GARMENT DESIGN AND LINE PLANNING
The work you have done so far may have helped you to develop an idea of what your collection could look like. Guided by your concept, and using all the puzzle pieces you have gathered so far, from your target market to your mood board, you are now ready to give a definite shape to this vision.
You now need to plan your line, design your garments, and produce them. Line planning identifies the types of garments your collection needs to include. If at this stage you have designed a series of well-defined silhouettes, garment design is mainly concerned with finding ways to construct and realize them; sometimes, however, garment design is an opportunity to build a collection around a few strong design ideas. Cut, Make, and Trim (CMT), the effective production of your garments, is the last and most vital stage of the creation of a collection; it often sees stressed students struggling and competing for access to facilities.
As the deadline for submission approaches, it is more important than ever that you pay attention to practical constraints and carefully manage your resources. When project planning each of these remaining stages do not forget to account for the time it will take to complete the remainder of your course work too.
Commercial collections are able to spell out their style by presenting upward of 25 outfits, along with variations on specific design ideas. Your collection must make a statement with all but a handful of garments, so every single piece plays a vital role. To make an impact and establish your style you must demonstrate a logic in the way you associate design elements into garments and combine them to create outfits or silhouettes. When accessible to the public, this logic helps to make an impact as people feel they have understood the design.
In most creative fields, rules on what constitutes good design are established time after time, only to be eventually rejected and rewritten. In the field of fashion it is the role of designers to contribute to this evolution, to find new ways to design beautiful garments. While they take into account trends and influences, fashion designers must synthesize them and give them coherence by formulating a personal style with its own logic and beauty.
In this context the word “grammar” is sometimes used. Grammar commonly refers to the set of rules that helps to produce meaning through the association of words. With a limited vocabulary, grammar allows the production and understanding of an infinite number of sentences without the need to learn their meaning. By extension the notion of grammar is sometimes used in creative disciplines. Originally understood as the rules and principles of good design, it refers today to the mechanics of a given style; the formal or informal rules and principles followed by a designer. These may be formalized or may emerge from the design process but are usually self-imposed rules that specify how different elements of design relate and contribute to a coherent whole. It is this articulation between different elements, with its repetitions and variations, which contributes to a style and a signature.
Symmetry, for example, is one of the simplest and most effective rules of design; it is followed by the majority of garment designs and contributes to their harmony. When this principle is removed, special attention must be paid to the balance of the silhouette.
Outside the field of fashion, “ shape grammars” formulate sets of very formal rules for the production of shapes and patterns. These sets of rules are used by architects and industrial designers to produce innovative designs, identify improvements in existing ones, and deconstruct and analyze existing styles and products. In 1978, for example, George Stiny and William Mitchell wrote “The Palladian Grammar,” identifying 69 rules followed by the famous Venetian Renaissance architect, thereby enabling computer programs to design villas in the same style.
However, design grammars are rarely deconstructed and formalized to such an extent. Most are established through the repetition of associations and proportions and can be identified visually. As a designer you must train yourself to see and analyze designs this way, recognizing the internal coherence of a design and seeing how a grammar may constrain its variations.
When you look at a fashion collection, identify both the common features and variations between garments. How do these illustrate the grammar of the collection? According to this grammar, modification of one element will lead to specific adjustments in others. When you review your own design, imagine the effect of modifying in turn different elements of its design. Your style and its logic may forbid some of these variations.
Your grammar may emerge naturally from this process or you may formally investigate and establish one, possibly through 2-D work. The latter will not only contribute to better designs but can also help you to generate ideas. While your concept explains how you have interpreted your influence, your grammar specifies how your designs work and achieve an aesthetic, the mechanics of your style. There must be a coherence between concept, aesthetic, grammar, and style illustrated by individual garments and explained by your collection as a whole.
Different types of garments traditionally combine into various outfits that fulfill practical and sociocultural functions. Garments are either separates or full pieces. Separates are divided between top pieces (blouses, shirts, T-shirts, tank tops, waistcoats, jackets, knitwear, and sweatshirts) and bottom pieces (skirts or pants), each in different styles and cuts. A full piece is a garment sold as one that covers the whole body; this category includes suits, dresses, coats, catsuits, and other all-in-ones. These garments can also be worn in layers and can function specifically as underwear or outerwear.
Each of these pieces of clothing has particular construction constraints and expected levels of finish, requiring specific design and production skills. In the industry, some labels and designers are known for their ability to design and make specific types of garment. The British label Aquascutum, for example, is famous for coats, while Armani and Chanel are both known for suits. The types of garment you include in your final collection, and consequently in your portfolio, can affect the jobs for which you will be considered. Limiting yourself to just dresses, for example, will lead your grading jury and potential employers to question the breadth of your skills, so try to include as many different garment types as possible.
Each fashion market requires a particular balance of different garment types. The numbers of top and bottom separates, for example, which can be sold on a market are linked. Designers and retail make choices based not only on aesthetic and style but also the types and functionality of the garments they include in their collection.
The process that leads to these choices is called line, or range, planning; it is a slightly different exercise for designers and buyers. Buyers select garments from among different collections not only with the aim that these garments sell but also in order to maximize revenues through cross-selling. Based on previous sales figures, sometimes analyzed with the help of computer programs, retailers establish a line plan that specifies the types and quantity of garments they must order within specific price brackets. This line plan includes a balance of garment types (separates, full pieces, outerwear…) and a mix of sizes and traditional colors. It must ensure possible combinations into different outfits to be merchandized as stories.
With the same aim of optimizing revenues, fashion labels’ sales teams and designers work together on a line plan. They take into account a wider range of factors, including the presentation of the collection and the mix of garments required to combine into complete and attractive outfits that demonstrate the designer’s aesthetics. Some pieces may be included, despite low sales expectations, because they are central to the collection concept and necessary to its presentation. These are referred to as window dressing. They should have strong visual impact and be press worthy. On the other hand, fashion houses will also present buyers with garments that they have not felt necessary to show on the runway.
Buyers select garments from different collections and organize them into stories to propose to their clients. Designers organize their line around the concept and the aesthetics of their collection. They produce variations on each design within or across garment types, and then select the most successful pieces to include in their collection.
Depending on the institution, students must submit a final collection of four to eight outfits for grading. The number of outfits, or exits, allowed on the runway at the degree show, however, may be different. Budget and audience attention limit the total number of outfits that can be shown, and this number must be divided fairly between the students. Despite its reduced size, your collection must present creative and commercially viable garments, establish an identity and a style, and demonstrate the variety of your skills.
Each piece must be selected with great care as it can significantly affect how your collection as a whole is perceived. You must not include pieces that have little demonstrative value, even to complete an outfit. Try to optimize each exit allocated to you. Some outfits may include outerwear, for example, that could be removed on the runway to reveal the rest of the outfit underneath.
In the industry, designing and line planning a collection are two clearly distinct activities; this boundary is often blurred where a final collection is concerned. Commercial designers benefit from the support of their workshop and can usually afford to produce garments that may eventually not be included in their collection. This flexible approach offers the possibility of fine-tuning. When designing your final collection you must manage your resources carefully. It can be a good idea, then, to plan the extent of your collection early on.
Line planning a final collection requires identifying, organizing, and coordinating silhouettes and garments. Depending on the confidence of your vision you can plan your collection in one of two different ways. You can work things through in 2-D, which has its limitations but is very economical. Visualize your collection coming down the runway. Draw the different outfits you see, evaluate them, and identify any possible improvements. Make sure you are presenting a strong, coherent, and balanced collection. Once you are happy with the result you can specify and draw the individual garments and allocate your time according to the difficulty of finalizing their design and production.
If you have not yet formed a vision of your collection, you may need to adopt a more piecemeal approach. Try to identify a starting point. Which design, investigated during D&S, best expresses your concept? What is the most ambitious garment design you have contemplated? Such a central design could become the roadmap or centerpiece of your collection. Investigate its design on paper; while you fine-tune it, record any variations you can think of. You can, for example, address and vary a silhouette by adjusting hemlines. Try to translate a design idea into different types of garment or play with color and material. Consider how these designs fit with your concept and could contribute to the overall collection.
Garment design is the penultimate step in the creation of your collection; the amount of work it will require depends on your progress during D&S. Most of your line planning and resulting garment design is likely, up until now, to have been on paper. You must now return to the workshop to make your pattern, make your muslin, test its fit, adjust it, and finalize your design. It is one thing to draw garments but another to construct them effectively.
TOP-DOWN OR BOTTOM-UP?
Depending on the progress you have made on your silhouettes, your garment design will follow either a top-down or a bottom-up approach. If, during D&S, you have worked on silhouettes which were then completed and confirmed during line planning, you will follow the top-down approach. This involves figuring out how to construct those silhouettes by designing the corresponding garments, incorporating any other design ideas you have. The top-down approach is often followed in haute couture houses where the head designer expresses a vision by drawing outfits, leaving garment design to the workshop.
If you are not satisfied with the silhouettes you have produced, you will adopt the bottom-up approach. With this hands-on approach, silhouettes are, to an extent, the result of the combination of design ideas you use to construct your garments. You may, for example, have sourced a fabric you like and investigated a fabric manipulation you want to use; during garment design you will bring the two together to construct pieces of clothing within the constraints of the two choices you have made. In practice you are likely to mix both top-down and bottom-up approaches.
During garment design, you may have to give up on some of your design ideas because they prove impractical or too difficult to achieve. Also ensure that you have sourced all the material, trims, and skills you need to complete the garments you have planned. Prioritize the design of garments that are significant for your collection or may be complex to design and produce.
Once you have identified the best approach to garment design, you can select the most suitable technique to make the patterns for your garments. You can produce them flat from slopers or from existing patterns; alternatively you can model or drape your garments on a form. Unless you are addressing a market that requires a specific sizing, make sure you work to the size chosen by your institution; it may have been chosen to fit runway models and differ greatly from commercial measurements.
Time spent on refining patterns usually helps reduce the amount of adjustments to muslins, or toiles; it may even cut down the number of muslins you will need to make. On this basis decide when you are satisfied to move from patternmaking to creating muslins. Use an inexpensive fabric that is likely to react in a similar way to the cloth chosen for your finished garment; in particular it should be of identical weight and handle. Depending on your skills, the progress of your design, and the quality of fit you want to achieve, you may need to produce multiple muslins for each garment. Note that depending on the production techniques, the “prototype” piece may not be referred to as a muslin; cut and sew knits refer to swatches and samples instead.
Overall the process of garment design may be seen as a cycle; depending on your approach it may start either with silhouette or garment construction. Garment construction may be defined by the silhouette or by other design ideas. Patterns are made to reflect this garment construction and a muslin is produced on this basis. The muslin is reviewed for construction, fit, and design; this review may lead to adjustments to the silhouette and to the garment construction. Patterns are adjusted accordingly. A new muslin may be produced to be reviewed again and this cycle repeated. Sometimes the slightest alteration can make or break a design; do not stop until you are fully satisfied.
The muslin is the closest representation of the finished garment you have; make good use of it to review design, construction, and fit. Try as much as possible to consider the point of view of your market. Address how each garment sits within your concept. Does it do what you intended it to do and does it work with the rest of your collection?
To review your design you must be able to look and see. As mentioned in the previous chapter, 2-D representations give a different perspective on a 3-D design; some people also find that drawing helps them to analyze what they see. Take the time to look at your muslin from different perspectives and consider the different elements that could be adjusted or modified in turn. Ask yourself what would happen if you modified proportions or changed details, style lines, fabric, or trims and embellishment. In particular review the silhouette. Is it balanced and in proportion? Should elements be added or removed? How do the style/fit lines flow and are they interrupted in the right place? How does the garment move?
Finally try the garment on a real person, not just a form, as it is likely to react differently when worn and in motion. Check where the fit needs to be improved. Consider the overall construction of your garment, its foundation, and finishing. Can you think of a better way to produce it?
Cut, Make, and Trim, or CMT, the industry term for production of the final garment, is likely to be the most exciting and stressful moment in the creation of your collection. Most designers get a thrill when they see their garments in the final fabric; until this point it is, in fact, difficult to predict with certainty that a garment design will work.
CMT is vital to the realization of a collection and the time it requires should not be underestimated. The proximity of deadlines leaves little time to resolve any remaining problems. Compounding those issues, CMT is a bottleneck in most institutions, as students all try to access machinery and support at the same time.
Timing is vital, so consider CMT only when you are totally satisfied with your muslins and you have allocated your cloth between all the garments of your collection. Avoid cutting any fabric before this allocation, but ensure enough time remains to finish your garments to industry standards. Quality of finish will be graded at submission but is less vital for the show. A detail seemingly as benign as hanging threads will, however, be extremely visible on the runway and will let your collection down. Your institution may also require you to produce at least one of your outfits at an early date to include in promotional material.
You will face many more problems during CMT than you think. To reduce your stress levels be very well prepared and try to pay greater attention to details. Ask tutors, technicians, and former students how to best negotiate this last hurdle; they will have experienced any specific problems you might encounter with the institution’s facilities.
Most importantly, ensure that you have sourced all the material and trimmings you need. Imagine being unable to finish your garment simply because you have not found the correct zipper.
The final fabric in which you will produce your garment is very likely to react differently than your muslin, despite your efforts to match it. Test disposable cuts of this final fabric on all the machinery you will use, from sewing to buttonholes. In particular, pay attention to the gauge and sharpness of the needles and check the damage caused to the fabric by unpicking your stitches. If you are using several fabrics across the collection, it is advisable to make in turn at least one of the garments planned in each cloth to fully test your production capabilities.
Finishing usually takes more time than anticipated and requires specialist machinery—for buttonholes, for example. Make sure this equipment is available and take into account that it may have to be shared. With every use test all the settings of your equipment: thread, tension, and needle according to cloth—they may have been changed since you last used the machine. Avoid having to unpick; it is damaging to the fabric and wastes time.
Make sure your work area is clean, and always protect and put away your garments when you have finished working with them. Pressing, the final finish, should be done with care as it can ruin your garment and leave you with no time to make it again.
Finally, if you are allowed and intend to use external help for CMT, make sure you communicate all the required information and material; this will include patterns, technical flats, and illustrations as well as cloth, trims, and thread. Depending on your level of skills, outsourcing CMT can prove more work; all this information does not need to be formalized if you CMT yourself.
Garment design and CMT must be approached practically and timed to ensure your collection is ready for the set deadline. Garments are evaluated as individual pieces both on the basis of their design and also the quality of their make and finish. As made evident throughout the last two chapters, the designer’s technical skills and knowledge will directly affect these factors.
The work of a fashion designer, however, must extend beyond individual garment designs. Individual garments do not create fashion but collectively, as a succession in the form of a collection, they may demonstrate a style and an aesthetic. In time designers may establish a personal grammar— design “rules” that define what constitutes good design in their eyes. The garments of such a designer can be recognized without recourse to the label inside.
Fashion, however, is mainly what happens when people wear garments. This notion must be ever present in designers’ minds. They must not think of a garment as a finished, determined, and steadfast product but as an entity that fully interacts with people and their lifestyle.