“Are you a designer?”
April 19, 2023
“Why are you a designer?” is a question that is posed to me more often than you would think. I always sit back a second and give them an honest answer, usually what is honest at that moment. My usual routine answers for when I am asked this in passing is “because it is fun” or “it makes me feel good.” These responses are true, but they are not the deep truth; they only skim the surface of what the real reasons are.
I always assume that when I am queried about my identification as a designer, they mean all aspects of design that I as an individual can cover. I personally dabble in both clothing design and interior design, while there are some folks that cover a great deal of different design aspects.
Through my love of home design, I use a story line of what is going on in the room. In my home you will always find a masculine to juxtapose the feminine, and I like to make them coexist together. I learned this from my grandmother, who will set a place setting of pewter plates in the living room next to the never lit fireplace, as if it is being used for utility, all for the art of home decor, and the story line that it can follow. She once told me that the place setting was set for the “Man of the house,” but it has no use except for amplifying the story.
This school year, instead of putting most of my design energy into keeping my house like a living museum, I used that energy to create a mini line of garments for this year’s Southern Illinois University student fashion show. Last semester, I was given a prompt of a decade to pull inspiration from and told to design something that has heavy inspiration from that decade, but to make it something that is a bit modernized, and brought into this century.
I remember dipping my hand deep into the velvet Crown Royal bag to pull out by random what my decade would be. With my breath held, I pulled out a small slip of paper with the “1990s” written on it. After some sweet talking to a lovely classmate who had pulled the 1970s, I was able to make a switch and get to moving.
We were told to really think about our lines, try to put some personal story and inspiration for it, but keep it similar to clothing from our decade. I couldn’t decide what about the 1970s made me raise my eyebrow in inspiration and obsession, except for Goldie Hawn in Laugh-In, in which I made the executive decision that that type of get up is much more inspiration from the decade before.
I had remembered that when I sold clothing in high school, most folks didn’t want the garments that I offered that were from the 1970s. At the time, most mainstream fashion was so heavily saturated with designs pulled from the late 1990s and early 2000s, that I knew if I had an original velour sweatsuit, I was going to make a little bit of money, but I simply could not even give away some of my pieces from the 70s. Except for one specific style of dress, and especially one specific brand. I remembered that Jessica McClintock Gunne Sax prairie dresses went like hot cakes. The more Nordic looking, the better. At one point, I had multiple, and I would never disclose my secret stashes, always being sure to keep at least one at all times as a form of “well if I go broke, I can sell the Gunne Sax” insurance. This memory of these long loose dresses with lots of fun and frill gave me this jolt of inspiration for a silhouette and style.
Now that I had the 1970s part checked off, I needed to put the thought into what each piece will really represent. I used my own childhood roots of being a Southern Illinois native as an important aspect to my mini line, as I sourced all of my fabrics and applications from the region. Most of my textiles that are being utilized are antique or second hand. This sustainable choice was not only for money saving aspects but also keeps the line flowing with a certain feel.
My spring/summer designs use cool greens and light beiges and tans to represent the light colors of Southern Illinois in those seasons.
I used my models, the way they look and their personalities to construct the garments, hoping to reflect how they are as a person. My sister Hayley, who was my model in last year’s fashion show, is my biggest muse. She has long and dramatic features, and I always imagine clothing in my head on her.
We had three ensembles that we had to design, and they had to be specific. One dress, a blouse and pants, and a skirt and shirt. This might not sound like a terrible amount of work and a quick thing, and that’s how I felt at the beginning of the school year, but if you live by that mindset, you’re done-zo. I was so excited and motivated, and I had a big head thinking that I would finish quickly and not have to worry much later on. Well, here I am months later, with the fashion show only a week from now. My garments are finished, but I’m sure that I’ll keep nitpicking until they grace the stage.
It is that time of year again where the fashion workrooms look like a bomb went off, and the sound of constant machine humming becomes a background noise on the third floor of Quigley Hall. The effort and joy of my classmates is evident when you see their intricate designs being worn by a mannequin that is looming in the corner of the room, waiting for its chance to shine. A fully-dressed mannequin is a symbol of so much, including blood, sweat and tears but also the end of another school year here at SIUC. That finished garment is a symbol of new growth and knowledge. I always think of my craft that I am still foolishly learning and getting familiar with.
When I am asked “Why are you a designer?” I think of the hustle and bustle of busy work, and the garments that now sit patiently on their forms. I think of my classmates’ faces, and the good and bad comments from my teachers. I think about my grandmother and my sisters. Most of all, and I say this selfishly and proud enough to understand myself and why I say it, I think about myself, my love of design in all aspects, and I remember that I am doing this for me.
The spring Student Fashion Show and Showcase is Thursday, April 20 at 6 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom D.