction, the teasing apart and analysis of the design elements of a style, is also a useful way to manipulate the material you have collected. An influence is more potent if you have developed a close understanding of what makes it work and allowed for your own expression of an individual perspective on it.

If you have explored a number of subjects, you must eventually narrow down the scope of your interest. You may have found that in fact only a portion of the original theme actually inspires you. Once you have redefined the perimeters of your influences you should consider what remains of your original themes. Understand what attracts you to each one. Try to see if any are complementary. Perhaps lay down all the material you have selected for each theme and identify which you would like to retain.

Through digital manipulation of material, students can acquire a better understanding and familiarity with the result of their research, as illustrated here by Verena Zeller’s work on a classic portrait. (See case study on page 158)

Valentine Cloix’s mountainous landscape has been manipulated digitally. (See case study on CD)



Most designers work with one or two influences. Of course their number depends on how they choose to define them—if they do so in a very narrow way, they may consider more.

While naming your influence helps to set its perimeters, the material that you include on your theme board goes a long way in explaining how it might influence you, and showing which element of its design inspires you. If you select sea shells, for example, select pictures of shells you like for your theme board and highlight what makes them special, whether their shape, color, structure, or texture. The theme board will maintain your awareness of this material during the next stage of the creative process— development and sampling—when you will let your mind wander again to produce design ideas. What matters is not the quantity of the material gathered on the board but its inspirational qualities. A balanced theme board will include allusion to an atmosphere, direction for aesthetics, and elements of design. It is preferable to include as few fashion references as possible, as the influence of the garments depicted may become overwhelming. Store the remainder of the material gathered during creative research in your sketchbook or research files so that it is accessible for future reference.

Dez Bara’s theme board for his S/S 2011 collection is evocative, personal, and poignant. (See case study on CD)

The layout favored by Guillaume Dollinger and Alexandre Fléveau for their theme board is precise and controlled, reflecting the style of the garments they intend to create. (See case study on CD)

Wrapping Up

As a fashion designer you will constantly be on the lookout for inspiration. It is an exhilarating prospect that implies that you are open to the world and in turn willing to contribute through your designs.

Creative research has led you to gather and select the material shown on your theme board. This material must enthuse and excite you as it needs to sustain you during the next stage: development and sampling. This stage, both creative and experimental, also benefits from divergent thinking. To allow the material on your theme board to influence and inspire you, display it in a prominent place in your studio alongside your client board. Maintain a strong awareness of the material you have chosen to include on it—it will provide the “design DNA” for your own collection.