Design Week on F-I

I’ve been going through a spate of design ideas and details lately, sufficiently to have cleared my drafting table. Being a technical person, I don’t ever write about design itself but since I have enough material here for a week’s worth of posting, I thought I’d break with tradition and declare Design Week on Fashion-Incubator. I suppose there’s a central theme, that’d be cut and detail rather than color or fabrication. This is my proposed rundown thus far:

  • Vintage Lane Bryant catalogs. An interesting thing about their sizing strategy too.
  • September issue of Vogue magazine. Eric bought me a copy for the article about Nicholas Caito (the New York pattern maker) but it wasn’t in there. So, I subjected the issue to my usual treatment and thought I’d share the whats and whys of what I tear out.
  • An Issey Miyake home sewing pattern was probably the impetus of it all. Gorgeous lent me hers and I thought I’d show you ways you can learn from existing patterns if you’re not in a production environment and have no other patterns to learn from.
  • The most recent issue of Threads which I haven’t bought in years. Someone said this was a good issue for vintage stuff and after seeing one style from The Aviator which I’d seen the night before, I’d decided the costume designer was my new favorite designer (Sandy Powell won the Oscar for it) so I bought it using a 50% off coupon from Jo-Ann’s. Speaking of, I haven’t been to a fabric store in ages. Fabric prices -at least there- have gone through the roof. I wanted to buy some dummy fabric and the ugliest suitable knit I could find was $5 a yard.
  • While on my aforementioned foray in homesewing, I bought some additional vintage patterns that I’ll never sew up. I just like to look at them. Specifically, my entry will be about one of my pet peeves, namely coffin clothes.

I hope this sounds interesting. This week will be off kilter for me so be patient. I will likely be going up to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Vegas (NM, my son’s in the hospital there) toward the tail end of the week so if you have something compelling you want to talk about, best get it out now. At any rate, hope this week’s design series will be of interest to you.

Off topic: The movie, Made in L.A. will be on PBS tonight. Check local listings.

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  1. Kathleen says:

    First I was told it was in Vogue so we bought that. Not finding it, I looked him up and Wiki said the article was in Elle. Natasha, do you have the HB issue?

  2. Connie says:

    Sounds really interesting, Kathleen. Go for it.

    My son had to put some badges on his Scout’s shirt(at the last minute)and I wouldn’t let him use my machine because I was too tired to set it up for him. I told him to sew them on by hand. When I came home from returning a book to a friend, he was busy hot glueing them onto his shirt! Is this the way of the future?

  3. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    No, we can’t wait, Kathleen! :-)

    I subscribe to Vogue, mostly to see what the current trends are and what’s being advertised, and I like it better than the other fashion magazines. The only one better isn’t clothing, but the W Jewelry, which I think you can only get thru a sub with W, and I only think it’s better because it has such nice pix of (mostly too expensive) jewelry. I haven’t seen much in Vogue or any other fashion mag that I like for the last several years. I liked a lot more from ’98/’99.

    Yes, fabric prices are high. Since I don’t do mass quantities right now, I go to the fabric stores, especially Fabric Depot’s monthly sales (anyone coming up to Portland, OR ever, check it out, if you want.).

    Since for me it takes less effort to alter a home-sewing pattern than to make one from scratch, I do that and usually throw out the instructions. I have a lot of vintage patterns and if I ever want something like that, I’ll use it only to get the right shapes. Well, I do that with modern patterns, too.

  4. j. says:

    Ha! I, home sewer… sewist… whatever the hell they call themselves these days, have that very Miyake pattern. I’m looking forward to what you reveal about it.

  5. J C Sprowls says:

    Older magazines make great tear sheets for inspiration. That said, I do like international magazines, like: GQ Style, L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Hommes International, L’Officiel Hommes, etc. I typically try to get GQ, Vogue and Elle quarterlies to keep abreast – but, monthly sub is too much to manage! The European and Japanese mags focus on the clothes whereas the American books are slanted toward the ‘image’ or the ‘lifestyle’.

    I also subscribe to just about every catalogue out there for tailored menswear – to survey the competition and understand price points, fabric selection, sizing, etc.

    RE: Fabric stores. I miss Piece Goods. Anything else usually gives me a rash and spurns a rant (as in the forum).

    RE: Home patterns. I’d be interested to see your POV. Myself, I find it easier to use the technical sketch on the back and draft from zero. Once in a while, I might look at the printed pattern to see how a feature was handled (e.g. cowl, etc.) and use it as a learning exercise.

  6. Bethany says:

    So I went to record the Made in L.A. show and sure enough, not being shown in L.A. Unbelieveable. If anyone has found it in Los Angeles, please let me know what time and which channel, but I am getting nothing on every search I do.

  7. Sonia Levesque says:

    Interesting week this will be!

    Can’t wait to hear about the Lane Bryant catalog…

    This “design week” is a refreshing idea.

  8. Birgitte Mutrux says:

    I’m loving it!! Will also watch PBS tonight. Coffin clothes… Do you mean clothes for dead people, people who do not move?

  9. Laura says:

    Thanks for the “Made in LA” reminder. I’m glad I got to see that. Why is “the boy” in the hospital?
    Hope he is feeling ok.

  10. Jasmin says:

    Very keen to see what you do with the Issey pattern – I always get compliments on my home sewn (relatively unaltered) Missey items.
    With buying cheap material … how about the made in china issue? Here we’ve been getting articles about lack of fire safety/excess formaldehyde, and I see Mattel have another recall underway! My new plan for that is people at work donating me their vintage curtains, complete with lining ;-)

  11. Sandra B says:

    I have made that top, and love it (almost – next time I’ll tweak the sleeve width.) The pattern is so hard to make up with huge seam allowances and home sewer instructions,and looks home-made, so I was going to redo it properly. It’ll be great to see how you do it. I found it hard to get a fabric that looked nice on both sides. The one I got creases badly and of course it can’t be pressed easily.

    By coffin clothes don’t you mean clothing that has all the detail on the front, and nothing on the back?

  12. Deanna says:

    re: coffin clothes

    I heard recently, that it is a common problem for people to pick out “that lovely” suit or dress for a loved one to wear in the coffin which hasn’t been worn in years. They just cut the whole thing up the back and tuck it in around. So they are more lying beneath the clothing than wearing it. It seems really funny that people spend so much on the coffin, but wear some old thing that doesn’t fit. Maybe coffin clothes could be a new niche market(?)

  13. J C Sprowls says:

    it can’t be pressed easily.

    You nailed it (pardon the coffin pun)! This is one of my biggest issues with commercially-available patterns. Few of them are engineered to be pressed, properly, either at home or at the cleaners.

    RE: Coffin clothes. The common meaning I’ve always heard is as you say “all the detail on the front, and nothing on the back”.

  14. Mike C says:

    I watched Made in LA last night. One thing I wish they had explained was why they went after Forever 21 instead of the actual companies they worked for. A case against their employers seems like it would have been so much more straightforward.

    By setting precedent that the ultimate buyer of the clothing was now responsible for upholding state and federal regulations on subcontractors, the end result would be a temporary victory of payment of back wages, but at a cost of accelerating the job loss in the local industry. I’m not sure that was a great trade off.

    We don’t use contractors anymore, but if we did, I’d be hard pressed to use one based in California. I’d be liable for them following the law, but would have no way of verifying that they were. Someone willing to break federal minimum wage laws would certainly be willing to lie to me about their compliance.

  15. J C Sprowls says:


    You raise a similar point to what I was thinking. OSHA and Wage & Hour are already in place to ensure safe working conditions and fair wages.

    Something else is amiss, though. These undocumented workers felt they could not pursue their employment rights through these existing organizations. It isn’t an unreasonable fear that INS or other agencies would be called after a complainant left a meeting with OSHA and W&H.

    But, that’s a whole other can of worms.

    I agree that the appropriate party to pursue should be the shop these people worked for. Holding F21 responsible seems a little far-reaching on the surface. I imagine it’s a muddy business relationship which led a path directly to their door, though. For example: F21 may own some of the CMT shops who were responsible for coordinating work with outside contractors.

    Moral: Degrees of separation may provide plausible deniability. But, it does not guarantee a transfer of accountability.

  16. Natasha says:

    Actually it MIGHT be in Elle I was reading both at the same time. I have finished with both copies if you want me to mail them to you. LMK

    Page 416 Elle 2006 The one with Lindsey Lohan on the front

  17. Kathleen says:

    Coffin clothes are styles that only have detail on the front. The back is a blank canvas, as tho you were invisible from behind. This didn’t used to be so common but it’s rampant now. I call it coffin clothes because it’s as tho the designer was only imagining in one dimenstion, having to look good from the front. It has nothing to do with pressing.

    Re: Made in LA. I agree with Mike’s sentiments that the contractor paying wages is most responsible and should have been held primarily accountable. Still, the fact that they went after a retailer, sends a long needed message to the retail community. No longer can they impose these arbitrary demands in their private label programs. If they will be held accountable, they’ll exercise more oversight and due diligence themselves. Unlike relationships in other sectors of manufacturing, their attitude has been hands off, do as I say but I’m not responsible for how it gets done. If a retailer is concerned about their image, they’ll be more involved to ensure the contractor is paying correctly and acting legally. Also technically, if Forever 21 is contracting for their private label program, they *are* legally, a manufacturer. It doesn’t matter that they’re not sewing it up themselves. It’s no different than Mattel’s problems. They’ve contracted to other contractors to produce toys under their label. Mattel however, unlike Forever 21, has assumed responsibility for their contractor’s oversights. This nuance has existed in other industries previously. I don’t think it is untoward that it is finally applied to this one. Has everyone already forgotten Kathy Gifford?

    Slightly off topic, it was refreshing to see the sewing operators pursue justice. So many of them just take it. It’s just awful, they don’t stick up for themselves in the workplace. I always got in a lot of trouble advocating for people. The way I saw it was, I had some power. They weren’t going to fire me so easily much as they may have wanted. If I *could* do something, I wasn’t going to stand ildly by and let it happen on my watch. It ended up working out okay in spite of ruffled management feathers. Because the stitchers loved me, they’d do anything for me, learning and doing more difficult stuff their supervisors could never get them to try. The company made more money. How was this a loss for anyone?

    Then, there’s some sewing operators run amok. I don’t even want to talk about it but I posted on it in the forum. We could use a few letters in reverse protest.

  18. Josh says:

    We watched Made In L.A. last night, thanks for the reminder. I felt so sorry for these people and their condition. It was hard to watch at times. I just don’t understand why things should ever be run in that manner. American Apparel has proven that it doesn’t have to be.

    Design week sounds fun!

  19. Catherine McQ says:

    It is difficult to enforce labor laws against sweatshop operators. They often change business names and locations, declare bankruptcy, or find other ways to hide assets and avoid compliance. To protect garment workers, in the late 1990’s the California Legislature changed the definition of “garment manufacturing” to include persons contracting to have garments manufactured, and to make those persons liable for paying wages to their contractor’s employees.

  20. Angela says:

    Really interesting article in The New York Times magazine about designers being picked up by the big brands. I thought this was in line with the topic this week.
    The designers seemed to think this was like hitting the jackpot and I have always wondered what these designers have to gain by selling their good name to Target and Payless Shoe Source and other companies that make pretty poor products. I can see that relatively unknown designers can gain by the promotion, but I don’t really think it does any reputable designer any good to have their beautiful designs manifested in crappy fabric and made with sweat shop labor. Even a Target consumer will respond to poor quality.

    Here’s the article.

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