Semester in Review: Part 2

An example of haute couture: Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture Spring Summer 2011

An example of haute couture: Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture Spring Summer 2011

My last blog went into detail about the education I have gained in my semester at FIT. I have learned so much technically about designing and building clothing, but there is so much more I’ve absorbed while here in New York. I think the most interesting part of being here is learning about and understanding the machine that is the Fashion Industry.

Let’s talk Haute Couture versus Ready to Wear clothing.

Haute Couture translates from French to mean to literally mean “high dressmaking”. It is defined as "expensive, fashionable clothes produced by leading fashion houses.” So all those cool, expensive, edgy fashion week pieces you see on Pinterest are generally Haute Couture. They are constructed for the exact model who is wearing them and are one of a kind. Designers use these as a baseline to create custom pieces for potential buyers who have a lot of money to spend.

Haute Couture shows are very flashy and the pieces are worth thousands upon thousands of dollars, which is really fun and cool for an artist creating them. But the actual customers for that type of work are, well, rich people. The cheapest pieces usually cost only as low as $10,000. The highest priced items maybe upwards of $100,000 depending on the detailing and construction. 

There is also another type of fashion called Ready-to-Wear, which means that they garments are created to be available in many sizes in storefronts or online. Generally the price point of ready-to-wear is much more affordable. Anything with a size on it can be considered ready-to-wear.

I always thought I wanted to do fancy avant garde runway pieces per the haute couture style. I adore Alexander McQueen (although what fashion student doesn’t?) and some of the really bold and daring concepts of other designers such as Iris Von Herpin or John Paul Gaultier.

After spending a semester in New York I realized that I want to make clothes that are accessible to everyone, in every way. I want everyone to have the opportunity to look amazing. In that way, I realized haute couture is not for me in the long run.

My true calling in life is to fight for those who don’t have as many (if any) options to be fashionable. When I told people I was going to fashion school, it was amazing to me how many people brought it to a personal level: “You should design a pair of jeans that fit like this!” “I’d love to have a shirt that works with my body type that is low here and high here.” “I want a skirt that I can put on for work that fits like this so it won’t ever be too short,” and the list goes on and on.

I wrote a blog back in the middle of the semester about my serendipitous meeting with The Art of Dressing Curves author Susan Moses. She inspired me to question the status quo and make my own journey. There are plenty of celebs like Tim Gunn out there being quite vocal about the size discrepancies in fashion. I can’t tell you how often people share his statements or videos of him talking about sizing with me.

However, after this semester, my response is always the same.

How is it is the designer's fault when the education system isn't teaching plus sizing in regular curriculum? It’s easy to go after designers who have made it in the fashion world as it is. It’s easy to get frustrated at them for not being inclusive in sizing. However, how are designers supposed to be inclusive when the very institutions that teach them how to design are so stuck in the past?

I had to go see the amazing Susan Moses again when she did a book signing during the holidays. She's my hero!

I had to go see the amazing Susan Moses again when she did a book signing during the holidays. She's my hero!

I currently go to one of the top 3 fashion schools in the WORLD, and yet, I only have the option of learning to drape on a size 6-8 dress form. My background creating custom fashions for people of all shapes and sizes has taught me that draping on a model that is a 10 or greater takes different technique and a different eye. So how are designers supposed to *know* magically how to design for curvier ladies if we never learn? Especially in a top school?

After meeting Susan, I decided that I needed to take my education into my own hands and bend the rules to integrate bigger sizes.

I found some teachers were very supportive of me pursuing plus size fashion, while others were quite lukewarm about it. Not that I blame them; they have made their careers on doing fashion as it is right now. And old habits die hard. I find it somewhat like the world of ballet, opera, or other "high art" forms. People want to do things the way that they have always done them, and innovation makes people uncomfortable sometimes. Especially if they have made their mark on the world in the current structure of the artform. When I sang in the opera, I always had a hard time because it was just so rigid. I served on the board of directors for Opera Fort Collins for two years, and I found most of my suggestions on how to bring younger people in were not something people wanted to consider. Opera was always this price, and these shows, and that was that. However, as we have seen in the world of Opera, lack of innovation does eventually lead to downfall. 

So how do we move forward? How do we innovate? If more students and teachers decide to push the envelope and work towards teaching both model as well as average American sizing, we can create a new normal. And not just sizing up from a size 6 - actually creating garments made for our curves from the get go, not as an afterthought. By the way, that’s why so many clothes look super cute on a size 4, but do not work for a size 12. As women gain sizes they also have curves that extend in different ways, not the way a smaller size does. Just adding ease into sizing as it goes up only works to a certain point, and then ends up looking boxy because it doesn’t compliment a woman’s curves. That's why it is important to break the standard and start actually designing clothes at different sizes.

This semester, this is what I did to fight for women like me: 

I requested to create plus size fashion illustration in my fashion design class. I was met with opposition from my teacher, so I started doing my own research on beautiful plus size illustrations. I want to work on my personal illustration style, and you can bet that although I didn’t do plus size for my projects, I will be working on it independently and pushing for this semester’s teacher to allow me some leeway.

In my sewing class, our last project was to sew a pair of pants from a size 8 pattern that was provided. I requested to make a pair of pants that would actually fit my own body. My teacher showed me how to take an existing pair that fit me and make a pattern from it (an awesome skill to know anyway). So I made a custom size 12/14 pair of corduroys rather than the normal size 8.

My term garment from draping class

My term garment from draping class

In my soft silhouette draping class, my teacher allowed me to pad my dress form up in order to make it size 12 for our final project. I used 2 sets of Fabulous Fit dress form pads to recreate my body measurements for my term garment. My final dress turned out amazingly, and FITS ME. My professor was very encouraging and super helpful throughout the process. He brought in other teachers to look at my work, and even pointed my final to the department chair on grading day. Unfortunately she didn’t seem very impressed, but again I have found this kind of apathy is deeply rooted in the industry.

All of my effort required extra energy and time. For me, this is a cause that is worth fighting for. But I understand why any other student, especially younger students, wouldn’t pursue such a path in school. But I am going to continue challenging myself and my teachers for another semester so that I can truly earn the education I am aspiring to have.

I'll keep looking for opportunities to innovate my own design during school to make it more plus size/normal size friendly. I’ll keep fighting the system that wants to stay in the past to help ease it into the future. I'll keep hoping to make a difference

Let’s work together to create a new normal in fashion. Here's to the Spring semester!