WHAT DOES DESIGNER MEAN, EVEN?

23.4.13


design composite

"Luxury is a word that has become so overused that sometimes it can be hard to remember what it actually means. A bit like the word designer. Marketers have been throwing 'designer' in front of things for so long that it's now basically meaningless. Although you could argue that it has always been meaningless as surely every product - good or bad - has been 'designed' by someone at some point in the production process. Maybe what marketers really mean is that a good designer, or a designer with actual design qualifications, was responsible for whatever it is they're trying to sell."
- David Meagher in his editor's letter, The Australian WISH magazine April 2013


I have a design degree. I'm hesitant to call myself a designer - but I have a fairly substantial understanding of the field. Aesthetics may be subjective, but one can be objective about design, and design practices. The fashion industry is built on design. That 'YES they've nailed it that's AMAZING' feeling you get when you respond well to good design is magical - so it stands to reason that poor design has the opposite effect...and I've been feeling extremely design depressed lately.

To me design is, first and foremost, about solving a problem. We need clothing to protect us (both from the elements, and the horrors of being nudists), and being generally vain creatures we want to look good. The fact that we all define looking good in different ways (& have different means to do so) brings the challenge into place and creates the industry dynamic. Of course, there are certain standards of dress which vary culturally and socially, but more and more anything goes, so the onus falls on coming up with something new and hoping the consumer believes the hype. When the cycle of fashion moved more slowly there was time to develop ideas, really create new things of beauty and function, but now it's completely acceptable to just be 'inspired' by something that's already been done 4 million times because of the tail-chasing pressure of delivery deadlines and profit margins, rather than thinking about why something is being brought into existence. It's safe to say this isn't working for most of the industry any more. There's too much half-arsed crap being produced (at varying levels of the market, mind, I'm not pointing the finger merely at the Valleygirls of this world, though they are serious offenders) that no one wants, let alone needs, and the industry as a whole is suffering for it.

I'm not suggesting for a minute that pure aestheticism isn't a valid reason, but I believe design needs motivation, not just inspiration. What do you value in 'good' design?

6 comments:

Mica said...

hehe, wondering if I should feel bad for wearing a Valleygirl dress as I read this :P

I think for me, my own sense of budget has priced me out of any stunningly designed pieces, and almost all the time (or all the time?) I go for mass market highstreet things. I'm appreciative that it's there as I feel it serves a different purpose and aims at a different audience, one that I'm part of of course. However it's a shame if it starts weakening the position of those who are really talented designers and trailblazers.

That's not to say that I don't appreciate good design, as I love some of the breathtaking pieces you see on the runway. :)

harbourmaster said...

You're absolutely right Mica - there does of course have to be options to suit the needs of every market level.

I think for me the problem with the mass market store model is that it has taught consumers to buy to dispose, rather than learning to value fabric compositions that wear well or cuts that maintain their shape after laundering. The stores don't want people to buy something that lasts because their profit is drawn from high turnover on a low margin, so it's a brightly printed polyester tshirt (with cutout shoulders and diamante trim, just to make sure it will be out of fashion asap) rather than a white cotton tshirt that would cost the same to produce but have more longevity for the consumer.

animalorchestra said...

For me, good design means the intersection of form and function. Something that is both aesthetically pleasing and serves a practical purpose.

That said, maybe "practical purpose" isn't quite right (I'm thinking of the fantastical, couture creations that you see on the Paris runways etc). Perhaps it's more to do with quality of construction. Thoughtful design. Like you say, design is largely problem-solving.

Karli said...

There have only been a few times when I've had that moment you wrote about. 1. When I try on perfect for me Cue dresses
and
2. Recently I went shopping for a formal event and stumbled upon a navy, strapless, peplum Matthew Eager number. Now I was thinking lace, colour and no Kardashian peplum but this dress just fit so well. I thought, yep, that's the one.
It might just be my body shape but good design means something that works with and in some magical way, enhances your body. As if, by wearing it, you really just feel more like yourself.

Mica said...

You're so right - I'm reminded of a bit in a book I read called "Overdressed" about fast fashion, and the author has to be taught about the different fabrics and what to look for when purchasing.
I know to check stitching, try avoid polyester...but like you said when the stores are full of the trendy flimsy polyester items (which admittedly also exist in my wardrobe), it creates demand to buy it now and wear it until the next one is purchased, without much thought to longevity or quality.
It would be better to have a capsule wardrobe of well made, brilliantly designed, quality pieces, but when you're outside the fashion circle it's easy to get caught up with trends and difficult to make a leap away from that. Lime you said, the stores prefer it that way.
Something definitely needs to change. Even my purchasing habits! ;)

Stacy said...

Well written Claire.

I include quality and craftsmanship in good design. I can hold a dress from the 50s in my hand and easily point out at least five things about it that equate to good design. Probably 99.7% of the population wears fast fashion. Hence, they've never seen quality craftsmanship before. As the whole fast fashion philosophy takes over people will forget about quality and craftsmanship and start basing good design on where a garment is made.

And yes, I agree with you about feeding a need. I started designing my own clothes because nothing fit me and I feared the moment may come when I might actually see someone with the same thing on as me. The horror.