Me On Surface Design

A portfolio project that I created in 2013. I realize now how much I emphasized the surface treatments.

A portfolio project that I created in 2013. I realize now how much I emphasized the surface treatments.

For many years, I fought against being a CAD designer (American fashion industry term for a textile print designer). I mainly fought against it because I had very little autonomy in that role compared to the apparel designers. I had to take direction from them for concept, color and layout. That often meant that they handed me a top that they bought in Herald Square and asked me to do basically the same artwork (aka knocking off). 

The other reason I wanted to be an apparel designer over a CAD designer was that I didn’t think about prints. I didn’t wear them. Whenever I created my own prints, they were always geometric. During my years in the fashion industry, geometric prints were barely on the radar. So I didn’t think I had an innate ability to create prints. I thought I was just good at knocking off. I felt the same about my ability to use color.  It’s nothing special and everyone can do it. 

But everyone can’t do it. Everyone can’t create a beautiful layout on Photoshop, Illustrator or even by hand. Everyone can’t make the kind of color combination that makes a garment jump from the rack and into your shopping bag. I know because I’ve worked with people who are great at doing that and others who suck at it. The stores are full of concepts that fail because of lack of ability. 

For too many years, I pushed my talent to the side to focus on what I deemed more important. That was designing apparel. I wasn’t crazy about the numbers or creating new silhouettes. I am not really that detail-oriented. Or at least, I am not that detail-oriented when I am expected to create 10 outerwear tech packs in one day. 

Everything I wanted to design was on the surface of the garment. One of my awesome besties, who is a surface designer herself suggested years ago that I focus on surface design jobs. I resisted. Yet many of the ideas I presented to my directors had surface techniques. I wanted embroidery, beadwork, screen printing, and prints (not all together of course). My directors wanted different silhouettes not details. Being an outerwear designer, I could appease my need for surface design by expressing myself in the quilting on puffer jackets. My jackets had graceful curving quilting that enhanced the body. I understand how people don’t want to look heavy in a puffer. It seems silly but I was proud of my quilting. 

The jacket that I designed for Pacific Trail in 2015.

The jacket that I designed for Pacific Trail in 2015.

One of my favorite jackets was a girls’ jacket that I designed that did really well for a couple of seasons. It was a inspired by a more expensive girls’ jacket (and I do mean inspired not knocked off). I liked the multi colored asymmetrical quilting on the original jacket. I changed the quilting to be more of an update to our previous season’s style. The heavy quilting thread was in three different hues from the color card that I meticulously created with the design director. My jacket had corresponding thread on the cuffs along with contrast piping to match the center front zipper. This jacket was popular due to its playful nature. Honestly, I couldn’t create a silhouette for girls that was entirely different from previous seasons. I felt that focusing on the quilting, colors and zipper were enough to make people buy it. 

Of course that particular job much like most of my jobs didn’t feature much of my style. I fell into the outerwear category on my way to seeking a job in Women’s woven apparel design. Most people in the fashion industry have a similar experience. The category found them. And then when its too late, you realize that the powers that be have boxed you into this category. 

Here again, I am emphasizing the embroidery in this project.

Here again, I am emphasizing the embroidery in this project.

I had dreams of creating dresses and blouses for Anthropologie or Club Monaco with gorgeous sequins, embroidery, and other interesting surface techniques. I never thought about surface design being the goal. I mistakenly thought the apparel designer was where I belonged.

I told my friend that I couldn’t be a CAD designer because I don’t even wear prints. On a journey to find my personal style, I noticed that my Pinterest was full of gorgeous prints from runways. Yet my closet remained solid. Why didn’t I buy printed apparel? Well, while shopping I was picky about print motifs (see my post on florals), color combinations, printing technique and being cheap. Mostly the print motifs weren’t exciting. My closet was full of blouses and dresses with pin tucks and other surface techniques. 

I once read that if something bothers you then its probably your passion. I didn’t buy printed apparel because I knew that there can be better options out there. And I could create that alternative. 

A hand-smocked surface design piece that I created in 2013.

A hand-smocked surface design piece that I created in 2013.