The big picture: the craft of fashion

By Regina Connell + Caroline Priebe.

It’s that time of year for the traveling circus known as Fashion Week (traveling from New York to London to Milan to Paris-and even LA) to make its presence known.

Time to push those sunnies firmly into place, cock that hip, and pray that your core’s been Pilatesed enough to stay upright from limo to front row on those 6 inch platforms.

With everyone from fashion bloggers to the Financial Times giving the events major love, the event–if not the clothes–are on our minds.

Now fashion, at this level, is not exactly for the faint of heart. Obviously, there’s the inherent need to create a distinctive, memorable, eye-catching collection (oh that’s right, the clothes!) but then there’s all the guff around it: the PR, the Celebrity Chase, the shows themselves (the wiki-savants estimate that it costs about $750,000 to create a quality fashion show at NY’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. $50,000 to $100,000 is spent just on buying a space in the show. The rest gets spent on things like producers, handlers, hair stylists, models, schwag, and publicity.)

How does Fashion Week play out for more independent, smaller designers? Caroline Priebe, a designer and consultant, (and our partner in crime covering the craft of fashion) says “Fashion Week is a pretty indulgent pursuit. For small designers it’s often a bad investment. Given that shows are so expensive, its better to reinvest any money you have back in to sales related endeavors, such as another set of samples, or an amazing lookbook buyers can buy from. Fashion Week’s really for press.”

It’s all about the gloss and rarely about the substance, the serious craft that goes on (yes, there’s the usual airkiss of a reference by serious fashion journalists, but it’s rarely the lead.)

So instead of celebrating the fluff of Fashion Week, we thought we’d celebrate the craft.

“Craft exists in everything from couture to fast fashion,” says Caroline. “Obviously, craft in the couture process is more recognized. But in fast fashion, the cutters, pattern makers and linkers are still crafts people…the business may not be coming from the place of craft, but there are crafts people involved.”

We asked Caroline for some of her heroes in the craft of fashion. Here’s a partial list:

Nicholas Cato: A draper for designers. (Talk about specialized…but when it comes down to it, so much about clothing construction is about drape.) He’s by definition a master craftsperson, has his 10,000 hours in working his craft. He works with all top designers but also talks about how he does NOT want to be a designer. He’s part of a very exclusive tribe.

Derrick Cruz: A designer and maker of deliciously dark, exquisitely wrought accessories and objects for his own line, Black Sheep and Prodigal Sons (how much do we adore that name?!) He has a closet of a store on Lower East Side of New York and sells online through Occulter.

Sasha Duerr: Sasha is and artist, designer and teaches natural dyeing as part of the Textiles Program at California College of the Arts. She’s turned natural dyeing into a craft. Her dye lots are produced in small batches. (Sasha also founded the Permacouture Institute with the Trust for Conservation Innovation to encourage the exploration of fashion and textiles.

Image courtesy of

Maria Cornejo: A designer (yes, she’s known for dressing Michelle Obama and Tilda Swinton, among others) is a mainstream but independent designer who’s been around for 20 years. She does show at NY Fashion Week, but she epitomizes something really special in the industry. She is very involved with the entire development process of her garments and committed to local production. She drapes signature and new silhouettes each season rather than re-fabricate traditional garment shapes. Her work is avant garde yet wearable and never trendy.

Image courtesy of

Tara St. James: She’s a talented, thoughtful NY-based designer (her line’s called Study) who’s committed to making “sustainable” fashion more of a reality by creating systems that support it. She makes her own textiles and uses no-waste pattern making. We love the fact that she set up Study Hall, which spreading the word about sustainable fashion, and enrolls interns every season to study and produce sustainable fashion.

Helena Fredriksson: An amazing independent designer originally from Sweden, who makes her own prints from photographs on her travels, drapes and tailors inventively. She can also be found collaborating with local artists, dance companies and her musician husband.

Just a few of the heroes in fashion. We’ll be covering this talent and more: people who work in the center of that Venn diagram of craft and design. Have nominees? Let us know.

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