On Being A Late Bloomer (Aesthetically speaking)
I feel like I was late in figuring out my own aesthetic. Or maybe I always knew it but I didn’t respect it. My opinion is that our culture over emphasizes youth. It seems that you should know what you want from a young age and go for it. And stick to that one dream for the next 30 years. This ignores that some of the most successful people in this world got that way after living a full life. Being a creative, you really need years to hone your craft.
I was a few years into my fashion career and feeling like my career was a bust. In interviews, I heard feedback that nothing in my portfolio expressed my style because I had filled it with my professional work. My professional work was the work I did to survive in the fashion industry to stay in New York. The work I had done to that point wasn’t my thing. At all. But it paid the bills. I figured that with my foot in the door, someone would open a better door for me after seeing my potential and hard work.
It. Never. Happened.
Oh yeah, I got jobs but nothing that I felt comfortable doing. I did okay at those jobs. I wasn’t happy but it paid the bills. I still get excited when I see people wearing the apparel that I designed in those years. But none of that work was really truly me.
It wasn’t until I was laid off that I truly started looking at me. There was a lot of ME in my personal work but I pushed it aside because it didn’t fit into predetermined boxes. In the fashion industry those boxes are usually based on what brands align with your aesthetic. Like are you a Kate Spade girl? Are you a Michael Kors diva? Are you an Anna Sui obsessive? I had a hard time any time I was asked what brands were my favorite. I liked all sorts of brands for various reasons (not Michael Kors though) but wasn’t exactly die hard for just one or two. The reason I felt this way about brands is because I have a way of shopping for things that speak to me and ignore the rest of a items in the store. I had made my own Alyson aesthetic. My personal work reflects this.
I love geometrics, analogous color schemes, tons of texture, raw materials, embroidery, prints, and tiny pleats. I love experimenting. If I had to align myself with a famous designer, then it would be Italian designer, Miucci Prada. She is playful, experimental and her work is provocative enough to get an exhibit in The Met Costume Institute. But Prada doesn’t fit the boxes prescribed by the retail-centric New York garment industry. New York hiring managers expect young designers to answer the question with the name of a mall brand. Then they will fit them into those companies or similar.
I wanted to be a high-end designer in college but set my sights lower because I heard that I wouldn’t be paid well. New York’s focus isn’t on haute couture like Europe is. The US is all about making high selling items not cultural markers. I also had this belief that I wanted to make wearable art for the people. I never realized how difficult that would be. But that’s for another post.
It took time to accept my own aesthetic. Conventional industry advice had beat me into submission. I questioned (still question) what came naturally to me. Mainly because I was making something different. If this were the fine art world it would be applauded but I long ago learned that the fashion industry tends to ignore originality. I was in a total mindfuck for a while about this. Every sketch, every piece scrutinized. Will it sell? Will people like it? I looked at Etsy for answers. I didn’t find anything like my stuff there. I looked at Society6. Nothing. I was on an island. But thats a good thing, right? Right?
So I made a lot of stuff that was a hybrid between what I love and what sells. It was all total crap. But that crap had to be made. It showed me what I am and what I am not. I kept making more work. I had some rejections. So I made more work. Then I sold a couple of prints. Then I sold some jewelry. Then I got some Instagram likes. Its been a slow grow, but I see glimmers of hope.
This constant work was something I was never able to do in my college years. Yes, those years were full of projects but I was still trying to get the techniques down. I never had a job that encouraged my growth as a designer. I was only expected to do what they asked. Maybe if I went to a kickass MFA program, I could have done this. But you know…student loans.
This is my journey. All things in my own time. I’ve felt ashamed of it because I felt like I should have known all this at age 22. But really, I’m thankful for the journey I’ve had to figure out who I am. Had I known myself at 22, I wouldn’t have had the wisdom I gained in these years. That said, hiring managers need to understand that designers grow and change. We aren’t all creating in a vacuum only focused on one or two brand aesthetics that we just happened to fit into.
Or maybe fashion wasn’t the industry for me.