Note: This is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave yesterday at Broome Community College in Binghamton, New York. It’s a simple list of 10 things I wish I’d heard when I was in college.
All advice is autobiographical.
It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past. This list is me talking to a previous version of myself.
Your mileage may vary.
1. Steal like an artist.
Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
The honest artist answers, “I steal them.”
I drew this cartoon a few years ago. There are two panels. Figure out what’s worth stealing. Move on to the next thing.
That’s about all there is to it.
Here’s what artists understand. It’s a three-word sentence that fills me with hope every time I read it:
It says it right there in the Bible. Ecclesiastes:
That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.
Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of previous ideas.
Here’s a trick they teach you in art school. Draw two parallel lines on a piece of paper:
How many lines are there? There’s the first line, the second line, but then there’s a line of negative space that runs between them. See it?
1 + 1 = 3.
Speaking of lines, here’s a good example of what I’m talking about: genetics. You have a mother and you have a father. You possess features from both of them, but the sum of you is bigger than their parts. You’re a remix of your mom and dad and all of your ancestors.
You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.
We were kids without fathers…so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history, and in a way, that was a gift. We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves…Our fathers were gone, usually because they just bounced, but we took their old records and used them to build something fresh.
You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”
An artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: hoarders collect indiscriminately, the artist collects selectively. They only collect things that they really love.
There’s an economic theory out there that if you take the incomes of your five closest friends and average them, the resulting number will be pretty close to your own income.
I think the same thing is true of our idea incomes. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.
My mom used to say to me, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
It used to drive me nuts. But now I know what she means.
Your job is to collect ideas. The best way to collect ideas is to read. Read, read, read, read, read. Read the newspaper. Read the weather. Read the signs on the road. Read the faces of strangers. The more you read, the more you can choose to be influenced by.
Identify one writer you really love. Find everything they’ve ever written. Then find out what they read. And read all of that. Climb up your own family tree of writers.
Steal things and save them for later. Carry around a sketchpad. Write in your books. Tear things out of magazines and collage them in your scrapbook.
Steal like an artist.
2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to start making things.
There was a video going around the internet last year of Rainn Wilson, the guy who plays Dwight on The Office. He was talking about creative block, and he said this thing that drove me nuts, because I feel like it’s a license for so many people to put off making things: “If you don’t know who you are or what you’re about or what you believe in it’s really pretty impossible to be creative.”
If I waited to know “who I was” or “what I was about” before I started “being creative”, well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things that we figure out who we are.
You’re ready. Start making stuff.
You might be scared. That’s natural.
There’s this very real thing that runs rampant in educated people. It’s called imposter syndrome. The clinical definition is a “psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” It means that you feel like a phony, like you’re just winging it, that you really don’t have any idea what you’re doing.
None of us do. I had no idea what I was doing when I started blacking out newspaper columns. All I knew was that it felt good. It didn’t feel like work. It felt like play.
Ask any real artist, and they’ll tell you the truth: they don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.
Have you ever heard of dramaturgy? It’s a fancy sociological term for something this guy in England said about 400 years ago:
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts…
Another way to say this:
I love this phrase. There’s two ways to read it: Fake it ‘til you make it, as in, fake it until you’re successful, until everybody sees you the way you want, etc. Or, fake it til’ you make it, as in, pretend to be making something until you actually make something. I love that idea.
I also love the book Just Kids by Patti Smith. I love it because it’s a story about how two friends moved to New York and learned to be artists. You know how they learned to be artists? They pretended to be artists. I’ll spoil the book for you and describe my favorite scene, the turning scene in the book: Patti Smith and her friend Robert Maplethorpe dress up in all their gypsy gear and they go to Washington Square, where everybody’s hanging out, and this old couple kind of gawks at them, and the woman says to her husband, “Oh, take their picture. I think they’re artists.” “Oh, go on,” he shrugged. “They’re just kids.”
The point is: all the world’s a stage. You need a stage and you need a costume and you need a script. The stage is your workspace. It can be a studio, a desk, or a sketchbook. The costume is your outfit, your painting pants, or your writing slippers, or your funny hat that gives you ideas. The script is just plain old time. An hour here, or an hour there. A script for a play is just time measured out for things to happen.
Fake it ’til you make it.
3. Write the book you want to read.
Jurassic Park came out on my 10th birthday. I loved it. I was kind of obsessed with it. I mean, what 10-year-old wasn’t obsessed with that movie? The minute I left my little small-town theater, I was dying for a sequel.
I sat down the next day at our old green-screen PC and typed out a sequel. In my treatment, the son of the game warden eaten by velociraptors goes back to the island with the granddaughter of the guy who built the park. See, one wants to destroy the rest of the park, the other wants to save it. Of course, they fall in love and adventures ensue.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was writing what we now call fan fiction—fictional stories based on characters that already exist.
10-year-old me saved the story to the hard drive.
Then, a few years later, Jurassic Park 2 came out.
And it sucked.
The sequel *always* sucks compared to the sequel in our heads.
The question every young writer asks is: “What should I write?”
And the cliched answer is, “Write what you know.”
This advice always leads to terrible stories in which nothing interesting happens.
The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s write what you *like*.
Write the kind of story you like best.
We make art because we like art.
All fiction, in fact, is fan fiction.
The best way to find the work you should be doing is to think about the work you want to see done that isn’t being done, and then go do it.
Draw the art you want to see, make the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read.
4. Use your hands.
My favorite cartoonist, Lynda Barry, she has this saying: “In the digital age, don’t forget to use your digits! Your hands are the original digital devices.”
When I was in creative writing workshops in college, all manuscripts had to be in double-spaced, Times New Roman font. And my stuff was just terrible. It wasn’t until I started making writing with my hands that writing became fun and my work started to improve.
The more I stay away from the computer, the better my ideas get. Microsoft Word is my enemy. I use it all the time at work. I try to stay away from it the rest of my life.
I think the more that writing is made into a physical process, the better it is. You can feel the ink on paper. You can spread writing all over your desk and sort through it. You can lay it all out where you can look at it.
People ask me why I don’t develop an iPhone or iPad Newspaper Blackout app, and I tell them because I think there is magic in feeling the newsprint in your hand and the words disappearing under that marker line. A lot of your senses are engaged–even the smell of the fumes add to the experience.
Art that only comes from the head isn’t any good. Watch any good musician and you’ll see what I mean.
When I’m making the poems, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like play.
So my advice is to find a way to bring your body into your work. Draw on the walls. Stand up when you’re working. Spread things around the table.
Use your hands.
5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
Speaking of play — one thing I’ve learned in my brief tenure as an artist: it’s the side projects that blow up.
By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens.
The blackout poems were a side project. Had I been focused only on my goal of writing short fiction, had I not allowed myself the room to experiment, I’d never be where I am now.
It’s also important to have a hobby. Something that’s just for you. Music is my hobby. (That’s me at Guitar Center.)
While my art is for the world to see, music is for me and my friends. We get together every Sunday and make noise for a couple of hours. It’s wonderful.
So the lesson is: take time to mess around. Have a hobby. It’s good for you, and you never know where it may lead you…
6. The secret: do good work and put it where people can see it.
I get a lot of e-mails from young artists who ask how they can find an audience. “How do I get discovered?”
I sympathize with them. There was a kind of fallout that happened when I left college. The classroom is a wonderful, if artificial place: your professor gets paid to pay attention to your ideas, and your classmates are paying to pay attention to your ideas.
Never in your life will you have such a captive audience.
Soon after, you learn that most of the world doesn’t necessarily care about what you think. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. As Steven Pressfield said, “It’s not that people are mean or cruel, they’re just busy.”
If there was a secret formula for getting an audience, or gaining a following, I would give it to you. But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: “Do good work and put it where people can see it.”
It’s a two step process.
Step one, “do good work,” is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts. Make stuff every day. Fail. Get better.
Step two, “put it where people can see it,” was really hard up until about 10 years ago. Now, it’s very simple: “put your stuff on the internet.”
I tell people this, and then they ask me, “What’s the secret of the internet?”
Step 1: Wonder at something. Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.
You should wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about. If everybody’s wondering about apples, go wonder about oranges.
One of the things I’ve learned as an artist is that the more open you are about sharing your passions, the more people love your art.
Artists aren’t magicians. There’s no penalty for revealing your secrets.
Believe it or not, I get a lot of inspiration from people like Bob Ross and Martha Stewart. Bob Ross taught people how to paint. He gave his secrets away. Martha Stewart teaches you how to make your house and your life awesome. She gives her secrets away.
People love it when you give your secrets away, and sometimes, if you’re smart about it, they’ll reward you by buying the things you’re selling.
When you open up your process and invite people in, you learn. I’ve learned so much from the folks who submit poems to the Newspaper Blackout site. I find a lot of things to steal, too. It benefits me as much as it does them.
So my advice: learn to code. Figure out how to make a website. Figure out blogging. Figure out Twitter and all that other stuff. Find people on the internet who love the same things as you and connect with them. Share things with them.
7. Geography is no longer our master.
I’m so glad I’m alive right now.
I grew up in the middle of a cornfield in Southern Ohio. When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was hang out with artists. All I wanted to do was get the heck out of southern Ohio and get someplace where something was happening.
Now I live in Austin, Texas. A pretty hip place. Tons of artists and creative types everywhere.
And you know what? I’d say that 90% of my mentors and peers don’t live in Austin, Texas. They live on the internet.
Which is to say, most of my thinking and talking and art-related fellowship is online.
Instead of a geographical art scene, I have Twitter buddies and Google Reader.
Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “There’s only one rule I know of: goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
The golden rule is even more golden in our hyper-connected world.
An important lesson to learn: if you talk about someone on the internet, they will find out. Everybody has a Google alert on their name.
The best way to vanquish your enemies on the internet? Ignore them.
The best way to make friends on the internet? Say nice things about them.
9. Be boring. It’s the only way to get work done.
As Flaubert said, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
I’m a boring guy with a 9-5 job who lives in a quiet neighborhood with his wife and his dog.
That whole romantic image of the bohemian artist doing drugs and running around and sleeping with everyone is played out. It’s for the superhuman and the people who want to die young.
The thing is: art takes a lot of energy to make. You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff.
Some things that have worked for me:
Take care of yourself.
Eat breakfast, do some pushups, get some sleep. Remember what I said earlier about good art coming from the body?
Stay out of debt.
Live on the cheap. Pinch pennies. Freedom from monetary stress means freedom in your art.
Get a day job and keep it.
A day job gives you money, a connection to the world, and a routine. Parkinson’s law: work expands to fill the time allotted. I work a 9-5 and I get about as as much art done now as I did when I worked part-time.
Get yourself a calendar. (And a logbook.)
You need a chart of future events, and you need a chart of past events.
Art is all about the slow accumulation over time. Writing a page one day doesn’t seem like much. Do it for 365 days and you have a big novel.
A calendar gives you concrete goals, keeps you on track, and the nice reward of crossing things off and watching the boxes fill up.
Any goal you want to accomplish: get yourself a calendar. Break the task down into little bits of time. Make it a game.
For past events, I suggest a logbook. It’s not a regular journal, it’s just a little book in which you list the things you do every day. You’d be amazed at how helpful having a daily record like this can be, especially over several years.
It’s the most important decision you’ll ever make.
And marry well doesn’t just mean your life partner — it also means who you do business with, who you befriend, who you choose to be around.
10. Creativity is subtraction.
It’s often what an artist chooses to leave out that makes the art interesting. What isn’t shown vs. what is.
In this age of information overload and abundance, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s important to them.
Devoting yourself to something means shutting out other things.
What makes you interesting isn’t just what you’ve experienced, but also what you haven’t experienced.
The same is true when you make art: you must embrace your limitations and keep moving.
Creativity isn’t just the things we chose to put in, it’s also the things we chose to leave out. Or black out.
In my last blog I wrote about working with our fitting model, Jenny, and the process of pinning and cutting a spontaneous dress on her before the Paris show. Jenny sent me this great description of her own experience as our model which I thought you would be interested in reading as the final part of my description of how a collection is formed. I think it’s the perfect conclusion.
Memoirs of a fitting model When I started my internship at Vivienne Westwood Studios in December I had no idea I would be a part of all the things I have been. My second day at the studio, I was asked if I would mind to help out with the fittings. As the actual fitting model. Considering myself a creative, highly sensitive soul and not having ever done anything similar, I was a little alarmed but said yes of course I would love to help. During this time I got to experience up close many, many various things and see how the garments were brought to life from rough calicos to the most amazing pieces made with out-of-this- world fabrics. As I clumsily walked up and down in shoes that were too big for my feet in front of Andreas and Vivienne and their team of patternmakers I learned how important it is to find out how the garments not only look but also move and feel. I will explain some events in the way in which they unfolded to me.
Now, the whole month of February was the most intense with me running back and forth trying on various things. One piece here, another one there, one newly attached sleeve here and one altered loose leg there. To my surprise, some things were even made directly on my body. One of the many highlights was the Gulix dress, made from three different fabrics; a strip of the custom made weaved eagle print, of silver sparkling stretch fabric and gold sequins. After a few attempts making it on a mannequin, I was asked if I would mind if they would pin the dress around my body, as then it is easier to see all the proportions, how it moves and if it is comfortable. So, the different pieces were pinned around my body bit by bit by Vivienne with the help of her wonderful assistant Luca. It was a long process to get every bit to look how they wanted it to, both the front and the back, which were very asymmetrical. It was also a challenge to be able to move the arms comfortably, the material there being gold sequins and pinned very tightly. However, it was all achieved and after the right shape of everything was found the pins were exchanged for safety pins so I could remove the dress without scratching myself or losing the positions of the points that were to be sewn. Then carefully a pattern was created by the delightful intern Elena, all the pieces were cut out of the right fabric and sewn together.
Some pieces were remade from previous collections, some fabrics were custom made for the collection like the weaved Dionysus /eagle print, one dress was inspired by the great Marlene Dietrich, others were made from miniatures draped by Vivienne or sketches made by Andreas. Separate pieces were suddenly combined and together formed completely different looks. I realized just how different fabrics can be used in various ways. There are different types of calico to resemble the desired fabric in the way it falls and sits. One example is there was a show stopping enormous purple dress from a previous collection out of heavy taffeta that looked so royal and rich. I tried it on several times with patternmaker Rickard in a newly made calico sample and it was just like the purple dress in the way it draped, moved and felt. Imagine my surprise when one day I came to try it on again and the fabric it had been cut in was nude tulle. The light fabric fell in a dramatically different manner making the shape change completely and it was easier to move in, lighter and softer. In the show its train was also draped differently, instead of flowing loosely at the back, it was wrapped around the body. That this dress was made using the same pattern as the purple dress was unrecognizable. A great example how the same pattern can be used with different fabrics to create completely different looks.
Out of the many, many amazing clothes, one that I wanted to especially mention is the heart dress. This piece was originally from the collection Gaia!-The Only One, spring/summer 2011, and now its destiny was to be reinvented. Patternmaker Barbara took the existing pattern and made a new calico. Previously, it had been a shirt and dress so it would build on that but be developed further. There were countless fittings with this piece and it was not until the showroom in Paris that I would see the final product in the real fabric. One of the first things that changed with the piece was, the addition of sleeves, which was not the easiest thing to do to a heart shaped number. It took time to make them look as part of the shape and also feel comfortable for the wearer. It had a tight corset inside that seemed to get tighter in the different calicos. Andreas wanted it each time more dramatic, more uplifting. It was meant to stand up by itself and not hang on the body. I should mention here that while trying these garments on I had no idea what fabrics or how the end result was supposed to be. For me it was all a surprise at the end. Especially this piece turned out to be a complete surprise to me.
There was a sweet man who makes tutus for the Opera and for this collection he had made a huge tulle skirt out of 60 metres of the most luxurious black tulle. It was just draped on a clothes hanger hanging in the couture department when Bridget came to get me to try something on. It looked amazing hanging there. Like a dream. A magical dream of infinite layers of tulle. I tried it on with a black T-shirt and the train was so long in the back I had to walk in a circle to be able to turn around. Trying on this skirt was one of my most memorable moments. It was so dramatic. Breathtaking. I was pretty much speechless and just wanted to take it all in to remember that moment forever.
Only days before the show I was asked to try the black tulle skirt on again and suddenly here they came with the heart shaped dress to put on top of it. Now I do not know if that was the plan from the beginning and I was maybe the only one who had not known the pieces would be put together but in any case on top it went and the black tulle skirt took on a completely different life. It was even more dramatic, more fantastic which I had not thought could be possible. However, the heart dress was still in calico. Boning at the top edges – made it stand up all by itself. Suddenly out of nowhere Bridget pulled out a handful of black feathers and stuck them inside the dress in small loopholes that I had not noticed were around the neckline. It was incredible. To get into the lift with three people and this massive dress with feathers was not the easiest but somehow we managed to squeeze in. We were going up to the top floor to show Vivienne and Andreas. When we came down again, there was a new slit in the front of the piece cut by Andreas and some tulle had been pushed through it. He had ripped a strip of calico from somewhere and tied a bow through the slit.
The night before leaving for Paris I tried the piece on for the last time, the corset was tighter and the heart shaped dress part was still in calico. The whole department was delighted with how Barbara and the machinist Janet had managed to get the heart to stand up so well and that it all looked so wonderful. I was shown the fabric it would be made in, leopard-looking orange printed material and I could only imagine what it all would look like.
The following day when I arrived in Paris at the showroom, it was already in full swing and some of the garments were being altered, a ballerina dress of sequins and tulle looked like it had been brutally slashed to create holes in the bodice, sweet intern Franka was taking in loose fitting boots, making them tighter, and some skirts were opened and re-sewn. There was a spectacular hand embroidered dress with gold flowers still being sewn. Then I saw it hanging in the showroom, the finished heart dress. Just hanging there among the rest. Still looking like a big dream. Like it had always been meant for it to look like that. It was finished and now silently awaiting its moment.
The day of the show, backstage, the accessories were added to the outfits, changing the looks even further. With some I almost did not even recognize the individual pieces without concentrating, they had become complete ensembles, as if organically grown together. There was one look that stands out in my mind, consisting of a silver shirt, boxer shorts peeping through, a long white skirt and hat. It was embellished with enormous gold earrings and a big matching necklace. It looked rich and glamorous. I recall I tried that skirt on the night before still unaware of what top it would be paired with. It was just one of many wonderful surprises backstage at the show. It was thrilling to see all the models with the hair and makeup done walking around with the clothes, laughing and talking, breathing life into them.
After the show was over and back at the studio, the seams in the discarded calicos were opened and all parts carefully removed so the fabric could be used again for something else. This was true also for the heart dress calicos. How strange it was to see all the pieces that only a week ago had been carefully stitched together be now taken apart like that. A real eerie feeling that something had ended, it was over. But I guess so the cycle goes.
This was just a small, small account of things that took place with a few of the many, many garments during this collection, there was so unbelievably much more. Almost every garment made was somehow altered and redeveloped to be the best it could be. Some in the end were not shown in the fashion show in Paris. However, the ones that were took a lot of different roads to the catwalk, some more winding than others. But all fuelled by endless amount of thought, work and passion.
[this is an old post from Vivienne Westwood’s Get a Life blog. I LOVE her, and for those of you who underestimate her, look at the way she works and her Art. She might not always do what other designers are doing, but that is what separates her from the rest; truly Unique]
Reading the manifesto - Print of skirt inspired by tablecloth in Matisse painting
I was so carried away by my last Gold Label show that I have decided to describe in some detail how a collection is formed.
I don’t want to use this website to promote my fashion. It is supposed to be about ideas and how we can save the world and also have a better life – Get a Life! But I think it’s a good idea to include my ideas about fashion every now and again. So, to begin…
World Wide Woman (If you would like to know more about the name of this collection, read the press release in ‘The Latest’).
Sometimes I do know the idea for a collection but this time I started really late with no idea except for a fragment of precious ribbon I had seen pictured in an old sales catalogue I discovered among my books. I wanted to get a copy woven, a ribbon I could cut up into same size pieces and sew on to t-shirts instead of graphics. I thought I’d love to wear a bit of old fabric instead of a slogan for a change. The original was mediaeval and the design had such a feeling of that time, formalized eagles in silk and gold threads circumscribed within an undulating chain motif.
Sweater with brocade sewn on pocket
All our production is in Italy (all prototypes, however, are done in our Battersea studio). I asked them to find a ribbon factory. Now I had to choose fabrics which he and others had pre-selected from the fabric fair. The less fabric the better, I think, too many and the possible permutations become endless as the ideas gather. And I like to ‘cook’ with basic ingredients. I kept to basic fabrics; some I let in the natural colour of the fiber and as it comes from the loom. I love our toiles, our prototypes which we make in the natural calico before we decide the final fabric; it’s as if the garment epitomizes the first idea of itself.
left: Shirt in cotton natural - state, torn edges - no hems. right: Basic fabric - grey stretch wool flannel dress developed from idea of wearing a cushion cover
For other plain fabrics I stuck to black, grey, indigo, brown, flesh, cream, white. Set against the fabrics we took gold, a lame looking like metal – gold sequins.
I took a very conservative man’s tailoring fabric (I love conservative fabrics – they have so many ideas to play with), a fresco in grey chalk stripe, and made a suit comprising a jacket from two years back and a favourite skirt – the ‘alien’ skirt – World’s End customers will know this skirt. We didn’t sell the jacket at the time because it has a lot of volume around the shoulder (Masculine? But cross dressing is as old as the hills.) and over the breast – but I adore it because it makes a woman look important and there is nothing more sexy than that. I shall wear this suit.
The suit I want – Worn over fine wool / sweater in butter colour
Next autumn it should go into our archive but it will come home with me instead. One thing I knew about the collection – I wanted the woman to look important.
Plain fabrics show off the cut of clothes. I like to mix garments from different times and places: historical, ethnic, 20th century couture – I copied a coat from Balenciaga and a dress from Chanel. I sometimes copy from myself, re-doing clothes from way back in my archive. I like new things as well as things repeated and developed from last season. Most of all, I like ‘do it yourself’, as if the wearer has spontaneously put her own creation together in an afternoon.
I introduced colour by printing. Until recently printing was done only on screens or rollers but now we also have digital printing. The cost of full colour is less because it is all done in one go. There is no setting-up cost so you might as well have every print different. That’s what I did and found every print in my small booklet of fabrics from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
left: Cardigan worn over tiny suit in stretch dress wool, fine knitwear. right: Colonial Peruvian tapestry weaving, 1675-1750
Then I chose three yarns for knitwear which we had used for ‘Man’ – ordering more quantity keeps the price down and because the men’s collection is in progress I have the advantage of already having worked with these yarns. We always choose fabric and yarn before the concept of the collection materializes – but this choosing helps the decisions.
Andreas was very keen on this finest wool yarn, especially in a butter colour; perfect would be a classic cardigan, undone at the throat, fitting close over the body. This we did except my clothes cannot be straightforwardly classic. My customers want that dynamic power of drape in the cut.
Inspired by Matisse
One of the first things I usually do is to try out new cutting principles on a miniature dummy. Our friend Iris, once our full time pattern cutter who now manages to come 2 or 3 times a season, arrives to work on new cuts and ideas that Andreas and I have each thought of separately. Last year, she brought her own idea – a dress made out of a cushion cover. She and Andreas worked on this idea lots. We have fittings which involve toile’s begun by our regular pattern cutters (it can take weeks for one dress) and with Iris’ help we get to a point, even sometimes as far as working out which fabric we will use and the sewing method. (A design is a result of hundreds of decisions through trial and error.) Even Iris who, until now has always triumphed, tells me that she is never sure she’s going to make it. For me, she is so clever she walk on air, she has a unique talent that is properly trained. It is wonderful to be able to trust someone completely.
It’s now time to find out why there is still no sign of the brocade eagles ribbon. The original hand-woven sample – using real gold thread – measured 10 inches and there are no ribbon machines wide enough. It is interesting to note that antiques cost more in their day than they would do now. It could happen that someone could take a lifetime to make a cupboard with moulding, lacquer and inlay – or months to weave a yard of Venetian velvet which then cost the price of two cows.
The answer to my eagle brocade would be to use a full size loom with several repeats across the whole width – then cut them through into ribbons. However, I don’t need all these repeats. So I take advantage of this fact by including an image of Dionysus in the weaving programme, keeping the gold thread on the surface of the fabric.
Meanwhile, Andreas, whose heroine as a woman and as a fashion icon is Marlene Deitricht, has produced dresses inspired by her. Brigitte, our head of couture, arranged the embroidery on versions of Marlene’s nude effect gowns. Andreas worked with tulle with Marlene in mind.
Hats are important. They bring gravitas to a show. We suggested helmets which always look heroic. Prudence, our milliner, chose the American GI helmet as absolutely generic. When we were deciding how to decorate them she produced a square of gold leaf which she could press into the felt and so cover entirely in gold. I asked her how much this 5” square would cost: £5 – incredible that you can beat gold so thin.
Andreas had also designed gloves and jewellery and when the sample shoes arrived they were not nicely made. Therefore, he got them done in the gold sequin fabric and asked for a gold catwalk. Nobody will see them because of the reflection. When they arrived they were nicely made anyway and coincidentally Andreas’ friend Tony, who does the look and lighting of the show, had prepared ideas for a gold catwalk.
The people we work with are crucial, though there are things only I can do or Andreas can do. Bu my assistant, Luca, must not forget a thing and keep things moving.
Our fitting model was Jenny – because she has a perfect body proportion the collection, when it is produced, will miraculously fit everyone else. The last thing I did before leaving for Paris – Andreas was already there working on casting and logistics – was to have Jenny stand quietly while I pinned and cut a spontaneous dress in Dionysus fabric. It took only a couple of hours because essentially, by using a live model instead of working on the mannequin, I could see how the whole thing fitted and worked in motion.
I called the collection World Wide Woman. A collection is more than the sum of its parts and this one entered a realm I had not envisaged. The final alchemy came from Andreas’ suggestion to Val (make-up) and Jimmy (hair): Make the girls look like horses.