Wednesday, April 30, 2008

reviewing the reviews

[Amended later, with big thanks to Helen from Sassybella: Patty Huntington is blogging over here. Thank goodness.]

Well, not really [this was in ref to title, not Patty], but I do wonder what's going on at the Sydney Morning Herald. More than 30 shows took place from Monday through Wednesday, and yet now, on Thursday morning, only seven shows have been covered in any detail. What's more, only the established labels seem to attract the reporters (and same goes for UK Vogue). The young'uns are invisible. And while the index, in the 'Life & Style' section, is a good thing at the SMH, I found one article about RAFW under 'Entertainment'. Of course what I'd really like is to see it all covered under 'Business'. I am not holding my breath. has managed a couple of blog posts, here and here. Perhaps the best thing out there is Australian Vogue, but with local mags one always wonders about advertising revenue and objective reporting...

To end another short post with a positive, Treehugger has reviewed Kate Fletcher's book here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

a few good distractions

Then it gets sillier. No comment - I won't pick on this any further.

The Sydney Morning Herald's coverage of RAFW is indexed here. I had grand plans to stay informed but it just couldn't sustain my interest for more than ten minutes. Is that bad? (Under other circumstances it might have but at the moment writing and making are bigger priorities.) And where the hell is Patty Huntington? I'm probably hopelessly out of the loop; who does she write for now? None of the SMH reviews I read were by her.

As she had a sale on (I was meant to advertise and forgot), I bought more fabrics from Jill at KimoYES last week. They arrived yesterday, and there are some true beauties. Photos to come. Maybe. I've got a backlog of stuff to get from the camera to the computer to my journal, of things happening in the studio.

I've reread much of the literature on practice-led research in art and design in the past few weeks; my notes on many texts weren't satisfactory to work with for the methodology chapter. It's a fuzzy picture, but some clarity is starting to emerge. Namely that consensus is scarce in the field. But that's ok. I'm still pondering the common practice of lumping art and design under the same roof but perhaps there is value in trying to see the common elements rather than get stuck on the differences.

I do have a growing list of real topics to blog about, but later in the week is likely. A few good things beckon in the studio.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


This sums up the past four days as far as the thesis goes:

What was I doing? Like that saint whosiwhatsit, I was summoning the birds, of course:

Yep, still organising photos and feeling guilty I haven't written a single word on a Sunday. I managed about a thousand yesterday. The Rainbow Lorikeets were down south, but the same birds frequent the tree next to my studio window. I doubt their colours will ever cease to amaze me.

To my own detriment I once again bought the Sunday papers, only to be faced with images of Dannii Minogue looking like Joan Collins (two weeks after an image of Kylie Minogue looking like Joan Rivers) and Amy Winehouse looking like... Amy Winehouse. Anyway, Mia Freedman responded to that blog about fashion magazines and a claim that she allegedly once sent the work experience to buy her son a banana. High drama, indeed. As for Rosemount Australian Fashion Week, there were some sounds of discontent from some. Each to their own. I worry about the young designers who enter, expecting naively (but understandably) that buyers will flock to them. Many aren't aware that the established labels have been selling summer for the past four to eight weeks, and the show is more of a PR exercise than an active selling tool. But, good luck to all.

I was playing with one of the kimono panels yesterday and pinned it to a year-old shirt toile. I liked what I saw. Most of the small piece will become the back panel (the side seams are displaced to the back in this particular shirt) and the rest will become an applique on the front and the sleeves. I photocopied the fabric, cut up the copy and started pinning to work it all out. As Japanese as the fabric looks (it's red and white shibori), the way I cut it up strangely echoes this:

It's a bat my nephew cut out of paper in December, but I saw a face in it, and it will be a recurring motif in the collection. (To see the bat, you need to rotate it 90 degrees clockwise.)

Happy Sundays, the aim is for 500 words today.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

things that made me laugh while in melbourne

Yeah, I know, I was there almost two months ago, but I was tidying up my albums now so here they are.

Seen on the street when I caught up with Di for breakfast:

The following two were in a toilet cubicle at RMIT. Now, you may wonder why I had a camera with me in the toilet. Keep wondering.

And finally, not funny but nice. Sunset at St Kilda. I was staying with my friend Mari and we rode bikes from Port Melbourne to St Kilda purely for this. Riding a bike for the first time in 15 years was pretty funny at first - you might not forget but you do get scared! Anyway, only later I discovered through Emu that St Kilda has one of the few mainland colonies of Little Penguins, like the one in Manly in Sydney. Damn, I would have kept a closer eye on the water.

(I've since paid closer attention to toilet walls and will try to keep a camera with me more.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Earth Pledge FutureFashion revisited

Just linking to an excellent post by Jill Danyelle (she of fiftyRX3 fame and of about the show, quite passionately pointing out its shortcomings which I alluded to in three sentences. Jill later elaborates further here. After reading another lot of moronic blog entries about guilt-free (their claim) sustainable shopping and cute (their claim) eco-chic bits of crap these posts have restored my energy and faith. Eco-hating - I like it.

She also questions the press-fluffy statements from Loomstate regarding their recycling of tees with Barneys. "A fresh take"? Wasn't it in 2000/2001 that Walter Van Beirendonck, under the Aestheticterrorists brand, was selling old promo tees, with his own prints simply printed on top of the sponsor's logos? The website has them down as from 2002 but I know I bought three from the collection just after I'd been retrenched in October 2001 (they weren't cheap so the package helped!), and wore one on a flight to Peru in December 2001, and being three months after 9/11, the airport officials in Lima were somewhat concerned about the word 'terrorist' on my chest. Ill-advised on my part, sure, although I've yet to hear of a terrorist group that uses fashion as an identifying element, not counting concealing scarfs in menacing videos. But I digress. Anita made a good point the other day about the current fad for all things eco (too often their claim); it's almost as if everything that has gone on before has been forgotten and every press release erases any history that existed.

For the record, one of the three tees went to charity after it stretched out of existence, one I still wear (the same as Walter is wearing above) - on optimistic thin days - and one is filed away for posterity. It has more holes than cotton jersey in it now, but there are too many memories attached for me to let go of it.

while reading a manual for aspiring fashion designers...

...I feel compelled to point out that a garment will rarely contain one of these:

It might include a yoke, however:

(If you do know of a decent fashion design manual out there, do let me know.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

long leg panty girdle

When I first heard of Mara Havinoviski's 'Patterns for Fabric Economy' (1969), I got very excited. A trawl through the websites of various Sydney libraries came to nada, and in the end I organised an interlibrary loan. Not sure why but I always feel guilty when I do, like I'm bothering the librarians, although it's all done impersonally through the library website.

The book arrived last week, from the Washington State University library. It smells of old book, or Santa Claus's armpit, to the extent that I have to keep it at arm's length at all times. At most I can only read it for five minutes at a time. More worryingly, I can't seem to understand half of it. The tables, the diagrams - it's all gobbledegook to me. The images of pattern pieces, which should have been self-explanatory, baffled me to no end, until I saw on another page that they were in fact the pieces of a 'long leg panty girdle'. Whatever that is, I think my collection needs one. We all need one.

But, I will persevere. The book is essentially about fabric inspection and usage, and tackling fabric waste in the traditional way, and I think Tyler's book probably covers most of this in a more user-friendly manner. I do like Havinoviski's writing style with its own idiosyncracies like the frequent CAPITALISATION OF SIGNIFICANT STATEMENTS. And thanks to Havinoviski, I'm now aware of 'Parkinson's Law', which just about explains the universe to me at the moment.

Monday, April 21, 2008

still on copying

Still on the issue of copying/interpreting/adapting other people's ideas, I had a chat with a friend yesterday. She started a new job some time ago and is very happy where she is. The 'designer' at the previous place hardly designed anything - the range board was filled with tear sheets from magazines and print-outs from various online boutiques selling high-end designer gear. My friend was part of the team responsible for copying these ideas - or adapting them for a less expensive market, whatever you want to call it. I call it copying.

Now, she is still part of the design team, looking at a range board full of original sketches. What's more, the company targets others they've discovered copying their styles, mainly through the online designer boutiques. Yep, the same ones as above. My friend is responsible for notifying the ripper-offers with a letter promising legal action if the copying continues. A complete reversal from where she was, and one she's most pleased about.

My experience is that those online boutiques have made copying easy without having to buy a sample garment; you usually get detailed front and back views, and any tricky bits are usually also featured in detail shots. Of course it's no good for companies trying to be on the first wave of a trend as you are copying what's already on the retail racks, but for the countless middle market brands it seems to work just fine. And if there is one saving grace in copying from a photo as opposed to copying from a physical garment, it's that you are then keeping your fits consistent - presuming you are working from a block. Many companies, mostly at the most mass level of things, still have huge budgets for sample buying and the garments are copied as is, most of the time. What a waste. Apart from the ethical and moral problems, the practice completely ignores the huge resource that the past seasons' work represent. Every season is a fresh start but not in a way I'd describe as positive.

Experience has taught me (in both industry and as a shopper) that people return if they've found something that fits them well, particularly for pants. With the 'starting a fresh' approach, you don't stand a chance of building that dedicated following. You might just get a letter from my friend.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

you say inspiration, i say...

With RAFW around the corner, the bets are on: who will attempt to 'reinterpret' Givenchy's eyelets from Spring 2008? (Copying is such a strong, accusatory word. Besides, if it's in a cheap fabric, it's not really copying now, is it?) Many in the industry have no doubt that the suppliers in China have been busy for the past six months reproducing them, but let's wait and see. Nicole Phelps over at wasn't too taken with them, but Vogue Paris devoted a number of pages to the collection some months ago.

Looking at the schedule, it's good to see Therese Rawsthorne on there, as well as Romance Was Born, Friedrich Gray and Tina Kalivas. It's not so good to see the somewhat mad person who last season ripped off a friend to the tune of thousands. I worked for this person briefly some years ago, but got fed up with the twenty SMS I'd receive between 10pm and 6am, daily. Strangely last season's collection was essentially the same as four years ago, so I'm a little curious as to what will come down the runway this time. As a change of pace from last season, let's hope the outfits stay in one piece for the duration of the exits, at least... This company is another contender for the 'How to go broke [painfully] slowly' category as defined by Kathleen Fasanella.

rank in three parts

I know I said I'd wait till next weekend with washing the jeans. I buckled. One pair came out of the freezer only on Friday and yet today smelled like the Devil's afterbirth, left in a warm room for a month. Mind you, only if you stuck your nose close to it, but still. So in they went, with a whole lot of other dark stuff, minimal detergent and softener (half doses of whatever the instructions ask for) and cold water, of course. They are now drying on hangers around the place. I did take photos and will post later. But what now as far as washing goes? Next laundry date for the jeans: October 20. Gross, isn't it? But let it be known that I haven't got any weird skin infections from the waist down in the past six months and frankly, that's good enough for me.

Reading the Sunday newspapers (a bad habit that has to go), I was glad to see Melissa Hoyer of the Sunday Telegraph pointing out ten or so successful Australian women fashion designers. In response to Nicholas Huxley's ill-advised comments earlier (in the same publication!), of course, which in a way was odd, given the glowing column miles the Fashion Design Studio usually gets in the Terror. The Sun Herald didn't go there at all.

Also in ST was a story about 4 Inch Heels Only, an anonymous blog from within the small, blow-dried and tandoori-hued Sydney fashion magazine community. Apparently some of the larger publishers are hell-bent on uncovering the blogger's identity - but not as hell-bent on putting out a decent fashion magazine, I presume. I haven't bought Oz Vogue since the nineties when it was full of articles I'd read in US Vogue months earlier. Mind you, I haven't bought US Vogue since the nineties, either. A chopstick in the ear is a much quicker way to self-lobotomy than flicking through all those ads. Anyway, the fuss MagHag has caused reminds me of a party years ago, where my friends and I were one table away from the Cosmo girls. One friend, a popular designer at the time, knew them all, and whispered to me at one point: "Just look at them all, single alcoholics with coke habits, and they are the ones writing those tragic articles about how to get a man." Of course it was a gross exaggeration on my friend's part; not all of them were writers, I'm sure. (And should anyone get upset by what I just wrote, let me assure you this took place when pod shoes were in: no current staff implied.)
(Photo by David LaChapelle. The one at top, inexplicably from Webster's Online Dictionary.)

But back to real writing.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

more fabrics! and two milestones

The fabrics from KimoYES arrived on Friday and I'm very pleased and excited: they're simply divine. What's even better, Jill from KimoYES emailed me with as much background to each one as she could. I'm not alone in thinking that designers and manufacturers have a power to encourage a stronger consumer engagement with a garment, which in turn might get consumers to want to hang on to their garments for longer, caring for them better, maintaining and repairing them (or having them repaired). My talk on Thursday, based on the paper I presented at Dressing Rooms, was about designing garments for repair and alteration, arguing that decisions by the fashion designer and patternmaker can facilitate and enable future transformative practices (repair and alteration) in a garment. I also think we can help steer consumers towards less environmentally damaging laundering practices. I used my Viktor & Rolf jacket as an example. The care label says: "Do not wash in water, do not dry clean." And I haven't for the two years I've had it. Instead, my dry cleaner sponges (with what, I don't know) the cuffs and neck which tend to get dirty quickly, given the light colour of the jacket and the fact I rarely wear collared, long-sleeved shirts. Presumably the washing instructions stem from the high metal content of the fabric (19%, with 81% cotton). I love, too, that pressing the jacket is pointless. I just pull it back into shape when I put it away. The thought that has gone into the buttoning and buttonholes is nice, too: the top hole is a regular keyhole, the middle is set into the waist seam and the bottom one is fake.

But back to the vintage kimono fabrics. Below are my photos with Jill's comments. Wherever I end up using them, the garment will come with all of this information, too. A bit like the Dutch project Made-By, where you can enter the garment code on the website and get its entire production history. What a fantastic idea; let's hope for lots of companies signing up. As for Jill's fabrics, they come from old, damaged kimono; she salvages what she can for sale as well as her quilting work. She also mentioned an artist who often gets the bits that are too damaged for sale; he happily uses them. The condition of the fabrics is excellent, despite their age.

Left to right, top row:
#3254 (black/white). 70s
#3518 (fine navy wool with pink) is from a woolen kimono - I'd say from the 70s
#3856 (grey and black) is an ikat meisen silk where the threads are dyed before the weaving process (hence the irregular pattern). This fabric would be from the 70s
#4167 Ikat wool. This is from a roll of kimono fabric that is old stock. 70/80s

Left to right, bottom row:
#2747 (pink with black/white/red) 50s/60s
#3282 (red/pink) 80s
#2785 (black/grey/white) - can't tell you much about this one. Suspect that there may be some hemp in this fabric. What do you think? I don't know how to test for it. [I'm not sure either; I know the smell of burning cellulosic fibre, cotton/linen/hemp/etc. but not sure how to go from there.]
#3159 (red shibori) Red rinzu silk which has been patterned using shibori. This is probably machined rather than done by hand. Typical 70s

Oh, the milestones? My younger brother turns 31 today; Happy Birthday! There is no card in the mail but once my PhD is dead and buried, I will get into that habit again, or at least try. And I checked the receipt for the jeans again: six months today. Perhaps I'll wash them next weekend.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"Is It Still Fashion Design If You Use a Butterick Pattern?"

In short, no it's not. It's copying, and it's a little bit illegal, I'm sure. Fair enough, I know a few 'designers' guilty of this, but that doesn't make it design. It's product development at best, but even that can have an inherent integrity to it; using a bought pattern has none if you're in business. Copying is rife in Australia (remember that stupid copyright case over two unoriginal dresses by Lili and Review?), and not just at mass market level. But just because others do it doesn't mean you have to.

Using a bought pattern poses some more serious problems for a business than just a loss of integrity and potential legal implications. Commercial patterns, aimed at home sewers, usually have so much wrong with them in terms of construction and fit that I just wouldn't bother. And in the case of vintage patterns, bodies now are quite different to 30-40 years ago (we're fatter and our proportions are different, too).

On a more fundamental level, coming up with a sketch (whether your own or from the envelope of a bought pattern) and merely choosing a fabric for it is not exactly design, either. Or it's what I call 'colouring book design', and you don't need a design education to be able to do it - it's what any home sewer does. The people behind AFV (of St Louis; check out that classic MySpace photo of Ashley in the friends section - I've saved it for a friend who is building a catalogue of silly MySpace photos but that's another story...) might not be fashion designers but let's hope they are clever at business. And let's hope they have a competent patternmaker adapting that vintage pattern to contemporary manufacture and contemporary bodies. Because if they don't, the company will end up in this category. (I was actually looking to see if Kathleen Fasanella had a post, 'How to Go Broke Quickly', as in the book. She may well do, I only looked for about thirty seconds.)

I found the story at Fashion Indie (and disagree with the author); it's also where I got the image of the Butterick pattern. Bit of press fluff on the label here. And some images, though I couldn't work out which is meant to be the offending piece (there was some odd boobage going on with one dress but I doubt that related to the Butterick pattern).

Now there's half an hour I'll never get back.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

on the flipside

Over the past few month I've talked about the two pairs of jeans that I bought in October, of 'raw' (=unwashed) denim, that one's not meant to wash for the first six months. Whilst a gimmick in many ways, I thought it was a nice, unintentional way of steering people towards more sustainable laundering practices. Perhaps, but the story has a flipside.

Peter* brought it to my attention that the kids in Sweden (apparently denim is huge over there), and probably elsewhere, aren't washing their jeans for six months to a year, just like me. They then discard them. He also mentioned an eminent fashion historian who does the same. (I am so tempted to name him, or at least burn the books I have by him.) I have no illusions of reaching any of these people through this blog but please, if you know anyone that does this, perhaps educate them about the resource-intensive processes that it takes to turn a cotton field into a pair of jeans. Sure, most probably give the jeans to charity (let's hope) but it's kind of like kerbside recycling; the stuff disappears from our view and we feel a lot better, having 'done the right thing'.

But do we ever look at the amount we are recycling? Could we do with less? Although I drink three or four bottles' worth a day, I buy roughly one bottle of water a month and keep refilling it with filtered water. But that's not the solution, either. Finally, I am about to swap to a 'permanent' metal bottle. The thought of chemicals from the plastic leaching into the water (I don't know enough here...) is somewhat off-putting. Apparently it happens over time. With the jeans, what is it about having washed them that makes them so unattractive to people? Whatever, it's depressing.

*I gave a talk as part of the postgraduate seminar series yesterday (and bombed beautifully); some other excellent comments came up, too. I'll try and post an account of it all over the weekend, but first I have an assignment due at 5pm.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Last night two fabrics from Hemp Gallery were waiting for me when I got home:

Denim, of 55% hemp, 45% cotton (not organic or otherwise less damaging; just plain old naughty cotton, I presume):

Satin, of 60% hemp, 40% silk (of the type where the worms die, unfortunately):

Both are a very nice quality, with selvedges that I can easily incorporate into the garments externally. The denim has what some would regard weaving faults all through it, namely discontinuous warp yarns, with the ends hanging loose all through the fabric. I don't mind them, though, and may leave them as they are. The satin is fantastic; it's almost plastic-like on the shiny side, like in the photo, and completely matt on reverse. Oh, and have I said it before that I'm not a big believer in fabrics having a 'right' and a 'wrong' side? Fabrics have two sides (or faces), as far as I'm concerned. So to have two very contrasting but equally usable faces is very exciting, and creates more scope for design.

Yesterday I also placed an order for a whole heap of vintage kimono fabrics from KimoYES (above and below). Most are silk, and I'll mostly use them as linings, I think; I loathe ugly linings in otherwise nice garments! The very narrow widths, typical of kimono fabrics, will create some interesting challenges for design and patternmaking and likely I'll be combining several fabrics in one garment. And yes, the aim is for zero waste in the linings and interlinings just as much as in the outer fabrics. Being menswear, I stuck to the more abstract, geometric prints; I also wanted to avoid an overtly Japanese feel within the fabrics. But, given the zero waste nature of the kimono, these fabrics create nice links to the long history of zero fabric waste fashion (yes, I use 'fashion' differently to some writers; all will be explained in the thesis).

Overall the fabrication is coming together quite well. I'm still debating bamboo; it's just doesn't seem as environmentally sound as some claim (it's viscose, essentially) and the anti-bacterial claims seem a tad fishy, too (it's viscose). But we'll see.

On a less positive note, I had the samples from another supplier laid out last week when a friend came over. His response: "Did you buy new tea towels?" I laughed; that pretty much summed up my feelings of the strange checks and stripes that still feature heavily on some 'green' fabric suppliers' collections. But it's bound to change, slowly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

men better designers than women?

I can't not write about this although initially I wasn't going to. On Monday, Nicholas Huxley (whom I've met and who is quite charming in person) made the following comments in an article in the Daily Telegraph:

"Girls are designing more for themselves and for their girlfriends. They do ruffles and minis and more frou-frou looks. It is for the way that women are dressing today. They are dressing to go out shopping for men. It is cheap and nasty."

Apparently, the four males chosen for this year's fashion week are designing garments that are "intelligent", "slick", "stylish" and "classy". Apparently these are (subjective) attributes that female designers are incapable of incorporating into their work.

Then it becomes strange. Rachel Wells of The Age in Melbourne blogged about it, and while there are some outraged comments, some men, and more bafflingly women, have come to Mr Huxley's defence. According to quite a few, there is nothing wrong with these comments.

I do wonder how the female students at the Fashion Design Studio at SIT are feeling. I do wonder how the female teaching staff there are feeling, too. And I do wonder how these comments will wash with the institute's management.

Two years ago a journalism student at UTS interviewed me for an article about this very phenomenon: men claiming they design better for women than women do. He passed me on to this 2005 article in the New York Times. From Tom Ford: "Men are often better designers for women than other women", citing objectivity. If you think that's bad, just wait until you see the comments from Michael Vollbracht. Elsewhere, I remember an article (I think in a 2006 fashion supplement to The Times) Donatella Versace was asked why there seemed to be more succesful men in fashion than women. Her response (more or less, from memory): not many women seemed to study fashion design. Just read the stats in the New York Times article...

On a positive note, at least we know these people still exist in the 21st century, which should empower us to do something about it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

the fashion designer

"This designer is about the most unhappy and unnecessary species of the day. He is uncreative by profession, unprepared for any task but copying, and unaware of the possibilities of his profession. There are practically no schools to give him an adequate training, because there are no adequate teachers. The designer lives on what he calls inspiration - a good and wholesome word which, by common consent and abuse, was perverted into the contrary of its original meaning. Inspiration, as the designer understands it, is far from the sublime moment of spiritual communion with divinity; to him it simply means the copying of insignificant and meaningless details from past epochs or foreign countries, which he cements together into that pastiche called THE STYLE."
So wrote Bernard Rudofsky in 1947, in 'Are Clothes Modern?' (p. 223). Now why does this sound so familiar?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

from a camel's toe to an elephant's vulva

This has nothing to do with anything but had me in stitches, and it sort of does relate to patternmaking, and Kathleen points out an important aspect of sustainability: beauty. Of course it's subjective and in the eye of the beholder, and while I see beauty in the processes and the skills employed to create the final outcome, it's there that I don't see any. If this appeared on a dark street, I would run. The outcome reminds me of all those 'clothes for the disabled', designed by physiotherapists, doctors and what-nots, where function overruns form to the point of creating a segregating outcome that reeks of 'the other'. I applaud the noble aims of the project (more than a year old; I hope everyone has recovered...) and would love to see it rerun with a designer involved (I'm presuming there wasn't one).

Oh, the title? Read the comments following Kathleen's post.

Friday, April 11, 2008

deep immersion

The past couple of weeks have seen me writing more intensely than at any other point during the project, except for a couple of isolated periods where I was working on the book chapter or one of the conference papers. And it's been great, as nerdy as that sounds. Hard work - incredibly hard work! - but there is also a sense of accomplishment that comes with that hard work. While all the chapters are on their way in one way or another (and how excellent it is to have a chapter outline that is unlikely to change dramatically now), I've been concentrating on the contextual review of the project, or Chapter 2 (Chapter 1 is the Introduction, well on its way, too). Chapter 2 looks something like this (I've left out the lower level subheadings here):

Chapter 2: Designerly Fashion, Fashion Creation, Sustainability and Fabric Waste
2.1 Designerly fashion, fashion creation and fashion design practice
2.2 Fashion design and sustainability, fabric waste
2.3 Zero fabric waste fashion creation

So, the chapter is a contextualisation of the project and I also attempt to define 'designerly fashion' and 'fashion creation' (see Nigel Cross and his usage of 'designerly''). During the project I've discovered that 'fashion' has been defined and discussed by sociologists extensively (Yuniya Kawamura's Fashionology from 2005 is a good start) but rarely has anyone asked fashion designers or other fashion industry practitioners what fashion might mean to them (or that it might be something different in a design context). I find most sociological explanations insufficient (though useful) for an investigation into sustainability and fashion design, hence my attempt at formulating a designerly understanding of fashion. Mieke Leppens in her 2000 PhD thesis actually noted the same problem with the sociological investigations of fashion, and I've since uncovered a series of studies that remedy the situation somewhat.

Sustainability - I don't know what I would have done if Kate Fletcher's book hadn't come out this year. Well, of course I do - I would have been referencing her website extensively. And if you are new to sustainability, be sure to check out lifetimes and 5 ways. These get discussed in the book, too, but the websites are informative as well. As for that last post, I did grossly simplify, in (an emotional) response to a scathing review of a paper I wrote nearly two years ago but only just got the feedback for. (For the record, the other reviewer was very positive overall.) I might post the reviews here later...

So, Chapter 2 is fast nearing completion (pending me getting my hands on the Fairchild book), and the exhibition for the collection is nearing fast. Next in line is Chapter 3, which is very much about the practice-led methodology in the project. I'm not as nervous about the methodology chapter as I might have been some months ago; I think the rationale for the method is getting set up quite well in Chapter 2. As for the collection, there will be some controversial pieces, I think at this point, which I'll blog about closer to the exhibition. The exhibition will not be merely that; I see it as an opportunity to have the work 'audited' by experts from within research as well as practice.

But, back to deep immersion. The unfortunate side effect is that I'm back in a Central Pacific time zone, waking up just before 3am. But, I will finish! (Pep talks to self - first sign of madness?)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

sustainable fashion

The idea that fashion is transient and all about change and therefore cannot ever be sustainable seems to fascinate some pseudo-intellectual academics to no end. The problem is that pondering on it ad nauseam is of little help to the industry or the planet, and to me seems like the coward's way out of tackling real problems. But, as a mere designer (lost in academia), what would I know?

(For the record, I believe it's the pace of change that's unsustainable, not the change itself.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Some great news from Hong Kong that will hopefully have a considerable impact in China, too, over time.

Still from Ecotextile News, more great news, about hemp getting the green light, finally, in New South Wales. The Sydney Morning Herald article from yesterday is here. I can personally attest to the high quality of some of the hemp fabrics out there, and look forward to one day of being able to use locally grown hemp.

On local, a friend works for Hedrena Textiles, an Australian company using Australian wool. As I understand, some fabrics are manufactured offshore, but a substantial amount is made here - something rarely seen these days.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

just who do you think you are?

Anyone else tired of reading the endless reports of Philippe Starck declaring design dead? It reminds me of that wonderful time in the nineties when Mr Giorgio Armani declared fashion dead*. And more recently, the death notice of the It Bag. So, here's my declaration:

I DECLARE DECLARING THINGS DEAD, DEAD (or at least tedious, unless of course the subject really is dead).

*It was so long ago that I couldn't find any links, but I do remember Gianni Versace kindly suggesting in response that Mr Armani should consider retirement. Then Mr Versace was declared dead.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Wal-Mart and cotton

From Ecotextile News, some good news about Wal-Mart supporting farmers moving from growing conventional to organic cotton. This is, of course, solving only half the problem (if that): consumers need to look at their behaviour, too. Buying less, laundering less, laundering in cold(er) water, laundering with less detergent, laundering with a less toxic detergent, tumble-drying less, and hanging onto the t-shirt longer (which becomes easier the less you wash it). When was the last time you repaired a t-shirt, or had one repaired? How many do you own? I pass no judgment on the last point; once upon a time I owned more than 100 tees, and was quite pleased with myself about it. Not that I've counted recently, but it's probably 30-40 now, but, most of those are more than two years old, many of them five years, and a few eight or more. I know one that I customised in 2001 I bought in 1998 - and I still wear it. But, maybe it's time for an audit. Watch this space.

Regarding the jeans I'm not washing, after checking I discovered that I bought them in late October, so the six month grace is coming to a close. Perhaps starting with one pair, I am going to photograph them before and after the wash, to show off what I love about unwashed denim the most (and the reason I never got into the faux-aging craze, now thankfully over): denim more than any other fabric 'absorbs' and reflects the habits and body of the wearer, whether it's the creases around the knees, or a shadow of keys on the front pocket. Those washed-and-sandblasted-to-death jeans weren't capable of that. Still on jeans (and again from Ecotextile News), a recycling program that turns old jeans into insulation. If you do take part, make sure you only donate jeans that are absolutely beyond repair. Anything else would be lip service.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

manufacturing without creating fabric waste

Yesterday I came across the blog for the Queen's Business Forum on the Fashion Industry and a post (scroll down for that beautiful image of Mark's work) that referred to Kathleen's posts about me and Mark Liu at Fashion Incubator. The comment, "This technique is hardly practical for commercial production (at least right away)", is most interesting to me. Throughout the project 'manufacturability' has been a consideration for me; I want the collection to be production-ready, rather than a series of one-off, craft/art garments. There will be a lot of hand-done embellishments, for sure, but I've never thought these are an impediment for small-scale 'mass'-production (though they increase the prices, of course). When I had my label, a few pieces always incorporated hand embroidery, for example. But, with the collection, I am looking at a lot of texts on manufacturing as my guide while I'm designing and making, such as Kathleen's book (I wish everyone in fashion owned this), and texts by Gerry Cooklin, David J. Tyler and many more. I've just been invited to talk about my research to the R&D team of a large Australian manufacturer, and it'll be interesting to see the reactions there. It should prove quite helpful in addressing issues of manufacturing in the discussion part of my thesis.

But, thanks to Amanda at the Q'BFFI blog for the heads up!