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Everyone is a Designer These Days

Posted by Deborah Nelson on Mon, Jul 01, 2019 @ 11:07 AM

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Everyone is “a designer”, whether a degree in design is involved, or having your Instagram account followed by thousands, with corporate sponsors… After all, you are a bona fide ‘influencer’, right?

Dancers start their own costume companies. Celebrities have their own clothing or makeup lines. They are “the designer”.  Models lend their name to clothing lines and may or may not have influence as to what is presented.

But what really is “a designer”? The old school definition of “a designer” would involve years of formal or informal schooling that includes the history of design, along with design concepts and experience putting those design concepts to use. Formal schooling can be a BFA degree (mine is from MCAD in Minneapolis) in fashion design or a BA in clothing apparel, coupled with an internship with a clothing designer/manufacturer or putting in your years, learning from a professional designer.

Current “designer” credentials are much less formal. A model or a celebrity maybe has ‘an eye’ for pleasing designs…perhaps they have a good color sense or good visual sense of what ‘works’ in a dress or costume. Generally a “designer” will hire staff to sketch, pattern, source fabric options and oversee the actual creation of new styles to offer in their ‘line’.

These same chores can be outsources by bona-fide designers, when they have the funds to do so, or if they are lacking in some of these talents. To me, a ‘real’ designer must have the talents to sketch or at least visualize new designs and be able to supervise their staff on the creative process for these new designs. And this is much easier, if that ‘real’ designer has a background on the technical aspects of designing and creating garments. Fashion design classes, coupled with interning or working for garment manufacturers from the first conceptions to the manufacturing stages of the business are very important.

Is it a ‘high crime and misdemeanor’ to refer to yourself as “a designer” when really, you just have ‘a good eye’ or have a certain taste level? Absolutely not. You want to start a costume business and put your name on dance costume designs? Go for it!

I just googled ‘Celebrity fashion designers’. Rihanna, Lindsay Lohan, Victoria Beckham, Kanye West and Gwen Stefani are sprinkled in with the REAL fashion designers that happen to be celebrities. Kudos to any person to oversee fashions with their name on them. Having great business savvy is very important in the fashion/costume design world.

From an article (‘Gloria Vanderbilt’s Lasting Impact on American Fashion’ by Ingrid Schmidt on 6.17.19) written after acclaimed fashion icon, Gloria Vanderbilt passed away in mid-June, Ms. Vanderbilt has sometimes been listed as a fashion designer. This is an example of a celebrity, and former model becoming the face of a brand.

“Vanderbilt made her mark on American fashion by debuting what was arguably the first designer denim brand….Vanderbilt, who began modeling when she was a teenager, served as the face of the label….The line ultimately expanded to include additional women’s apparel, footwear, jewelry, fragrance and home accessories….” She is an excellent example of a ‘celebrity designer’, one who had ‘a good eye’ and who was very involved with her brand.

What does a dance costume designer need to take into account when designing a dance costume? First of all: is the dance costume for one specific person? Or is the design for a group? Are you working with talented support help to be able to create the patterns, cut, sew, embellish and fit your clients (or are you working with a company that can do this for you)? There is much more than drawing pretty pictures, to create dance costumes!

-If it is for one specific person, then the designer needs to consider the likes and disliked of the client. The client’s body silhouette and shape, the purpose of the costume – is it for a competition or for a social dancing event? The skin and hair tones of the client are important, as well as the background for the performance, if the costume is for a performance.

-If the dance costume is for a group, then the design needs to be flattering on all members of the group. The costume needs to be suitable for the style of dance that the costume is for, and details need to fit within the group’s budget. Matching dancer’s color or shapes is less important because of the group design, but you must be aware of any issues with the group that will need specific styling for good fit for all, or is specific colors, textures or silhouettes would be unflattering for all.

Other things to consider, when designing dance costumes, whether for an individual or group, would be if the costume will be part of a ‘quick change’ scenario, or if easy on/easy off is very important or not. Also, a dance costume needs to be able to perform and dance, WITH the dancers – design details cannot be restrictive. A dance costume design may be lovely on a dancer who is standing still, but may not ‘work’ at all, when dancing! (Yes, these are thoughts for my preliminary design concepts.)

In conclusion, whether a dance costume designer is classically trained or simply has a ‘good eye’ coupled with personal talents or talents of their associates, fabulous dance costume design adds to dance performances, and is just as important as the moves performed by the dancer.

 ©Deborah J. Nelson/ Head Designer and President of Satin Stitches Ltd.
(as published in Minnesota Dancing Times July 2019)

Tags: Minnesota Dancer Magazine


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