category: inspiration

concept book

I know I’ve been absent from here for a little while (again) but it’s because I’ve been busy (not lazy!) – I’m going to take the next several posts to bring this record up to date.

First up, my concept book. I decided some weeks ago that I really needed to delineate the focus of my line – I had so many ideas that were going all over the place, and I was having a hard time organizing and editing. So I took about a week to really comb through all the material (inspiration and ideas) I had generated. I organized everything into a concept book, being very selective about what I included in it, so that it would show a clear point of view and be full of only valuable information.

I am calling my line (for now) Future Architecture, which holds a lot of meaning (I’ll elaborate on the name later) and helps me make appropriate design decisions. In the first few pages of the book, I broke down this title and clearly outlined the concept of the line, including why I feel this concept is relevant. I want to take the “activewear” idea I had previously and grow it into something that has both functional and aesthetic appeal.

The next section is a collection of visual references and inspiration that I feel is valid for this concept. I was particularly selective here, as I wanted to build a clear picture of where I’ll be going with my designs. It was also really important for me to organize the images into groups (per page) because each page represents a visual concept or theme that will appear in my final designs. The first page is about mobile/active utility wear through the visual language of sci-fi and anime.

The next page is about geometric elements used in an architectural, structural way.

Then I included some inspiration pulled directly from existing apparel. I picked these specific pieces as examples of how I see the above concepts already being expressed in clothing presently.

Next I did a study on who I’m designing for: my user. First, I explored her physicalilty as preparation for how she will be illustrated in my final designs. In fashion illustration, the figure’s pose conveys the personality of the clothing, so I will show her in a dynamic, direct, active pose.

I also explored her spirit – I collected the images of iconic women (real and fictional) whose personality traits could merge into a strong, active, fearless adventurer. I included Lady Gaga, Princess Leia, Trinity from The Matrix and Nausicaa from the anime, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

Next I outlined the color palette I will use and some of the materials I will use. The materials section is still in progress while I hunt down the right fabric. The color palette is mostly neutrals with black and cream (in place of bright white), and 3 accent colors, one per look (I’m working towards 3 looks, initially).

The way I had represented the color palette (each color an equal sized square) was a bit misleading to look at, so I did a page of color studies that show more accurately how I will be using color across each look. You can see from these studies that the neutrals will be most prevalent, and the accent colors will be spare and deliberate.

Then I drew up a game plan – I will create 3 looks (initially), each intended for a different level of activity (low, medium and highly active) and attribute the accent colors accordingly. The first look (low activity) will be a dress, the second will be heavier outerwear type top and bottom, and the third look (highest activity level) will be a light top and bottom set.

Finally, I put together some inspiration for accessories and started to list out finishes I’ll use. I picked zippers and buttons that fit in aesthetically and functionally. I also listed out hems and seam types I’ll use, they are more suited to activewear and stretch fabrics. I’m finding it helpful to think of these things early on in the design process, because when I’m sketching things out, I’m already in the mindset of things like elasticized waistbands, and can sketch more on target.

And that’s the book! It relieves a lot of anxiety to have put it all down on paper. I refer to it often as I’m working on the final designs. When all three looks are complete, I will include my drawings of the final designs and photographs of final pieces as the last pages of the book. Then I’ll have a complete record of my process from start to finish!

update: new designs

I’m taking my new idea (fashion meets active wear and vice versa) and running with it. I’ve got a cover-stitch machine en route to me as I type this (thanks completely to my mom & dad – the most supportive and positive parents anyone could hope to have – I’m so lucky!) and I’m rearranging my studio into a workhorse setup so that I can design and produce items efficiently. Yesterday I made some pattern weights (since a lot of knits react badly to pinning), I’ll post about those later. I’m so happy to finally have a concept I can really refine and build on. I’ve been doing a ton of research and designing on paper, some examples below.

inspiration board: balenciaga, marco de vincenzo, vera wang, marchesa, etc

inspiration board: lulu lemon, stella mccartney for adidas, hussein chayalan for puma, alexander mcqueen, alexander mcqueen for puma, dolce & gabbana etc.

design for cropped shrug with elizabethan-inspired pleated collar, layered tank and roomy crops

design for gathered sleeve hoodie w/ kanga pocket & contoured coloring

design for contoured top with puff sleeves and stand up collar and contoured shorts

design for hand painted shading on sleeveless hip-length crewneck

design for flutter sleeve cover-up tunic with stretch-mesh victorian inspired collar

my beef with active wear

Lately I have been working out a lot at my gym, taking a bunch of fun classes and paying more attention to active wear options out there. I am finding that there is a real lack of cool athletic gear available specifically for gym fitness classes like cardio and dance. The only style options available seem to be yoga themed (with graphics like Om symbols, Buddha heads, tribal designs, cheesy repeating patterns) and boring solid color pieces. I’m looking for more modern, sophisticated, even techy styling, and the best I can find is the Stella McCartney Adidas gear – I’m not willing to spend that much on workout clothes, and even that line is fairly standard – mostly tank tops and leggings, some cool jackets and cover-ups.

Also, yoga pants are great for doing yoga, but for cardio/dance classes I’d rather have some space in my clothes for movement and air flow. Most active wear companies like Lululemon and Athleta carry 99% yoga gear, and maybe one pair of roomier lightweight pants. Then there’s Nike, Puma and Adidas, but their apparel is mostly for running and cross-training (whatever that is) and seems to be styled for football/basketball players.

So I’m thinking of exploring the idea of creating a line of active wear with 2 main goals:

1. Create active wear with “activity” in mind – not just yoga or running. Pieces should facilitate movement, release body heat and be highly functional for indoor cardio, specifically group fitness classes, because thats how tons of people work out these days. This line should be reasonably affordable, because your workout clothes should be necessary, not frivolous. And to me, $100 yoga pants feel frivolous.

2. Create active wear that motivates you to work out – this means people should look good in their workout clothes! It may seem silly but this is a big deal: for most people, the hardest thing about working out, whether it’s going for a run or a yoga class or the gym, is just getting there. Nothing de-motivates you faster than squeezing into a pair of yoga pants that sausage-izes your thighs and squishes out your muffin top. Especially if you’re going to a group fitness class where you’re staring at yourself in the mirror the whole time. How can you feel comfortable enough to work out if your every imperfection is on display? But, put on a cool outfit, and you’ll want to get out and show it off.

With all of this in mind, I’m going to try to come up with some good ideas in this area. I’ll be able to bring in styling influences from some of my favorite sources like industrial design, architecture and anime, so the idea is interesting me more and more as I think about it.

Kurosawa’s 100th birthday

Yesterday would have been Akira Kurosawa’s 100th birthday. He was a brilliant and innovative filmmaker from Japan whose iconic movies are as much studies of humanity as they are explorations of light, form and movement. He was a master among masters – so many highly regarded directors cite Kurosawa as an inspiration. Here are three of his films no one should miss:

1. Shichinin no Samurai “Seven Samurai” (1954)

If you’ve never seen a Kurosawa film, you might as well start with the one everyone (but you) has seen. It’s got everything: action, love, sacrifice, all written into a feudal era plot that is still relevant today. This film was famously remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960), also a great film.

2. Rashômon (1950)

This film is known for its use of an innovative story telling technique where multiple people deliver conflicting accounts of an event. This technique has since been used by many others and has become known as “The Rashômon Effect”.

3. Dreams (1990)

One of his later films, this is an intimate telling of short stories based on Kurosawa’s own dreams. At different times they are eerie, sad, hopeful, frightening and comforting. My favorite is the first story about a boy witnessing a kitsune (fox) wedding in the forrest.

On the Kurosawa Wikipedia page, you can read about his reputation as a demanding “Emperor” of a director, and an obsessive perfectionist. After watching his films, it seems that his work only benefitted from these qualities. So aside from the visual and emotional content of his films, I’m also inspired to strive for perfection and expect the best from my own efforts.

inspiration: sketching with Mike & Shan

Lately I have been feeling a bit hindered by my method of sketching out my clothing ideas. I didn’t feel confident enough to start with a blank sheet of paper, so I have been using a croquis I found somewhere – and consequently my sketches are flat, symmetrical and diagrammatic. I always approach it the same way too, which means all my designs look very similar. Bo-ring! I’ve decided to work on it by sketching a bit everyday and reaching out to some talented friends for pointers. It’s really helping!

My friend Mike is quite talented at drawing, here’s proof. He sat down with me to give me some pointers and lend me a small female form to use as a model. It’s so helpful just to have a body to look at while drawing. Mike’s advice is really helping me to “see” in a new way and “record” my vision in my sketches.

Another friend, Shan, lent me some books from her fashion school days. Having some conversations with Shan on the subject, and seeing her work from school, is teaching me the difference between life drawing, fashion illustration and garment diagrams. I realize now that sometimes I will need to draw my clothes as a 2-d “flat” or diagram. But for generating ideas, it’s much more interesting and free to sketch gesturally.

inspiration: polaroid

Maybe it’s trendy at the moment, but I don’t think the allure of Polaroid ever really goes away. With instant film, watching the image appear out of nothing is like witnessing a tiny magic trick. Even though I’ve read up on the science of Polaroid film, it will always be magic to me. I’ve got 5 or 6 different types of Polaroid cameras in my collection, but here are my three favorites:

1. SLR 680

This is basically the same body design as the iconic and super stylish SX-70 (folding single lens reflex) but is equipped with an innovative auto-focusing system that uses sonar – that’s right, sonar!

2. Automatic 100

This camera is from the early 1960s and uses the peel-apart style “pack film”. Holding this up to your eye in public is like putting a brass diving helmet on your head – people look at you like you’re a time traveler.

3. Big Shot

I’d been wanting to get one of these monsters for a while, and this weekend Kim happened to find one at a rummage sale. It works perfectly and was only $6! The Big Shot was Polaroid’s portrait camera – it is designed purely for portraits, with a fixed focal distance of only a few feet. It’s best known as being favored by Andy Warhol, he would use his Big Shot pictures as the basis for his iconic painted portraits.

If you’re interested, here are some shots I’ve taken with these on my Flickr page.

mendocino trip 2009

It’s a tradition now: every spring, a bunch of friends and I trek up to Mendocino and stay in this old Victorian house for a few days. Mendocino has a beautiful but moody landscape, so moody in fact that it convincingly passed for New England in “Murder, She Wrote”. Mendocino is the real Cabot Cove!

I look forward to this trip every year, to sit in front of the fireplace with 12 or 13 of my favorite people makes it feel like Christmas. Last year I took a bunch of polaroids while we were up there, and I just pulled them out again to get excited for this year’s trip. Enjoy!

(side note: going forward I’ll be updating this blog Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays instead of everyday. Cheers!)





on a plain

penguin books

I love Penguin Books. When brilliant designer Jan Tschichold redesigned their covers in 1949 he (literally) wrote the rule book on Penguin book covers. I’d love to collect some early Penguin books, as I’m sure we’ve already got some pretty old ones back home.

image from Penguin Books article on

Lately Penguin has been teaming up with amazing graphic artists to produce deluxe editions of classic novels. They recently released a “couture inspired” collection, three books with covers by super talented and acclaimed fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo. The collection includes Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice and The Scarlet Letter. Try to read some feel-good happy ending type stories inbetween.

Covers for Wuthering Heights, The Scarlett Letter & Pride and Prejudice - illustrations by Ruben Toledo

inspiration: “we keep them fit to fly”

The Library of Congress has uploaded a substantial set of color images from the 1930s and 40s. Particularly striking to me are these wonderful images of women working at the Douglas Aircraft plant in California in 1942. Taken by Alfred T. Palmer, these images are incredible snapshots of their era. The clothing, the machinery, the colors, the lighting – I wish it were a movie, I’d stop everything I was doing to watch it.

See the whole set of color images from the 1930s-40s on Flickr here.

in progress: Queen of Hearts – shoes!

My personal deadline for the Queen of Hearts dress I’m working on is March 5th, the release date for Tim Burton’s new Alice in Wonderland movie. It’s less than two weeks away, which means it’s time to consider details like shoes! Using vintage shoes as inspiration, I have picked these black beauties from my shoe collection – I’m planning on white stockings (Alice style), so these should look more period inspired in context.

I have been keeping these magazine pages in my inspiration box for ages. I don’t even remember what magazine they came from, but the shoes are from the impressively large and immaculately maintained collection of Lillian Williams.