How to review a line

My husband finally noticed something the other day. He said that when I review a line, I only see styles in black and white, like technical illustrations on a line sheet. He’s right. Would it help you to know I’m not the only one? This is how a lot of buyers will read your line too. This is why, in spite of the lowering costs of color reproduction, that black and white basic line sheets will never go out of style. As Leah said, your first priority is line sheets, samples and delivery. Everything else is extraneous.

There’s a couple reasons someone will review your line in black and white. Provided you’re not an avant garde line, your bodies, given styles, will repeat each season. You may change the color and fabrication but your signature pieces will have longer life than one season. The repeat sellers are what everyone wants. Like me, they’ll want to see the detail lines of cut that may be obscured by prints or dark colors. Generally, if your styles are interesting in simple line drawings, they’ll be interesting on a hangar. Another element we look for is continuity. A salable line repeats given design features across styles. Even world famous designers do this. The successful ones do anyway. While they may not repeat bodies season to season, they will repeat design features across styles in a given season. This brings continuity to the line.

With the goal of explaining how to review and analyze a line, I’m examining the Spring line of Bottega Veneta which I was drawn to after reading an article in the WSJ (gated). I rarely review the lines of established designers but I immediately saw that this line demonstrates very sophisticated line development skills. There’s more to the design aspect than inventing cute ideas. I also realize that the Wall Street Journal is not the forefront of fashion, but they do know business. And isn’t that what this is all about? An excerpt:

The Milan runway shows are famous for producing readily salable designer collections. But even here, it takes a real search to find designers who consistently create clothes that work for mature, working or active women… It’s hard to get attention if you’re on the conservative edge — and it can require subtler design skills. “Being too practical is limiting from a design point,” says designer Graeme Black

Still, I came here this week looking for designers who have taken real women — in all their sizes and shapes and activities — into careful consideration. Bottega Veneta designer Tomas Maier is one of them. His eyes light up when discussing the women he considers his clients: the “women with bad legs who always wear pants, the women with big hips, with little hips, with big busts….” Mr. Maier enjoys designing clothes to fit the elasticity of actual bodies. He claims to have no muse but many women friends, and he installs darts and tucks and pleats on the inside of a garment to flatter a real woman’s figure. A dying label just a decade ago, Mr. Maier’s Bottega is now among Gucci Group’s top-selling brands. Bottega’s collection for next spring spans from casual wear to clothes that would look good in any boardroom.

Before I start my review, you can view the collection in its entirety at Style.It and select from the drop down list. I realize many of you don’t speak Italian but I think there’s a sufficient number of cognates you wouldn’t need a translator; filter it via Babel Fish if need be. There’s also a discussion thread on the Bottega Veneta line at Fashion Spot. Also, do keep in mind this review should only be within the context of one of you launching, not the imitable Tomas Maier.

First, we have repeated colors, greys, lightish blue and taupe-ish. I’m showing two of the strong grey pieces below.

Color wise, we have a few orphans, pinks and a taupe piece that doesn’t match the hue of the others in the same color family:

As far as cut goes, we have one orphan. All of the pieces in this line are dresses but with this exception of something you’d wear at the beach. The color and texture of the fabric doesn’t align with the other pieces either.

Speaking of textures, most of the pieces are matte, flats, but there are two texture orphans. These pieces shimmer. One is the pink I already showed you above, the other is below:

This is not to say you can’t have variety in a line, you would, but this would be a large line for the typical DE. Bottega’s line is large enough to embrace the dichotomy but it doesn’t mean yours can.

Now let’s get to the shared design elements of these pieces, the strong point of the line. Here are two dresses with the same silhouette with detail around the neckline:

In addition, the grey dress above has cowling. The second one has darting. The cowled piece further integrates with this lighter grey dress (first one below) and the yellowish dress above matches the second dress below:

We have other matching design features, consider the fronts of the pieces below:

The fabrication groupings are also interesting (although not to my taste). We’ve got a grouping of gauzes, more pieces than I’m showing here of course.

My favorite piece of the line is below. Not surprisingly, of them all, it’s the piece that would be the most striking in a line sheet. And isn’t that where we started?

Summary:
This is very sophisticated line development; there’s more design skill in evidence than a fast pass would indicate, hence the necessity of an analysis. There’s shared colorways, fabrications, silhouettes and design features, imbuing continuity across subgroups. A younger talent doesn’t manage this so easily at the outset; they’re tempted to repeat features within the same colorways, silhouettes and fabrications but they rarely mix and match given elements from each group across the entire line.

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13 comments

  1. Milena says:

    I completely agree with you on the grey dress. As soon as I saw it on the runway, it struck a chord. Its refreshing to see a whole line that you can really imagine yourself wearing (at least I can). I’ve been going through all the NY and Paris runways shows, and not many of them were as elegant and comfortably wearable as Bottega Veneta. I’ve always loved their killer handbags and shoes, and their clothes this season are beautiful. Thanks for the great post!

  2. dosfashionistas says:

    I have often wondered if it would help sales if I had a line drawing to post with my pictures on eBay, especially on dark garments where it is hard to show detail in a photograph. I would have to have it organized so that I could do the drawings quickly, and learn how to upload it into my pictures.

  3. miss twist says:

    Kathleen,

    I’m one of the many sewists who reads your site.

    Thanks so much for pointing out such a wearable line and for giving me something to think about as I plan my own SWAP sewing.

    Miss Twist

  4. Kathleen says:

    I have often wondered if it would help sales if I had a line drawing to post with my pictures on eBay, especially on dark garments where it is hard to show detail in a photograph.

    Funny you should mention that (and I should have). On one of the sewing boards recently, someone posted a poll about whether sewing enthusiasts preferred photos of garments or line drawings when selecting a pattern (assuming they could only have one or the other). The line drawings won by a large margin, at least two or three to one. It’s not that they didn’t like the photos which were described as useful with regard to drape but that line drawings were considered the better illustration method of the two. So, I guess it’s not just buyers who prefer line sheets. Maybe the average apparel consumer would prefer photos but a line sketch would be useful to augment.

  5. J C Sprowls says:

    My only concern for posting a line drawing or semi-technical sketch on a sales site would be to consider how long you will keep the lead in the marketplace before getting knocked off.

    If a one- or one-and-a-half season lead is sufficient. Or, you plan to design and sell directly to the Consumer as the business’s mainstay, I’d recommend moving forward with the idea.

  6. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    That gray dress was my favorite, too! Except I don’t like gray.

    As for line drawings versus photos, if you want to use photos, don’t use dark fabrics for the garment!!! Too many times have I seen in a magazine or on a home-sewing pattern photographs of the garment in black or some other dark color and you can’t even see the details. If I can’t see it, why would I buy it?

  7. lila says:

    Thank You for you very interesting article
    I’m currently an internship in a high ready to wear house, supposing to learn how to build a collection. And I learnt more in 10 minutes reading your article than in 2 weeks work.

    Nice to read real professional!!

  8. I couldn’t agree more about the frustration of not being able to see the detailing on a black garment in a look book or on a website/e-commerce site. I often feel it would help hugely if there was a line drawing/technical flat alongside it or even a more fluid illustration to help illuminate the style. And as a designer, I know black is saleable, and everyone wears it, so it makes sense to work with it, but it’s difficult to carry this through and think through how the garment is going to be viewed online/in print in a look book. How to show the detail and how to light it in shoots? Interesting also to think about ‘orphans’ in a collection/line – they always stand out, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

  9. Sherrie Murphy says:

    Wonderful Post!

    I am learning so much through this site. This post has explains for me, in crystal clear terms, the meaning of Kaizen and line continuity.

    Thanks!

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