I have a big two week France trip coming up in May (which you know if you follow me on instagram) and I’m planning to make a mini collection of versatile pieces for my trip. These pieces certainly won’t be the only things I bring, but everything else will revolve around this collection.
Never before have I shared my inspiration and design process as it’s own post on my blog, but this is such a big project with so many moving pieces, that it felt like it was important to share. Sewing and designing my own clothing is a favorite hobby, sure, but I do always crave something bigger, and more powerful, like what I used to do and create in my ‘previous life’ and career.
The Initial Inspiration: the Trip Itself!
Let’s start with the verryyyy initial inspiration. My husband and I love traveling to France and exploring new regions, and for this trip we wanted to try something on the eastern border, so we chose Colmar, a colorful Alsation town on the German border. The old town is painted in colorful pastels, and looks like a drawing from a children’s story. So of course my first instinct was to design a collection of pastel pieces that I would wear on every colored wall, etc.
As this ruminated in my head, I realized I had no actual design inspiration, and overall, this pastel theme really didn’t fit me at all. I played around with ideas in my head, but nothing got me going until I rented this toile jacket from Rent the Runway. I became obsessed with the combination of the traditional french toile with the military snap trims, and the modern shrunken shape. I didn’t want to copy it, but use it as the jumping off point for the rest of my collection. The rest of the inspiration happened organically from there.
I immediately looked to Spoonflower to source different toile patterns to swatch. I found 2 from one of my favorite graphic artists on the platform, Peacoquette, who uses historical images to create her designs. Just perusing her designs I stumbled on a William Morris Strawberry print that she has colored in numerous color ways. I swatched the bold blue, green and fuchsia for my collection as well, even though somewhere in my head I still had this pastel idea going, and thought that the fuchsia wouldn’t fit in.
Joann’s was my next stop, where I found a pale blue gingham in their new spring apparel fabric collection. I have mixed feelings about gingham; I love it as a pattern and think it is probably the second most versatile pattern next to stripes, but it’s sooooooooo overdone. But even after I left Joann’s with a ton of pink and lace swatches, I kept thinking about how great that gingham would go with my toile! I ended up swatching it as well as the matching taupe version, again thinking it would never fit into the collection, but it was good to have in my possession anyway.
Ok, so what are the pieces actually going to look like?
I have pinterest boards, saved instagram images and magazine cut outs like everyone else, but probably also like everyone else, they are just inspiration, disorganized. I don’t have a board for ‘pleating ideas’ or ‘unique silhouettes’ so I had to dig through months and months of inspiration, screen shot them, and cut them out to have in front of me. I picked things that I loved in that moment, not just everything I have ever thought was interesting.
Actually having cutouts of different inspiration images in front of me was super helpful. Immediately I could start seeing themes appear and narrow it down to details and shapes that were relevant to this collection. I did end up going back on the computer and assembling them in a digital manner, because my office is in complete disarray right now and a stray paper clipping could easily disappear into Marina’s mouth!
I started doing some rough sketches, which was hard for me because I hate sketching (that is a topic for another conversation). I thought that after about 30 minutes I had my 8 pieces that I was going to make; 1 vest, 1 jacket, 2 dresses, 2 tops, 1 skirt, 1 short. I had gingham, denim, chiffon, satin and lace, and 6 different colors, and pearl accents, and neon zippers and 3 types of ribbon trim. I was a hot, confused, mess. There were way too many elements on each design and the whole thing was a mismatched jumble of ‘things I wanted to make’ not ‘things I would want to wear on vacation’, so I had to start again.
How did you narrow it down?
Reminder: I used to work in buying and merchandising for several large companies and brands that you most definitely have heard me mention and wear on this blog. For Coach, I was one of the very few merchants who focused on RTW as opposed to handbags and other accessories, and helped to launch the Coach 1941 luxury RTW collection that has taken off over the past few years. What does that mean? Looking at 100’s of sketches and designs and choosing what we would actually sell in our stores, what the key looks were, what the price points were, how they could be merchandised together in the stores, how to train the sales associates on the back story and inspiration of the designs, and then of course, to follow their sales patterns and use that information to guide the next seasons designs and collection.
Although that was the corporate fashion world, creating this mini collection for France uses much of the same skill set, especially the beginning half of the process. I have hundreds of ideas, inspiration and design ideas in my head, but narrowing them down is actually quite methodical (and fun!) for me. This is the filter that went through my mind:
- There needs to be a healthy combination of separates (i.e. not dresses) that allow for mixing and matching for different looks
- 6-8 pieces max
- Dresses need to comfortable and versatile- nothing too precious or fancy
- A mix of self-designed and ready make patterns
- Mix of textures and prints (hard to do with only 6-8 pieces!)
- Can I actually make all of this in 5-6 weeks?
- I must WANT to wear this again. This is CRITICAL. I love fashion but I do not want to create crazy stuff just to throw to the curb after the trip. I spend so much time on these garments that they should be something I want to wear and brag about again and again, not something that’s cool for one photo but uncomfortable or limiting.
After completely re-thinking my initial ideas, I landed on two stories within the collection. The first is my gingham and lace story. It consists of 1 dress, 1 reversible gingham coat, 1 lace top, and 1 pair of gingham cargo pants. Yep, cargo pants. I realized that I love layering version of the same print with each other, so using the taupe gingham as well as the blue would add depth to the collection. The coat was something I struggled with for awhile, because I wanted something extremely versatile. So, I’ve decided that it will be lightweight, but double faced, so that it’s gingham on one side and lace on the other, with pockets on both sides. There might be trim, or there might not. There will most definitely be some toggle or drawstring at the waist to cinch it in over some styles. The length was important too, because I wanted it to be the appropriate length to wear over all 3 dresses. The lace top is something I am excited about, but don’t want to say too much at this moment because I’m actually not sure yet how it’s going to work!
The second story is my toile/William Morris story. It has a bit more striking color, but will still be extremely versatile. The blue denim toile dress will have structure, but be easy to wear, and can be worn alone or over the lace blouse in the first story. I also bought the toile print in a jersey, in order to make a comfortable t-shirt, but it will have loose, elbow length flounce sleeves for a more ‘fancy’ look. It can be worn with the gingham cargo pants or with another pair of jeans that I will bring for a more laid back look. The last dress is the chiffon layered dress, which again, I’m not exactly sure on the finishings of. Working with chiffon can be a nightmare so I’m not going nuts with this design until I see how my new serger works with this fabric. However, this should be the ‘fanciest’ look of the collection, and can be worn alone, or under the reversible coat, lace side out.
So that’s where we’re at for now. While this might not be the print on print on print craziness that you are used to with me, I didn’t want to have 6 pieces all made with the same print in my closet. While this is a collection, there is a fine line of making everything uniquely individual as well, so that there isn’t any overlap. Hopefully this post (if you managed to get through it) helps you understand my design process, my design concerns, and the ways in which I hope to address them. Fingers crossed I get it all done in time, but I guess the only way to know that for sure is to stop typing this long post and get crackin’!