Fashion & Technology
May 9th, 2015
‘Alternative Fashion Strategies’
by Mae Colburn
Indigo dyeing workshop at the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Gallery. Photo: Chris Hyun Cho
‘Alternative Fashion Strategies: Design Incubator with Green Eileen’ (March 30-April 5, 2015) in the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at The New School’s Parsons School of Design was a little like a game of Twister. Students, designers, farmers, and members of the public maneuvered around a portable loom, a knitting machine, an industrial sewing machine, and various other hand-crafting implements stationed throughout the gallery to examine the interplay between industrial manufacturing and local production, testing areas of contact and overlap. Throughout the week, design samples accumulated on walls, tables, drying racks, and even on the radiators, whether de- and re- constructed sweaters, needle-felted fleece, or indigo dyed garments. Some were made in advance of the exhibition and others at workshops held throughout the week on topics ranging from fiber processing to bengala dying to machine knitting. A sense of purpose coursed through the exhibition, and so did a sense of excitement, the kind that emerges when people and materials meet. Laura Sansone
, first interviewed on Fashion Projects in 2013, curated the exhibition. Our conversation shuttled between the work she does with fiber farmers in the Hudson Valley and with designers in New York City, tracing what she envisions can become a tight-knit local supply chain.
Mae Colburn: Let’s start with some of the broader ideas at work. What motivated you to put on the exhibition?
Laura Sansone: Well, I’m interested in this interplay between industrial manufacturing and local production, specifically agrarian businesses, and specifically how those things can work together […] I think it can really help to create economic diversity and grow these smaller enterprises. That’s what motivated me to do this project and what motivates me in my own work as well. […] It’s not always appropriate for them to work together, but I think that it’s a way to start to see a shift, those moments when these two entities can come together – it can shift the economic power and be a good way to rethink how things are structured.
MC: And the idea to shape this into the ‘Design Incubator’?
LS: This started off as a partnership between Eileen Fisher and the students here at Parsons. The Green Eileen program is an initiative with Eileen Fisher where they take back clothing from their consumers, so they have people send back clothing and they resell it in green Eileen stores but the secondhand clothing that they can’t resell they call ‘third life’ and they ask designers to repurpose it. So I had been working on that, and in my quest to repurpose her clothing, I was mixing it with materials from the Hudson valley, from Upstate New York, […] so I started using those materials in combination with the repurposed secondhand clothing, and that became the parameter for the course I teach at Parsons, and also for this partnership. That’s really where this all began.
Eileen Fisher sweaters dyed with indigo and unraveled to be re-woven. Photo: Chris Hyun Choi
MC: So, there were prototypes on display and workshops. There was also a printed material on the walls. How did all of this come together?
LS: The prototypes were from students, and then we added to them during the exhibition. We had lots of workshops going on, and as we generated work we would hang it – so it was kind of an incubator where things were growing. The printed matter came from someone that I had met at the Textile Society of America conference in 2014, Helen Trejo, who is a PhD student at Cornell University and is writing her dissertation about the feasibility of a Fiber Shed in New York State. So we’ve been exchanging information over the past year and I asked her for permission to display some of her research and so a lot of the diagrams that were included in the exhibition were from her. She had some really great maps that showed where the mills and fiber farms are in New York, so that sort of located those for people who came into the gallery to see the work.
MC: What was a highlight of the exhibition for you?
LS: One highlight for me during this exhibition was having people from the farming community come and actually speak to the students about their experiences as farmers and fabric producers. We were talking about the supply chain and one of the farmers who came actually said, ‘I’m going to start right at the beginning of it, and I’m going to tell you what I feed my sheep,’ and I thought that was so incredible to have fashion and design students sitting there and listening to this and making that connection, that it starts with the fiber that comes from the animal, that it starts with the diet, and how that effects the quality of the fiber and the form – I think that’s a great lesson.
MC: To encourage designers to consider other variables beyond say, color and drape?
LS: That’s right. So for me, waste is essential. It’s something that I’ve always cared about and wanted to consider as a designer. Like, where do my cutoffs go? If I’m generating product, what kind of impact does it have? And with the natural dyes as well, we use the waste from farms, we use the carrot tops and concord grapes that you can’t sell – there’s this link to the origin of where things come from, and how that can be integrated into the design process. […] So [at the workshops] a lot of students were deconstructing sweaters and we were re-knitting them and I thought that was really exciting. I also have students who are working deconstructed sweaters into felted pieces, which is really great – mixing the fleece with the Eileen Fisher’s mohair and merino and cashmere materials.
Map of New York State Fibershed showing fiber farms and mills. Helen Trejo Fiber Science & Apparel Design, PhD Student, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University.
MC: I thought it was interesting that the word ‘sustainable’ didn’t appear in any of the material related to this exhibition.
LS: I was trying not to because what happens is that if things get overused – language – they become diluted and people start to dismiss it as something that isn’t important. So I think it’s really useful to always be rethinking things and reframing them. I think that’s part of growth in general. […] I was also trying to steer away from this word ‘artisanal’ because I think that’s also becoming diluted, but that it’s actually really important because ‘artisanal’ can talk about a smaller way to produce things, you know. It can talk about localizing things.
MC: But you did use the word ‘fashion’?
LS: Of course, absolutely, because I really want the fashion industry to play a critical role in changing things. I think it’s so important, because they’re responsible for a lot of the waste that we see in the supply chain – where we’re diminishing value where we could be increasing it. So yes, but I also see what I do as being completely cross-disciplinary. It’s dealing with fashion. It’s dealing with interiors. It’s dealing with architecture – we’re starting to think about how wool can be used as insulation, wool that is waste wool.
MC: So how do you envision the project moving forward?
LS: Well, I would like some designers, especially those who are located in New York and who are on this large-scale level, to build ties with some of these local artisans. They’re doing it globally, but I would really like to see it happening here in the U.S. So that’s something that I would like to see, and for me as a professor, I try to get my students to take on the responsibility of educating consumers. I think that trying to encourage them to design ethically and then to sort of take on this role of educating – I think it’s really necessary for designers: to take on this big task of shifting consumer behavior. You know it’s huge; in a capitalist system, it’s a huge thing to take on and designers need to take on that role.
Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Fashion & Technology, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, Textiles, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
April 20th, 2015
A Review of the Exhibition “Fashioning the Body”
by Rachel Kinnard
Double panniers with pockets. France, 1775–80. Photographer: Patricia Canino.
“There is no natural body, but rather a culturally-defined body that reflects the social requirements of the period in which it exists,” Curator Denis Bruna notes in the accompanying exhibition texts to “Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette.” The exhibition, at the Bard Graduate Center, tells the history of western fashion through the undergarments that provided its foundation. The collection includes such varied items as 400-year-old “Spanish doublet,” corsets for children, and the contemporary push-up bra. During the curatorial tour for the show, Bruna insisted that the exhibition was about “the body–not fashion.” While the exhibition narrates the history of the western body through shaping undergarments, “Fashioning the Body” brilliantly demonstrates how fashion and the body are inextricable from each other. This is an exhibition about the fashion and the body.
Situated in the Bard Graduate Center Gallery’s six-story townhouse, the exhibition spans three floors connected by a spiral staircase. Considering the prudish nature of the items’ original owners, the intimate gallery setting feels appropriate for examining garments that were never meant for public view. The show traveled to New York City from the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris. It was originally shown in 2013 under the title “La Mécanique des dessous,” which translates to “The Mechanics of Underwear.”
Displayed on mannequins hidden under black velvet, these shells from past bodies seem to float in mid-air. The exhibition design is perfect, allowing an unusual intimacy between viewer and object. A whalebone stay is displayed at the particular angle which reveals its internal architecture, the side that was once pressed up against its wearer’s flesh. It’s a rare chance to see the complex skeleton of these bodily casings usually seen only from the exterior.
The ancient underpinnings are brought to life through animated reconstructions placed throughout the galleries. Deliberately displayed on white, full body mannequins to differentiate them from historical garments, the mechanized reconstructions serve as ghostly tour guides wearing self-animated clothing. An articulated panier slowly collapses onto the mannequins hips, demonstrating how a woman would flatten her wide silhouette to pass through a narrow doorway or board a carriage. On another reconstruction, a hoop skirt rises from the floor to encase the frozen mannequin’s lower half.
Bridal corset. United States, ca. 1860–70. Photographer: Patricia Canino.
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Posted in Exhibitions, Fashion & Technology, Museums
July 2nd, 2013
A Review of “Silks and Prints from the Abraham Archive – Couture in Colour” at MOMU
by Philip Warkander
Hubert de Givenchy, Winter 1971/72. Photo: Gian Paolo Barbieri. Gazar Brodé Chenille, Winter 1971/72. Silk and entamine, shantung appliqué. Abraham Archive.
In1982, sociologist Howard S. Becker published the book Art Worlds, in which he argued that art is not the production of single individuals – artists – but rather the result of a number of interactions among people and materials, together constituting the contexts in which art works can be defined as such. According to Becker, art is not the result of one person’s work, but is a value constructed according to specific settings, or art worlds. This perspective has become hugely influential in art theory while also having an impact in fashion studies, most notably through sociologist Yunyia Kawamura’s Fashion-ology: An introduction to Fashion Studies (2004). Explaining how fashion comes into being, Kawamura aligns herself with Becker by claiming that fashion should not be understood as the product of designers working in creative isolation in their studios, but instead as the effect of an entire system of interactions, based on the negotiations between designers, stylists, magazine editors, PR consultants, retailers as well as a number of other actors.
Currently on view at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp is an exhibition exploring the effects of this theoretical perspective on the textiles, prints and fabrics manufactured by the Swiss company Abraham Ltd. The exhibition was originally produced by the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, but the Antwerp version (in the museum’s own words) “recaptures and expands” the original version. Placing the materiality of the fabrics and the print designs at the center of the exhibition, the process of producing prints is explained in detail, not only making for a pedagogical but also for an aesthetically advanced display. For example, the exhibition shows how a rose pattern, which was one of the company’s trademark prints, required nine stencils to print nine colors in nine separate print runs. The fabrics produced by Abraham Ltd. were so intricate that they became – due to the high cost of production – often reserved for haute couture, thus establishing intimate interconnections between the Swiss company and French couture houses such as Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. As a result, Abraham Ltd. became one of the key players in the high fashion industry of the twentieth century, their patterns and textiles shaping much of what is otherwise generally assumed to have been designed within the couture houses.
Installation with 20 Abraham scrapbooks, 2010. Abraham Archive
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Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Fashion & Technology, Museums, Textiles
April 18th, 2013
Fashion Criticism Panel: A Report and Recording of the Event
by Gisela Aguilar
From left Francesca Granata, Robin Givhan, Guy Trebay and Stefano Tonchi. Photograph by Susana Aguirre.
For more reports on the panel, also see “Fashion critics defend their craft” by Kira Goldenberg in the Columbia Journalism Review, as well as “Fashion Criticism: No Respect!” in style.com
In celebration of the fourth issue of Fashion Projects, a panel discussing the current state of fashion criticism was held on March 12, 2013 at The New School. The panel, moderated by Francesca Granata, Assistant Professor of Fashion Studies at Parsons the New School for Design and editor of Fashion Projects featured three distinguished fashion critics, Robin Givhan (the first fashion critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize), Guy Trebay (culture and style reporter for the New York Times), and Stefano Tonchi (the editor-in-chief of W magazine), all of whom were also interviewed for the concurrent issue of Fashion Projects.
The frank conversation took many directions by addressing a number of otherwise avoided topics within the fashion press, from the struggle for fashion writing to be considered a legitimate topic of discussion within established periodicals due to its prescribed association to the feminine realm, to the cultural valence of aesthetics in America versus Europe and how this difference manifests itself in each culture’s appreciation or understanding of fashion. Trebay reminisced on a pre-millennial era when the fashion scene belonged to a small, contained world and where the knowledge of this niche community was not widely dispersed as it is today. Stemming from observations he made in his Fashion Projects interview with Jay Ruttenberg, Trebay remarked that the cultural force of fashion catapulted quickly after 2000 through strategic moves by the few multinational corporations that monopolized the fashion industry. Fashion stars were churned out, runway shows become these theatrical spectacles, and with the aid of digital media, the fashion scene became a globalized attraction. Givhan added that the alliance between Hollywood and the fashion industry has intensified the public’s interest in all things concerning fashion, yet she lamented that this now symbiotic partnership has damaged the credibility of the industry. As such, much of the fashion content published is dominated by celebrity and consumer driven stories that bank off the entertainment value of fashion while doing little to enlighten readers about its intricacies and creative nature.
The discussion brought to the fore a highly debated phenomenon amongst contemporary fashion journalists – the emergence of fashion bloggers. Indeed, the public access and participatory nature of digital media has opened the floodgates to an exorbitant amount of fashion interpretations, criticisms, and narratives, but it is precisely this lack of moderation that concerns the panelists. Between the three fashion critics there was an overall less than sanguine opinion of the fashion conversations found online. Givhan and Tonchi implied that the overt marketing objectives of certain popular fashion blogs compromised the ethics of journalism in that fashion houses and brands utilized these online personalities as PR tools, often times flying them out to Fashion Week or gifting them merchandise to promote on their personal blogs. In regards to the writing found in these digital spaces, Trebay and Tonchi not so subtly stated that the majority of the fashion conversations on blogs lacked a “compelling” factor and were subpar in that frequently the references to fashion history were inaccurate or the observations contributed no original perspectives to fashion discourse. Pointing to the main difference between print and digital media, Givhan observed that online there was no such thing as a correction – mistakes were rectified as “updates.” She went on to explain that because the barrier to entry is so low with digital media, Internet culture has cultivated a value to be placed on timely delivered and easily digestible content rather than well-researched information.
The panel ended on a more personal note with a question from the audience asking the critics to reflect on peers whom they admired. Givhan praised the author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell as well as The Wall Street Journal’s fashion critic Teri Agins. Tonchi paid tribute to his fellow Italians, the late fashion writer and style icon Anna Piaggi and the author and Vogue Italia art and fashion critic Mariuccia Casadio. For Trebay, the work of author and fashion historian Anne Hollander was paramount in cultivating his perspectives on the intimate relationship between the body and clothing. Ultimately, the panelists’ critiques and observations advocated for fashion to be integrated and accepted as a part of a more informed cultural dialogue. Perhaps, the takeaway from this critical discussion could be best summarized by Tonchi’s obvious yet critical advice for the future generation of aspiring fashion writers in the audience – know your history!
Gisela Aguilar is completing her MA in Fashion Studies at Parsons the New School for Design. Her thesis explores the evolving modes of consumption and production of fashion discourse specifically within print magazines and online fashion media.
Posted in Fashion & Technology, Issue #4, Lectures, Publications, Research/University Programmes
November 26th, 2012
Designing the Second Skin: The Work of Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo 1971-1991
by Francesca Granata
Veruschka wearing Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, Vogue 1972, Photo: Richard Avedon
As part of my newish position at Parsons, I taught one of the most interesting and stimulating classes I have ever taught. For a course I developed, called Fashion Curation, graduate students from various programs–Fashion Studies, History of Decorative Arts and Design and MA in Architecture–curated an exhibition of the work of the late Italian-Argentinean designer Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo in the Parsons Gallery at 66 Fifth Avenue, which is due to open December 4th. Focusing on his use of innovative stretch fabric, “Designing the Second Skin” is the first exhibition of the work of Giorgio di Sant’Angelo in New York. A special thanks goes to Martin Price, di Sant’ Angelo’s partner and collaborator, as well as to Tae Smith.
Below is the press release and a sneak preview of some of the garments that will be on view:
On Tuesday, December 4, the opening reception for “Designing the Second Skin: The Work of Giorgio di Sant’Angelo 1971-1991” will be held from 6 to 8 PM at the Aronoson Gallery on 66 Fifth Avenue. The exhibition is curated by graduate students in the MA Fashion Studies, MA in the History of Decorative Arts and Design, and Master of Architecture program at Parsons under the supervision of faculty member Francesca Granata. The exhibit will be on view until Friday, December 14.
Parsons presents the first New York exhibition of the work of designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, an innovative Italian-born American designer from the 1960s through 1980s who explored the ways in which garments truly become the wearer’s second skin. Playing with texture, transparency, and newly discovered fabric technology, Sant’Angelo examined the relationship between exposure and concealment. A highlight from the exhibition is a nude sequined jumpsuit worn by Naomi Campbell and featured in an editorial shoot for Harper’s Bazaar in 1991.
The works on view are drawn from the Parsons Fashion Archive—a collection of nearly 10,000 garments, including a number of pieces donated to Parsons by the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Sant’Angelo works were originally donated to the Met by Parsons faculty member Martin Price, Sant-Angelo’s design assistant and partner, who has been an instrumental force in keeping Sant’Angelo’s spirit alive.
Designing the Second Skin: Giorgio di Sant’Angelo 1971-1991
Dates: Tuesday, December 4 to Friday, December 14
Opening Reception: Tuesday, December 4 from 6 to 8 PM
Gallery Hours: Open daily from 12 to 6 PM, open until 8 PM on Thursday
Location: Parsons The New School for Design, Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, 66 Fifth Avenue
Admission: Free and Open to the Public. Wine and Hors d’oeuvres will be served.
Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Fashion & Technology, Research/University Programmes, Textiles
August 19th, 2012
Interview with Laura Sansone: Fashion + Sustainability – Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
One of Sansone’s two Textile Labs, which she carts to greenmarkets in and around New York City.
Laura Sansone readily acknowledges that she comes from a “crafty background.” She received her B.A. from the Philadelphia College of Art and her M.A. From Cranbrook Academy of Fine Art (both in Fiber). Now, at Parsons’ School for Design Strategies, she teaches spinning and dying, organizes field trips to fiber farms Upstate, and takes students to greenmarkets in and around New York City as part of her mobile Textile Lab. For Sansone, “crafty” means more than technically adept or playfully skillful; it signifies a thoughtful, soulful, tactile appreciation of material productivity.
Mae Colburn: I’d like to begin by asking you about your relationship to this word, sustainability.
Laura Sansone: When I think of sustainability, I don’t just think of environmental issues. I think of the socioeconomic aspects of sustainability, and how to enrich communities through material production. Also, looking at who is making the work and where the materials originate. It’s really about designing with transparency, about realizing the interconnectedness of products and systems, and finding alternatives to commercial production. I think one way to do that is to think about things in a decentralized way, in a way that’s more local, so that communities are more in control of production and consumption.
MC: Could you describe how you arrived at this interpretation?
LS: I started becoming interested in sustainability when I moved to the Hudson Valley in 2003. My partner and I bought an apple orchard up there, and our neighbor, a local farmer, started farming our land and selling at greenmarkets here in the City. So I started to realize how these resources in Upstate find their way to the City, and the importance of venues like greenmarkets. That’s when I began thinking of ways of linking the things that I do [with fiber] to farming.
I was working with Tyvec at the time, so I was already interested in no-waste production. It’s a recyclable polyethelene material with many applications (envelopes, hazmat suits, even high fashion back in the 1960’s in sort of a playful way). I was sending my cutoffs back to Tyveck for recycling, and asking consumers to do the same. The products folded up into envelopes so they could be sent back to be recycled. So I was already thinking along those lines. Once I moved [to the Hudson Valley], I decided I had to go beyond that and try to use natural materials so that everything could be composted. That’s when I started working with organic cottons and natural dyes and that led me to investigate local materials. That’s when I realized that there were fiber farms right up there in the Hudson Valley, and a really active fiber community.
“Paper Wear,” Sansone’s line of recyclable Tyvec clothing.
Years ago, everybody had a spinning wheel in their house, and a loom. Families and villages were really self-sufficient, and while I’m not saying that that [model] is the answer to our global problems, I do find that handcrafting is a way to bring people together. There’s this cohesive nature to it, a real social connection that transcends age, gender, race, economic status. It’s amazing. That’s what I find when I take the Textile Lab out to greenmarkets. Everybody has a story about something that their mother used to knit, or all the yarn they have in their basement, or about how they’re addicted to crocheting. It’s an activity that reminds people of their past. It excites people. Maybe production can happen on a smaller scale, and maybe it can be supported by communities. You know, there’s a certain social importance to being able to produce as a culture, and I find it problematic when a culture stops being productive in a material way.
MC: It seems like every decade experiences a resurgence of craft in some form or another. How would you characterize what we’re experiencing today?
LS: Bauhaus was all about that. Arts and Crafts was all about that. There are these movements in art and design that have to do with seeing an imbalance and searching for a more assertive equilibrium among producers and the way things are made. It does happen frequently and it’s mostly this convergence, these moments in history where craft and design and art converge; right now we’re at this point where there’s a convergence. I call it vernacular craft. That is, more like folk crafts, where designers are really lifting folk methods and adapting them, using them in their designs.
MC: Could you describe the Textile Lab in a bit more detail? You’ve got a cart…
LS: Yes, a cart, and there’s a shelf that comes out in the back and a stove that sits on top. Inside, we have all of our equipment to make dyes: pots, a scale, and a blender to make paste.
MC: What do you do about electricity?
LS: When we bring it to the park, farmer Joe (the farmer who farms on my property) brings a generator for us and sometimes we can plug it in at an outlet in the park, so we find a way.
I have another lab that I received funding for from City Atlas, a project with City University of New York and Artist as Citizen, a smaller one. I spent a good deal of last spring, summer and even fall taking the smaller lab to neighborhood greenmarkets all over the City. That one has gas burners.
The Textile Lab dyepot with sunflowers (above) and stick spinning with local wool (below).
MC: There’s something I really love about your Textile Lab idea, especially in the context of education. You’re teaching students these techniques, then taking students with you to greenmarkets around the city where they teach these techniques to the public. It’s almost viral.
LS: This stuff happens online all the time; there are even social networking sites specifically on handcrafting, like Ravelry. But there’s a social component to going out and making it happen in an organic context like New York City, especially a place like Union Square where people are constantly coming and going. People stop and talk to you, trade stories, share knowledge. We bring the Lab out to the Union Square greenmarket and students just lure people in. Once we had a hearing impaired group come up to the Lab. So there I was trying to explain what we were doing, pointing to things, flailing around, and then all of a sudden one of my students walks up and starts signing. She knew Sign. I was so happy. We had another woman come over, she was from Algeria and she didn’t speak a lot of English, but we gave her a drop spindle. It was a top whirl spindle, and she was trying to spin with it, but we could tell she wasn’t that happy with what we’d handed her. Then we realized she was actually used to using a bottom whirl spindle, the kind that you spin near the ground. We also had a guy from Tibet come up and show the students how to spin on a stick, just a stick, probably like he’d been taught as a boy. Children also come over, especially at Union Square because they have all sorts of educational programs. It’s wonderful, a really nice inclusive moment for everyone.
MC: What would you like to see markets like this become five, ten years down the line?
LS: In my world, I would love to see the market become more than just a greenmarket. To become more like a real marketplace, selling fabric, and handmade shoes, handmade kitchenware, a place of real material commerce in the sense of material goods (not just consumable produce). The market is becoming that way to a certain degree. Something really natural happens there where there’s this sort of bartering that occurs, and I think that’s so important. Like, “I have this, you have that, let’s trade” (the farmer does that with us, he gives us food and farms our land, he brings us bread from a guy at the market who he trades with). You have to produce in order to engage in that sort of economy, but again, a productive culture is a strong culture so it goes hand in hand.
Laura Sansone is an artist, designer, and adjunct professor at Parsons the New School for Design’s School for Design Strategies.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, Textiles, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
August 9th, 2012
Interview with Hazel Clark: Fashion + Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
Hazel Clark derives her perspective on fashion education and sustainability from years of experience as an art and design scholar, educator, and administrator. Her work is informed by a sustained belief in collaborative inquiry and an enduring curiosity about the changing role of fashion through time and space. Old Clothes, New Looks (2005) combines the work of anthropologists, sociologists, economists, and art and fashion historians, and The Fabric of Cultures (2009) features an equally diverse roster of scholars (Clark co-edited both titles). It is this bringing-together of disciplines that also defines Parsons’ M.A. Fashion Studies program, which launched on Clark’s initiative in 2010 and now serves as a vital meeting point for thinkers, and re-thinkers, across the expanding field of fashion.
Mae Colburn: What does sustainability mean to you, especially within the context of slow fashion, which you describe in “Slow + Fashion – an Oxymoron or a Promise for the Future…?” (2008)?
Hazel Clark: To me, sustainability is about trying to establish new parameters of thinking about dressing without excessive waste. We’ve still got to have clothes, and I feel they are a very interesting part of our identity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve got to have the excessive waste surrounding them that we’ve become so used to.
When I wrote [the article you referred to] in Fashion Theory, it was very much instigated by a one-day symposium that I’d attended in Milan organized by Ezio Manzini, who was then at the Politecnico in Milan. It was a bringing together of people from the slow food movement and design, which I felt provided a very useful way of thinking about clothing. It’s very obvious to think about how we can make changes within old models, but it’s the models themselves that need examining, and using parameters or concepts from one area and bringing them to another can be very helpful. It was just a good way of rethinking longevity, and systems, and communities, and the local. Agency as well – thinking about how individuals have agency over the way they dress.
MC: In the introduction to Old Clothes New Looks, you and Alexandra Palmer write that “consumer agency and taste are the final determinations of sales, costs and, ultimately, the fashionability of dress,” which is interesting because we often think of designers are the ones fashioning a more sustainable system. Could you describe that tension?
HC: I think that consumers should have agency because they’re putting out the dollars to buy things and I think there is a tension for designers now, certainly with what one might call the do-it-yourself movement (if, indeed, it is a movement), and this recognition that began a number of decades ago that fashion is not just a one-line dictatorial process where the designer is the auteur and has the agency. It’s a myth that designers have total agency; it’s a seductive myth, but it’s a myth nevertheless. Very few designers have complete agency because they work as part of a team. The production of clothing is teamwork, even though in many cases members of the team (pattern cutters, seamstresses, etc.) remain anonymous. The problem often is that the user doesn’t have the sense of agency, or that sense of confidence to dress themselves. It would be wonderful to think of fashion more as self-styling, more about giving people the means to be comfortable in what they wear, to be confident in what they wear, to know their bodies. I don’t think people are completely dictated to by fashion; fashion is so diverse and so multifaceted that one doesn’t have to be, but I think that building a sense of confidence to create an interesting personality with clothes should be considered a part of fashion.
There are interesting examples. One company I really like is Junky Styling, in London. They have a service called ‘Wardrobe Surgery,’ where people actually take clothes [from their own wardrobes] and work with the two women who run the company to restyle them. I actually mentioned [Junky Style] once at a conference and I remember somebody saying, ‘oh, but it’s terribly expensive’ – but it’s all relative, and I think that’s the other point about how much one is actually paying for clothes and where the profits are being divided. We’ve got to think about the value factor here. […] It’s only been in the last hundred and fifty years that people have had more than three or four things in their wardrobes. That’s why I particularly like the work of British scholar Kate Fletcher, because she’s talking about these different modes or models one might have for different types of clothing so that you can think strategically about your wardrobe.
MC: I wanted to ask you about scholarship in particular. Do you see this moment as an opportunity for a new methodology surrounding dress, one that represents perhaps a more holistic perspective and includes history and theory but also, for example, subjective narratives like oral histories?
HC: I think oral histories are important. There’s been some recent scholarship looking at wardrobes, particularly in the U.K., and scholars like Daniel Miller and his student Sophie Woodward, who are coming from a more material culture or anthropological background, are thinking more carefully about relationships when it comes to clothing. I think one of the issues [with fashion] is that it’s so predicated on the visual, on the image (in fashion magazines and now the internet), and I think we’ve got to consider more the sensorial relationships, the materiality of clothing, and also the capacity that clothes have to sustain us, make us feel as well as look good. […] I just co-taught a two-week course, ‘Fashion and Everyday Life,’ a couple of weeks ago with my colleague from the U.K, Cheryl Buckley, a design historian at Northumbria University. It was a graduate class where we had M.A. Fashion Studies students and M.A. History of Decorative Arts and Design students working collaboratively and we encouraged them to, for example, look at their family histories and bring in personal photographs – to talk about their experience of fashion and clothing within the context of the everyday.
Thinking about the sorts of qualities and relationships we have with our clothing goes hand in hand with acknowledging continuities and sustainability. It really brings us down to a more involved, intimate level and the recognition of the individual experience, and this is being recognized in scholarship. Sophie Woodward, for example, is not just talking with women about their wardrobes; she’s talking with women in their wardrobes (that is, in the presence of their clothes). One of the first books that Daniel Miller produced about consumption, Material Culture and Mass Consumption (1987) – there were a couple of articles in that book where he talked about the problem of dealing with the artifact, and in this country, fashion historian Valerie Steele has used the work of Jules Prown, a leading scholar of material culture [along those same lines]. We still need ways of thinking about and dealing with the artifact, but I do think it demands scholarly discourses that are more collaborative. This is what we’re trying to do in Parsons’ M.A. in Fashion Studies. We called it Fashion Studies because we’re drawing from a variety of disciplines. Fashion exists outside of fashion design and I think teaching this will lead to more collaborative work by faculty, and also by students. It’s a bit of an open space at the moment, but I think there’s a lot of potential there.
Hazel Clark is Research Chair of Fashion, and former Dean of the School of Art and Design History and Theory, Parsons the New School for Design.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Publications, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
June 20th, 2012
Interview with Tamara Albu: Fashion + Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
Tamara Albu teaching design fundamentals to young weavers in Maheshwar, India.
Tamara Albu: It seems that fashion, in general, has a slow start in whatever is happening in the global industry and I think that the same slow start happened with sustainability. We are at the beginning stage in fashion here, but I think we’ve passed the stage of resistance. It’s happening. I’m feeling optimistic now.
As Associate Professor in Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design and former Director of the AAS in Fashion Design program, Tamara Albu plays a central role in defining Parsons’ fashion curriculum. Her enthusiasm resonates throughout the program. Originally from Romania, she travels widely, witnessing for herself the many breakthroughs now occurring within the global fashion system. She described the work of Anne de la Sayette who, for the first time in human history, is effectively producing natural dyes on an industrial scale in France, planting (in Tamara’s words), “huge areas with the blue, the green, the red.” She described a vertically-integrated textile manufacturing plant in India, Pratibha Syntex Ltd., which employs some 8,000 local people and sells cotton seeds to local farmers at half price, asking for payment only after the crop has sold. She described the 2006 Yamamoto exhibition in Antwerp, where visitors were invited into the design process by touching, and even wearing, garments on display. Her optimism, grounded in these discreet innovations, reminds us that sustainable fashion is, perhaps, best defined by example.
Mae Colburn: It might be helpful, at this early point in the conversation, to establish a working definition of sustainable fashion.
TA: Yes, I can name two things that we’re talking about when we refer to sustainability, but before I name those things, I want to say that it’s a very complex system. What might be, let’s say, a good example of social sustainability might not meet the economic or ecologically-sustainable dimension. I think it’s actually easier to define what is sustainable in the food industry than in the fashion industry. It’s more clear-cut, but nevertheless, there are a few factors that may contribute to an item being sustainable or not.
One of the key factors is, of course, the carbon footprint, which brings us to local versus global, or ‘glocal’ – a new term that describes exactly the kind of complexity we’re arriving it. So [a garment] might be produced locally, but distributed globally, or vice versa. Glocal is really a good term to describe this mixture between what is sustainable on a small scale, and what is systemic on a large scale.
That brings us to fast fashion against slow fashion. Slow fashion is more related to the local, where you grow your own animals or plants to obtain the fiber, extract the dyes from plants or insects, make the fabric, create the samples of the collection and produce with a relatively small assembly line that might include members of one’s family or particular community members. […] The social aspect of slow fashion is providing meaningful work to people who would otherwise have to give up their skills in order to make a living. It’s something very valuable on many levels, and very much related to wellbeing. It nourishes the soul and it nourishes the body at the same time.
Handloom women weaver at Gudi Mudi, the social business supported by the WomenWeave Charitable Trust.
I went to India in January with a colleague of mine, David Goldsmith, for a research project (Slow Fashion: India) and we spent a good portion of our trip in Maheshwar, where a group of practitioners and scholars […] were meeting to put together the basis for the Handloom School. The school was launched by WomenWeave to provide education in design, textile technology, business, and sustainability for handloom weavers in Maheshwar, and also to awaken a general knowledge and appreciation of “low tech” hand weaving (which has now been replaced almost entirely by “high tech” fast and large production vertical systems). That being said, I believe that the vertical and horizontal systems can not only co-exist and interact, but can, in fact, complement each other superbly.
MC: How do you think fashion education factors into this larger discussion about changes within the industry?
TA: I think it’s the key element. You get used to something; you don’t want to change. It’s comfortable; you want it to remain that way forever. It’s not easy to change.
MC: And yet fashion is predicated on change, right?
TA: Well, I think it’s a kind of change, but I don’t consider it real change. It’s more like a habit. I mean, maybe I don’t make such a good advocate for fashion (laughs).
But back to why I think education is such a key factor: our students are young, and full of energy, and ready for change, willing to change, eager to change. I mean, we educate our students to not only look at how pretty the fabric is, but where it came from, how it was made, what was involved in the entire process; to not only look at where they bought that pretty fabric, but to be interested in how, who, and why it got to be pretty. And also, what is pretty? When certain factors are considered, you might not find that fabric so pretty. We, as educators, are the ones that need to inject these parameters within every course we’re teaching. I don’t care if I’m teaching Portfolio, or Studio Methods, or Drawing. In every class, there’s so much you could give to make [students] sensitive to these issues. I don’t think [students] should have the option to choose sustainability or not. Every course should have a component of sustainability, no matter what you’re teaching.
MC: So you’re saying that now that we’re past this stage of resistance, the word itself, sustainability, is perhaps no longer needed as a distinguishing factor in programs such as Parsons?
TA: I don’t think so. It was so overused in the beginning. It was just a fashionable way to say nothing, really. To me, it was a buzzword that I felt would come and go. But the more I started reading and being exposed to the word (not being involved myself, just by just listening to what other people had to say), I started becoming more interested. It’s sort of like the air you breathe – it has to be integrated everywhere: the way you eat, clean, smell, touch – all your senses, and all your thoughts, should be guided by this because there is an end to how much this planet can give. It’s not a joke. It’s reality.
MC: How many years have you been at Parsons?
TA: Many years. I started at Parsons in 1992 as an adjunct instructor, and then I became full time in 2000, so twelve years in this position.
MC: So I’m sure you’ve witnessed other changes during this period?
TA: Yes, but I think this is the most dramatic of all. Parsons is really committed to being as involved in this movement as possible. I mean, if I hadn’t had Parsons’ support, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to these conferences, and talks, and symposiums. I went to France, to La Rochelle last year; to Italy for two very important workshops on sustainability; to Sweden – that’s where I met Yvon Chouinard. He was the key speaker at a conference, Design of Prosperity, about sustainability within the fashion industry. I think it was David Goldsmith who asked Yvon about his definition of beautiful fashion, and he said, ‘you know, everybody thinks about fashion differently, but when I talk about what is beautiful in fashion, I think of a seventy-year-old lady in a gorgeous coat that was beautiful twenty years ago, and is still beautiful now.’ For me, that’s a perfect definition of fashion.
MC: Would you add anything to his definition?
TA: No. It’s very much connected to how I feel about fashion, and I know fashion changes every season, so the twenty year old coat, it’s the opposite of what you would think. But for me, it’s beautiful. So no. It should have a long life, not a short life; it should gain value with age. You can look at it for eternity, really admiring every detail and the whole harmony between the labor, the fabrication, the color, the texture. This is why I consider fashion a form of art.
MC: As way to tie up, are there any projects or initiatives at Parsons that have really inspired you?
TA: I’ll give you an example of a course developed by Luciana Scrutchen and Julia E. Poteat called Textile Design Exploration. It’s about making the materials, the dying process, and designing the textile surface in the context of cultural, economic, and ecological imperatives. It’s exciting to see how our students are starting to realize that they can design a garment from scratch by making the fabric (weaving or knitting it), then playing and mixing various types of fibers to create their unique collection. When they are designing that way, they become so much more aware of the power of experimentation and the benefits of trial-and-error, which is so important in the creative process. They learn […] that process is a crucial and rewarding component of their education. It is an education in itself, experimenting, and not only in fashion. I think it’s a general value. When you make your mistakes, you try again, and improve the process as you try, and go a little bit further, a little bit further, and then you perfect that.
Tamara Albu earned her M.F.A. in Fashion Design and Illustration from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest in 1976. She is now an active artist and Associate Professor of Fashion Design at Parsons School of Fashion.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, Textiles, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
May 31st, 2012
Interview with Otto von Busch: Fashion+Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
“In your skillful hands, the sewing machine is a tool for liberation!” reads a passage on Von Busch’s website, where users can download everything from ‘zines, to toolkits, to recycling “cookbooks” such as the one featured above. Cookbook by Otto von Busch.
Otto von Busch is a craftsman, researcher, and activist. He joined Parsons’ Integrated Design Program (IDC) this past September and has since become the natural cynosure of a lively conversation about fashion and social engagement. His website,>SELF_PASSAGE<, features essays on topics ranging from mending, memory, and mindfulness, to spirituality, cyberspace, and sustainability. He speaks English with the lilting, faintly lyrical accent of a highly spirited Swede and has the remarkable ability to detect and demystify subtle metaphors buried in otherwise familiar words (fashion-able, sustain-ability). He is, in short, a master of remastry.
Mae Colburn: You completed your PhD, “Fashion-able: Hacktivism and Engaged Fashion Design,” at the School of Design and Crafts at the University of Gothenburg in 2008. Could you describe how you arrived at that topic?
Otto von Busch: I started studying different crafts at craft schools in Sweden after finishing high school. I really wanted to become a guitar builder, so I was studying carpentry and cabinet making, building guitars, restoring mandolins, banjos, and those sorts of things. Then I decided I should try something else, so I went to another prep school for printing and weaving and started taking patternmaking and sewing classes. But after a while it all felt very introverted, so I started studying art history. I thought ‘ok, I can try this for a while,’ and I got sort of stuck and studied art history for many years.
Later, I studied at a program called Material and Virtual Design (sort of interactive design and industrial design coming together) at Malmo University in Sweden, and that’s how I got into more ‘computer-ish’ thinking. That came together in trying to understand how open source, hacking, and open platforms could apply to fashion. I was recycling clothes and thinking about how I could produce fashion recycling programs (I called them ‘cookbooks’) that people could download, where people could follow my simple instructions but apply them to their own projects, like what was happening in hacking, Wikipedia, Linux, where the user was suddenly engaged as a collaborative knowledge producer – where the user’s knowledge is acknowledged.
So the question became, how could designers encourage people to become designers themselves, so that fashionable meant not only dressing people fashionably but also making them fashion-able – how could that engagement happen? And as a designer; how could you merge that sort of network thinking about open source with fashion? That’s how it came together at the end of my studies, which also became the theme for my PhD.
MC: You discuss Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and John Dewey’s Democracy and Education in your PhD. Could you go into more detail about how educational theory influenced your approach to fashion?
OVB: Of course they were influential as I tried to see how fashion could be turned from a phenomenon of passivity, or of very limited choices funneled through our socio-economic position, into a more liberating or capability-building process. I’m especially fascinated by the heritage of sloyd, the heritage of craft education, or shop class, and how that emerged in the mid 19th century – Friedrich Fröbel and the Kindergarten movement, and the birth of the Montessori school and these sorts of alternative pedagogical models that are very much about producing craft skills, hand-eye coordination, having agency in the world, agency because you are learning how to produce things, how to fix things.
It comes down to basic freedoms: if I know how to fix my bike, I have a choice that I didn’t have before. Knowing how to do something also produces another attendance to the world, another attention, another awareness. If I, as a designer, teach people to reclaim the sewing machine, they can also learn to see the complexity of the details of clothing – they can recognize good craftsmanship, and that’s an agency of empowerment, I think.
MC: I’ve noticed that you’re often described as a heretic, demagogue, hacker, subversive – kind of a ‘bad student.’ And, indeed, much of your work in fashion is about subverting, questioning the system. How does this role translate into your experiences teaching at institutions such as Parsons?
OVB: Those terms are a little provocative of course, but at the same time, as I write in my thesis, a heretic isn’t necessarily an infidel. It’s somebody who uses the system to give way for liberation. Also with demagogue, hacker, I try to put the emphasis on constructive critique, or positive change.
From a pedagogical perspective, working with social engagement in general can be very tricky within the academic industrial context, but that said, you have to create your own free space. I think it was a student of Georg Simmel who wrote about his lectures that he felt as though he was at a place where thought was being born, not where thought was being repeated. I love to do projects like that, where I’m as curious about something as my students, and I hopefully manage to convey that curiosity in a structured way. I’m lucky at Parsons that some of the courses in Integrated Design allow that space to happen. Currently, I’m leading a course called “The Gift,” where students set up Etsy stores, but also challenge the borders of what’s sold on Etsy. Could you sell services? How can you find your own independent voice within a standardized framework like Etsy?
In Otto’s Community Repair Project at the London College of Fashion (2011), students explored the social dimensions of home sewing by collaborating with community members to repair unused clothing. Garments by Rachel Clowes (top) and Renee Lacroix. Photos by Otto von Busch.
MC: You use two phrases throughout your writing that seem to define a certain pedagogy – ‘small change’ and ‘action spaces.’ Could you give us some examples of how these ideas come through in your teaching?
OVB: You’ll have to come and see. Some of the latest projects have turned out really well, such as the Community Repair project with MA students from Fashion and the Environment at London College of Fashion. We used garments in need of mending as probes for students to get to know their neighborhood and their neighbors. Instead of leaving it to the tailor or just throwing it away, how could you engage your neighbors in the repair by barter service in a site-specific way? It produces all these histories, sort of a narrative litmus paper, and brings out local qualities. Of course it’s a small change, but as a fashion designer, how could I set up a brand that would actually work exactly like that? A brand that produces new local action spaces rather than only happening within the commodity economy?
MC: Could you say a few words about how your work relates to sustainability?
OVB: I don’t talk about sustainability in my work, and if I do, I usually talk about abilities and the ability to sustain values. I think that we have to disseminate abilities, whether it’s the ability to repair, or the ability to have attention to detail, or the ability to use the sewing machine. It’s about building those capacities rather than disseminating the commodities. How do we produce the ability, the courage, to dress and interact with the fashion system differently?
Otto von Busch is Assistant Professor of Integrative Fashion at Parsons the New School for Design. He holds a PhD from the School of Design and Craft, University of Gothenburg.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Performance, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
May 23rd, 2012
Interview with Timo Rissanen: Fashion+Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
MLS Pyjamas, 2011
When I met Timo Rissanen, he was fielding a flurry of emails and phone calls. His office was crowded with books. Sample garments were piled next to the door. The arrangement was clearly deliberate, testament to his belief in the productive synthesis of research and design. Rissanen is one of few academics globally to bear the word ‘sustainability’ in his title. He developed the idea of Zero Waste fashion in his P.h.D. dissertation, “Fashion Creation without Fabric Waste Creation.” Now, he’s teaching Zero Waste at Parsons the New School for Design, where he is Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability.
MC: How did sustainability inform your own education?
TR: Zero waste fashion design started for me in 1999. We had to do a written dissertation in our final year of undergraduate before we went into final collection, and mine was on Madeleine Vionnet and her influence on Issey Miyake, John Galliano and Claire McCardell, and myself. I actually wrote in the conclusion that it might be possible to design clothes without wasting any fabric. After graduating, I went into industry, had my own label for a few years, and worked for a few other people. Then in 2004, I decided to put the label on hold and got interested in postgraduate study. […] It’s been just over seven years now.
It’s been interesting the shift over these seven years, too. People were skeptical [of zero waste] in the beginning. Things like ‘I’m not sure it’s possible to design without fashion waste.’ Or whether it’s possible within the industry from a cost point of view. And also a very valid point about the much bigger problem of waste connected to the level of consumption, the idea that we don’t hang on to the clothes we buy. When I started my PhD, the main focus [in fashion and sustainability] was on materials. That’s still important, but it’s just one piece of a much bigger picture: the fashion industry as a system, fashion consumption as a system, human culture as a system.
I would encourage more fashion designers to get into research, although it’s still a fairly new thing. That’s been one of the responses from people [regarding my PhD]: “I didn’t know designers could do a PhD.” It’s sort of a duel challenge because if you look at fashion design in an academic context, it’s done a pretty good job of isolating itself from other design disciplines, so there’s loads that’s been written about design theory over the past 20 to 30 years in particular, but most of the time fashion design doesn’t enter the conversation. I think it’s partly the fact that fashion has lived this very insular existence. Even with the way that fashion media writes about itself or writes about the industry (and particularly fashion designers), there’s a lot of myth building about the practice of fashion design.
MC: Do you feel like there are enough educational resources available to teach sustainability?
TR: When Kate Fletcher’s book came out four years ago, it filled a massive gap, as did the book by Janet Hethorn and Connie Ulasewicz, which I was in as well. Before then, apart from some conference papers and journal articles, there was very little [on fashion and sustainability] in terms of books. I had a book out last year with Alison Gwilt, and I know that Kate Fletcher has a book out this year with Lynda Grose. They’re really the two people that I look up to because they’ve been doing it for two decades. They’ve been so generous with information, recognizing that the problems are bigger than us as individuals and any of the institutions that we might work for and also bigger than any one country. The industry is global. The really tough problems cross boundaries on so many levels. It’s going to take collaboration.
MC: In terms of educational infrastructure, it seems like there are some very strong sustainable fashion programs in England. Am I right?
TR: The London College of Fashion had the first MA program in fashion and the environment but Parsons was quite forward thinking in that sense, too, in that they started advertising the role that I’ve got in 2008. Apart from Kate’s role at LCF, which is Reader in Sustainable Fashion, I think my position is one of the few still globally where the word ‘sustainability’ is actually in the title. I also know that within a couple years, sustainability will be implemented into all of Parsons’ core courses. Quite often, sustainability has had to reside in electives or students get introduced to it in their third or fourth year of study, but really it has to be present from the ‘word go.’ It’s going to be consistent from 2013, and it’s going to be part of the education that everybody at Parsons gets.
We’ve had increasing numbers of seniors taking sustainability on of their own volition. I’m also aware that in the junior and sophomore years there is an increasing number of students that are interested, which is fantastic because they are the future. I feel very optimistic for the industry. That’s the beauty of teaching, really. You see these young people that are so passionate and so committed to keeping what’s amazing and what’s beautiful about the industry but then really working on the things that aren’t. That’s how I see the next 20 to 30 years: trying out lots of different solutions to lots of different problems. It’s going to take us at least 20 to 30 years before we have an industry that’s really about producing beauty in all its aspects. That’s how I look at things now: let’s create an industry that’s about creating beauty, and not just beauty in its garments, but beauty all around.
Endurance Shirt I, 2009
MC: How does the Zero Waste curriculum tie into these themes?
TR: I present Zero Waste within the larger context of fashion and sustainability and explain that it’s is one potential solution to this problem, but that there are of course other problems that have other solutions. The one thing that I really didn’t expect to come out of my research (it was kind of a nice side finding) is that Zero Waste fashion design can really be a gateway for other fashion design. You simply can’t design Zero Waste fashion in the same way that a lot of fashion is designed in the industry, where design is considered to be a sketch which is then given to a patternmaker. In Zero Waste fashion design, you have to begin making the pattern before you know how the garment is going to look. What that’s saying is that patternmaking is integral to the design process. That’s a shift in thinking and a challenge for a lot of people – both students and a lot of industry people that I’ve spoken with – because historically in fashion education, but also the way the industry is organized, all of those skills tend to exist within their own categories: you’ve got the designers, the patternmakers, the cutters, and the machinists, and there’s kind of a hierarchy. With Zero Waste, you have to bring the patternmaking and the cutting and the making into the design process. Once that shift happens, it actually becomes very easy.
When I show students [examples of] Zero Waste pattern layouts, I always ask whether anyone is scared. Some of them always say ‘yes’ because they see these beautiful, finished Zero Waste pattern layouts. To some of them, these look like a form of witchcraft or black magic. But that’s just the final product. The process of getting there can be quite messy. That’s probably the one thing that’s shifted in my teaching: I make sure that I show the messy parts of the process, this combination of sketching, patternmaking, paper-folding, draping. Quite often I can’t say that ‘I designed that garment through draping’ because there were all these other messy parts to it. So I share that with students, but I don’t expect them to work like me. Every designer works differently. It’s dangerous to paint a picture of fashion design as one formulaic process.
Endurance Shirt I (Pattern), 2009
MC: Can you describe how sustainability integrates itself in the classroom setting, within the curriculum, even within the student dynamic?
TR: With my class of seniors, a lot of [the curriculum] has to do with asking questions and figuring out their place in the world as designers and as human beings. I’ve had students say ‘Why would I design anything ever, the world doesn’t need any more clothes.’ To me, that’s the most beautiful thing a student can say. Of course to complete their degree, they’ll have to produce their ‘six looks,’ but it’s a beautiful question to be faced with, because you only have to go shopping for half an hour to know that there’s too way too much stuff in the world.
Whether you worry about fabric waste or animal rights – whatever it might be – all of those things have to do with personal ethics. And that goes back to my teaching. I don’t impose any of those things on my students. What my job really is, is to give students the best possible information and a variety of viewpoints.
MC: You mentioned that research is really important for fashion designers. Could you explain?
TR: What I would really love to see is more questions asked about fashion design practice itself. Historically, I think that a lot of what we – fashion designers – thought about fashion design was based on assumptions. But it’s shifting. Every year there’s more fashion designers doing either Masters or Doctorate degrees, and that’s great. It’s not about academizing fashion design. It’s really about learning more about what we actually do and how it can be done in the future.
Timo Rissanan is Assistant Professor of Design and Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design. He previously taught fashion design in Australia for seven years.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
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