Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Off to the motherland...

My family is flying out to Seoul tomorrow evening to be with my grandmother, who has fallen into a coma. We are expecting to attend her funeral before returning to New York. Please pray for my grandmother, father, and his family during this time.

This is a photo from the last time I saw her, about five years ago.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rachel's Wedding Dress - Part 3

In my last post about Rachel's dress, the first fitting found the bodice to be too short.  I made some alterations to the pattern and we did another fitting.  This time the length was okay, but because of some small miscalculations, the bodice wasn't closing on Rachel, who hadn't changed in terms of size since our last fitting.  The bodice was a little tricky to fit because there wasn't a lot of room for error.  If it was too loose it wouldn't look the way we wanted, and if it was too tight, she wouldn't be able to get it on.

I added a little bit along the center back, and we refit the bodice.  This time the fit was almost perfect:

As previously, I used extra fabric I had around to construct the mockup -- this is NOT the actual fabric of the bodice.  Although her breasts look great here, we decided that it was a little too low for a wedding ceremony, and I will raise the top of the center front about an inch.  The shoulders were slipping off a bit as well, so I am going to take the shoulder up about 1/2".  The sleeves will be buttoned to fit and poof out a bit above the elbow.

Now that we've gotten the fit right, it's time to buy the fabric!

Rachel posing with her friend, the mannequin.

Articles on depression

I'm a bit of an armchair psychologist, and am particularly interested in depression because it is something I struggle with.  I came across these two articles -- nothing earth shattering but interesting.

Feeling Sad Makes Us More Creative on
Takeaway: When we're sad, we're more sensitive to details and are able to focus better, which helps us be more creative, since good creations are the result of tenacity and attention to detail.

How Prozac sent the science of depression in the wrong direction on
Takeaway: Depression might not be the result of a chemical imbalance, but rather brain cells shrinking and dying.  Antidepressants like Prozac help us feel better not because they restore chemicals but because they help heal neurons.  However, they are ineffective when used alone -- they should be combined with things like exercise and therapy, much like steroids won't build muscles without the requisite gym time.

Testing mobile blogging  Enjoy this tree photo!

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Love Immi!

I first heard Imogen Heap on that Frou Frou song "Let Go" on the Garden State soundtrack. I didn't know who she was though, I just listened to the song ad nauseum while I was in Paris -- I was feeling lonely and sad and the song was oddly comforting and just beautiful. For some reason I never tried to listen to any of the other Frou Frou music.

Fast forward several years -- a few days ago I was feeling uninspired by the 20GBs of music on my laptop so I turned on Pandora to my Damien Rice station. At some point Frou Frou came on and I decided to look it up. I'd heard Imogen's name before but had never really listened to it. I decided to download some of her music and was instantly hooked. When I hear a song I really like I'll put it on repeat in iTunes until I get sick of it -- it kind of drove my college roommate crazy. Luckily I live alone now, so I started listening to "Breathe In" by Frou Frou on repeat, occasionally listening to some of the other Frou Frou/Imogen Heap songs.

When I first heard Frou Frou years ago, I wasn't sure if the singer was a male or female -- there's an androgynous quality to Imogen's voice, but it's also so ethereal. The layers in the music are also just so rich. I did what I do when I get obsessed -- I started "researching" on the Internet. I found Imogen's Twitter and discovered that in a couple of days, she would be screening her documentary at the CMJ Film Festival here in New York. The documentary is called Everything In-Between: The Story of Ellipse and chronicles the making of her Grammy-winning 2009 album Ellipse. The process took three years and 380 hours of footage were edited down to 90 minutes. Both my brother and I enjoyed watching the documentary immensely.

There were a few things I really liked about it. Firstly, when you listen to Imogen's music, you can hear all of the layers that are there, but it's not always apparent what's going on in them -- it would be difficult to try to dissect what she's doing at any given point. It was cool to see what kind of instruments and non-instruments (the banister of her staircase, for example) she used for the tracks. She plays instruments I didn't even know exist! I especially liked when she played the glass cups and this instrument (not sure what it's called) that is basically a bunch of nail heads that when rubbed play different pitches.

Another thing that's amazing about Imogen is that she writes, records, and produces herself. There aren't a lot of people who do all of that, plus perform their own stuff. The film starts with the transformation of the playroom of her childhood home into a recording studio, complete with a huge console. I liked seeing how she spliced together different vocal takes and created the layers. It was interesting to hear her manager talk about how she sent him 30 different version of Tidal alone. It was also cool to see the in between process, when she was just fiddling around on her iPhone with her piano. It made me want to go buy a mic and hook up the MBox my brother gave me, but he told me that if I tried to do what she did it would sound like crap!

I also really identified with her creative process -- the ups and the downs, things taking way longer than you expected, feeling alone and sad a lot. It was poignant to watch her go through all of these feelings so openly. It was amazing how candid she was and how carefully she documented the whole process. The documentary really is a window into how she works, and it was really inspiring. Afterward my brother asked me if I thought I could spend three years working on something like that, unsure of the outcome. I'm not sure what the answer to that question is.

The documentary also makes you feel like you are getting to know her. She is quirky and really cute in the movie. I loved how she was always wearing something different and loved her outfits. Her parents and some of her musician friends are interviewed on camera, as well as her helpers. She talks about her new car and passing the road test. I also loved seeing her perform on camera -- she is so badass, especially on the piano.

She spoke a little before the film and answered some questions afterward, and was kind enough to take pictures with me and my brother before rushing off to Maine for a conference. It was funny because she seemed a little shy in person after seeing her be more open in the film, but then again, she probably meets a lot of crazies. She is a statuesque 6'0 (I'm 5'7) and looked very elegant and pretty in a black sheer dress (by a Finnish designer, she told me). When we were posing for the picture I started to give her a hug and then kind of withdrew because I didn't want to be creepy but then she hugged me back and said it was okay. I love her! In the movie you can tell she is kind and in real life she was very sweet as well.

The movie was quite late, started at around 11pm, so by the time we left it was around 1am. My brother and I both immediately purchased Ellipse. I'm trying to decide which track is my favorite but as her mastering dude said, it's one of those albums that you have to listen to multiple times to absorb. My early favorite is Bad Body Double. I hope she comes back to New York so I can hear her play!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Very cool YouTube video feat. AtomicTom

I feel like everyone I know and don't know has already seen this video, but I still want to share it. My friends are in a band called Atomic Tom and they recently filmed a video of their song "Take Me Out" on the B train crossing the Manhattan Bridge. However, instead of playing on real instruments, they used apps on their iPhones to simulate their respective instruments. It's pretty remarkable, and they've been featured on CNN and tons of other online outlets as well as on WPLJ this morning, and are playing a show at Macy's in Herald Square this evening.

The lead singer, Luke, used to be the worship leader at my church. He is a really talented musician, as you will see in the video. (Yes, my church has lots of cool people!) :-)

Rachel's Wedding Dress - Part 2

Once I had an idea of what Rachel wanted for the bodice, it was time to drape. I got my trusty mannequin and put style tape on "her" where the seams would be. Here is the front:

And here is the back:
Then I draped the pieces. I just took a photo of the front.
It's hard to see the individually draped pieces, but you can see some of the style tape underneath. Once the pieces were draped, I took them off the mannequin and created the paper pattern.

Then I took some old fabric I had lying around, and made the muslin, or mock up of the bodice. Note that the colors are pretty terrible, but the fabric worked for my purposes. Rachel is wearing it below in the photo, along with the skirt from the original dress. We are going to use the lace from the original bodice wherever you see the pink lace below, so for the sleeves and an overlay for the sides of the bodice. Underneath the lace overlay on the side and for the center front and back of the bodice we will use a bright white silk to match the dress. We're also going to replace the lining of the skirt, as the fabric has yellowed a bit.

As you can see, the bodice hits a little higher than we wanted (the mannequin's torso was not quite as long as Rachel's), so we decided to make it longer so that the skirt would hit a little lower than the waist. Otherwise, it would be too short for her. Rachel also wanted the top of the front to hit a little lower (in true Marie Antoinette style) which you can see by the chalk marks. We also agreed that the armhole should be a little more open so her arm would be able to move more freely.

I took a bunch of notes and told her I would make changes and recut another mockup.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Afingo "Behind The Seams" - Ready to Launch Your Line? Panel

A couple of weeks ago I attended Afingo's "Behind the Seams" forum. I only attended one panel in the morning, partly because it was fairly expensive, but also because I wasn't as interested in the other panels.

The panel I attended was called "Ready to Launch Your Line?" and consisted of a few designers and a couple of buyers, who gave advice about launching a line. I recognized the designers when I heard about the panel in Racked so I decided to shell out the $50 to go hear them speak at FIT. The panel consisted of:

Joanne Arbuckle, Dean of the School of Art and Design at FIT (moderator)
Gaby Basora, Founder/Designer of Tucker by Gaby Basora
Amy Smilovic, Founder/Designer of Tibi
Michelle Smith, Founder/Designer of Milly by Michelle Smith
Karen Lam, Buyer at Big Drop
An Vu, Owner of Bio

Although nothing that I heard was earth shattering, the takeaway for me was to do small and focused collections in the beginning, and take care in presenting them to buyers.

I started recording on my iPhone about 5 minutes in (see below). The audio isn't that great since I got a lot of background noise but you can feel free to listen to it. I also took notes, though, and below are some of them. Where possible, I'll put the questions posed by the moderator. Since I was scribbling notes, some of the responses may be attributed to the wrong people. Please listen to the audio if you want clarification.

Q: What do buyers look for? What's the best way to get into a store?

: The best way to reach out to a buyer is to email a well thought out lookbook. Don't waste time with cold calling. First impressions are important.

Michelle: Started out by entering a group showroom, whose owner made calls.

Amy: Called Neiman's -- caught the buyer off guard with her boldness and got a meeting. Hired her own sales person. Started with four styles -- recommends finding one solid idea like a great shirt or dress.

Gaby: Started with a blouse. Had no intentional wisdom. Started very small and focused. Quickly went into a multiline showroom.

Q: How do you recognize when you're taking on too much?

: launched with her boyfriend-turned-husband. Not a numbers person -- partnering up with someone is essential.

Amy: When you start making money you can get someone to help. It's important to do research and make sure you're giving yourself enough time to look at the big picture.

Gaby: Everyone has a different equation to solve. You need to find inspiration to relate to. Had another job that brought in money.

Q: Is there a certain amount of time a buyer gives a designer to see how he/she will perform?

Karen: No -- takes risks on a designer she believes in. There are forgivable mistakes but first collection must be shipped on time and in good quality. Calm down a little bit and make sure everything is right.

An: Up to 2 weeks late is OK as long as you call to let her know.
Don'ts: Shipping product not represented in the sample. Doesn't look right -- won't reorder. Proper quality control is important, fit has to be spot on.

Mistakes are forgivable if you fess up and work with buyers to share risk.

Balance and patience
Tenacity and dedication
Understand the demographics of each store and who your customer is

Important to establish a good fit -- expensive to find a good fit model. Try things on yourself. Be consistent in your fit.

Q: How did you finance? What was your business plan?
Gaby: Selling product was her business plan. Used a factor and avoided working with an investor because she didn't want to deviate from her plan.

Michelle: When she presented her first capsule collection to the owners of the showroom, she showed them mood boards and sketches. She recommended building relationships and working for other companies first.

Q: How did you handle PR?
Amy: hired PR at first. Used direct mail - smoke and mirrors to give the impression that the company was bigger.

Michelle: called magazines herself. Do your own PR.
PR is important. Buyers look at magazines and it's important to be identifable.
When editors enter showrooms to see other labels, they will see yours.

On online marketing/ecommerce:
Michelle: For ecommerce to work good consistent fit is important as well as selling product that photographs nicely.

Gaby: sells loose fitting blouses that fit a wide range of women.

Reach out to bloggers -- the web has lowered the barrier for entry.
Get your clothes on people.

An: Don't cannibalize your wholesale business. Retail price should be on par with what your retailers are charging.

Michelle: Offer exclusive product. Better known designers are purchased online.

Carry on consignment. Common practice even in bigger companies.

When I asked them what advice they would give new designers or what they had wished they had known they answered:
Michelle: Recommended working for other designers first. Wished she had taken more business classes.
Amy: Wished she had hired a great fit model and tech designer
An: Wished she had known in 2008 that the economy would crash
Gaby: Wished she had hired a good tech designer.

When I asked them about a gap in any category, Karen mentioned that she had a hard time finding good pants.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A post about switching careers

Once in a while, I get a random email from someone who has read my blog and has some questions. I try to respond to everyone who writes me, although the ones that are like, "Can you get me an internship?" get ignored (the answer is no, I can't).

I got an interesting email today that I felt was worth sharing, along with my responses in blue. See below:

Hi Janet,
Thank you for creating your blog regarding your experiences and launching your own line. As you have probably guessed, I am interested in a fashion career and find your blog very insightful and oober helpful to say the least. I would love to pick your brain on a few things, per my below email. (My apologies in advance for the length of my email...)

I grew up with very pragmatic parents who encouraged me to pursue "safe" career options; specifically they wanted me to study medicine, law and/or engineering. Unlike you, I caved to their practical, unrelenting persuasion. The good part is they encouraged me to study hard. As a result, I got great grades and went to great universities. Nevertheless, despite my successes, I am constantly dreaming of a fashion career.

In short, now that I have pursued the "safe" career, I am ready to change gears and finally do what I want to do with my career. As a result, I would love to know your thoughts on transitioning into fashion. I am in my early 30s now and wonder if that means I am too old to transition into fashion. In your experience, would fashion houses see me as too old to hire?

Fashion is definitely an "age-ist" industry, and I have seen people who are a little older having a hard time finding work. However, I don't think that means it would be impossible. If you look good for your age and dress well, that helps. Also, as in any industry, if you are a hard worker and connect with the right people, there is always a way to find work.

Additionally, I have started designing my own clothes again and am working developing my own line. I am also presently working on a website to showcase and sell my clothing. However, I wonder if the better approach is to gain some practical work experience in the field before launching my own line. [Side note: It has been unbelievably daunting to try to make samples, identify production houses and pattern makers (to gage my patterns up and down for me), etc.]

Ideally, I want to launch my own line, but I would be satisfied if I could earn a stable living working in fashion. Plus it seems better to work in fashion first so as to create contacts... I have ABSOLUTELY NO fashion contacts. Any tips you have regarding career strategies are appreciated (i.e., work for a firm, start own line simultaneously or start line while seeking work).

I would definitely recommend working for someone else before launching your own line, even if it is for a short period of time. I did internships at a couple places and worked full time at others before starting my own line. If you are interested in starting your own line, it's best to work for smaller companies so you can get a better idea of how things work, any work experience is good. There are a lot of different parts to running your own line, not just design (including the technical aspects you are experiencing difficulties with), production, sales, and PR.

Different companies deal with these differently so it's good to work at a couple of different places. As you mentioned, working at another company first helps you make contacts. I developed relationships with factories through one of my jobs and learned about which ones to work with for my own line.

If you're already employed, I would consider remaining employed full time and slowly making a transition. You can always pay patternmakers, samplemakers, sewers, graders, etc to do all that sort of thing for you -- and eventually that's what all designers do. Very few of them actually do any sort of sewing, like in Project Runway. Take your time, develop some samples you feel comfortable about, get recommendations on who to work with, and then you can contact showrooms and buyers when you feel like you have something worth showing. If you have enough money, you can always pay showrooms and PR companies to help you promote and sell your line (although you should always do research on these!) Try to think of ways to leverage the skills and assets you have already developed instead of throwing them away.

I noticed you studied Fashion in Paris for what appears to have been a 1 year program. I am looking at courses at Parsons Paris, ESMOD, Istituto Marangoni and Chambre Syndicale. I note ESMOD, Parsons Paris and Chambre Syndicale have shorter 1 year programs. Would you recommend I consider one of those programs in lieu of a traditional 3 yr (BS type program)? I ask as I am not sure whether companies prefer BA Fashion students over Certificate (1 yr) fashion program students.

I would only go to Paris if you can speak French fluently. I took French all through high school (and won different awards) and another course in college and I was still struggling to understand what was going on in my classes. I also had taken some classes at FIT before going to Paris to study, so I had a background in sewing. I was eager to learn quickly since I already had a BA, which was why I entered the Formation Continue program at the Chambre Syndicale, taking courses for one year. I'm also more interested in the craft of clothesmaking, which is why I chose the Chambre Syndicale, which has historically been devoted to haute couture.

While I love Paris, I would also only recommend going there if you're dead set on working there. Also note that the employment laws are such that even for French people it's really hard to find jobs, and doubly so as a non-EU citizen, since the company has to sponsor you to get a job there. I would recommend going to school in whatever city you'd like to work with, since the school will be your entry into the fashion industry in that city.

The advantage of entering a longer program is that if you do well, you can develop good relations with your teachers and they can help you find work afterward. It helps to have that sort of name on your resume (like Parsons or CSM) if you're looking for a job, and the people at the schools can connect you to the right employers, buyers, editors, etc. Since you already have an undergraduate degree, you would probably only need to get an AAS (associate's degree - 2 years).

I am curious whether you know what beginning fashion design associates earn. For example, if I were to complete my fashion degree program at a Paris school, what type of income would I be able to command? Is there a salary difference if I were to pursue a 1 year program vs. a 3 year program? (In short, I am trying to gage the type of salary change this career shift will mean for me.) Additionally, is it harder to transition to US fashion firms after studying in Paris?

In New York, entry level fashion jobs tend to pay around 30-40K, sometimes even less! It's also often hard to get a job without doing at least one internship (unpaid) first. In Europe, salaries are even lower. I'm not certain that going to school longer will guarantee you a better starting salary. However, if you really want to learn the fundamentals of fashion design and don't have much background knowledge, you probably want to go to a longer program. Also, don't discount the power of the hustle. If you're good at networking and charming people, opportunities come easier.

I would say that if you study in Paris, it would be a little harder to get a job in the States than if you had studied in the States for the aforementioned reasons -- your Parisian school won't have the same contacts that a school in New York (like Parsons) would have. In short, the most practical option for you in terms of schooling would be to do an AAS in Parsons in New York. They have the best connections in New York, which is definitely the fashion capital of the United States. If you're out in California, FIDM seems to be the best known school out there (and LA a distant second in terms of fashion capitals).

Thank you in advance for your time. And again thank you so much for creating your blog. There are people out there like me who are in desparate need for insights on how to find a fashion design job, launch a fashion line and break into the fashion industry.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Ultimately, I would recommend sticking with your "day" job, since it sounds lucrative, and starting out with taking evening classes at a fashion school near you. To be a designer, you don't necessarily have to sew well or know how to make a pattern or all that. There are full service sample houses out there who can help you with the sample making process (a good resources is this blog: Even the most established designers often go out and find a piece they like (vintage or otherwise) and use it as a sample for their own designs, tweaking it to fit their desires. You can design without even knowing how to sketch, if you can communicate with people clearly about what you want your garment to look like. You show an experienced patternmaker what you want, with actual garments or photos as reference, and you're set. I've heard plenty of stories about designers who started out doing something else, sacrificed sleep and free time to start their own line on the side, and slowly built it up.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Downtown for Sale

Downtown for Sale

article about Opening Ceremony, arguably NY's hippest shopping destination.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Great article about making the right life decisions

I've mentioned this before but I often struggle with whether I am making the right life decisions. For me, a Harvard degree often feels like a burden -- am I making the most of a degree that so many others would have wanted but that so few actually receive?

My friend forwarded me this article which I found encouraging -- that one shouldn't just go with the flow and make the "easy" choices.

Click on the link below:
What Are You Going to Do With That?

In other news, just got a new iPhone 4 and battery for my Macbook Pro! Yay!