To this day, I am still talking about London. It was THAT amazing. The 3 weeks at the legendary Central Saint Martins was life changing. Not only did I learn immensely from the most prominent fashion tutors, I also made talented friends from all over the world (14 countries to be exact).
So you may ask, what did you learn in 3 weeks?
Well, quite a lot actually. Here is a list of 10 steps of the creative design process I learned from Central Saint Martins. Hopefully, it can bring some insight to other fashion enthusiasts and emerging designers.
- Go on the streets for Creative Research
What is research? The old me may think web search on runway shows and mood boards. That is one way to do it, but it is not comprehensive at all. Creative research is about getting on the streets, drawing and taking pictures. It’s about visiting galleries and museums, and being mesmerized in the art work, finding that connection that sparks your design inspiration.
For our project, we spent the first few days visiting the Tate Modern, Newport Gallery, Dover Street Market, Portobello Market and Spitalfield Market, constantly taking pictures and sketching. We also collected unique items such as vintage postcards, fabric pieces and trims, anything that seemed interesting.
This is known as primary research.
Once you discover an exciting image (or item), you go on and capture more images relating to that original image. It doesn’t have to be a concrete concept at this point. Just go with your feeling. Maybe it is the structural elements in this image that excites you, then try to recreate other images or find objects that resonate with that particular structure. Maybe it is the color scheme, then find other images that go along with the colors.
2. Print Research on Large A4 Paper
After accumulating a sufficient amount of visual research, print them out on large clear A4 size paper. Only on a large scale can you see what really fits and what doesn’t. Edit out images that don’t have the right feeling (or put them aside) and continue onto secondary research.
For secondary research, you can look at books, magazines and other images you may find on the internet relating to your original image. Don’t look for designers’ work or runway shows. Designers’ work are their own interpretation of their concept, and it won’t bring much help in forming your own concept. Look for images, shapes, reoccurring color schemes, structure and techniques. Photocopy images on large A4 size paper and compare them with your primary research. Again, edit out images that don’t fit.
3. Collage Doesn’t Have to be Pretty (at first)
Once you have found more images relating to this ‘feeling’. You can start collaging. Work in an A3 size notebook or card. Start putting your visual research images and form collages. Tape down images with temporary masking tape. They don’t have to be pretty at first. This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons I learned.
This process is all about experimentation. Collages are not the final product, your designs are. So, at this point, just play with form and structure. Play with rotation and composition on these pages. Tape them down, adjust, move on.
4. The Photocopy Machine is a Godsend
What if you run out of images to cut? Just print and photocopy more of the same images you found! You can also play with scale and color. Try photocopying images in super large and super small scale, try color and greyscale.
You should also photocopy fabric pieces and trims. Instead of buying actual materials at this point, simply shove the fabric onto the machine and copy it 20 times (again try different scales). Use that to further your collaging process. (This is like the smartest trick ever)
5. Form Your Concept
At this point, you should have a pretty clear idea of the ‘feeling’ you are forming. This ‘feeling’ will be your baby concept. Once you have identified your concept, you can go back to the library and do more secondary research and continue with the experimentation.
You can start experimenting by making fabric samples. Is there a particular technique or color scheme you are focusing on? Try to recreate them by making small fabric pieces. Sew them together and shove it into the photocopy machine, copy it 20 times and collage.
6. Editing is Refining NOT Rewinding
Through collage, fabric samples, sketching and other techniques, you have developed your concept and design ideas. Here comes the editing. Brutally rearranging elements of your work and taking out irrelevant images is extremely important.
Even if you really like a particular image, don’t keep it if it doesn’t make sense! If an image fits well into the context, but it has horrible resolution or composition, take it down and retake it! Be critical about your work and constantly question if your images are following your concept.
Don’t be afraid of editing. Don’t be afraid of taking things down, even if this mean going back to the first page. For me, I was constantly redoing my pages every hour. I could be done with 8 pages but after critique with my tutors, there could be only 2 pages left. It is quite painful to watch your work taken down, but all is for refining. Even if you are taking images down, you are still going forward in the design process.
7. Listen to Your Tutor vs. Listen to Your Heart
Sometimes your ideas will clash with your tutor’s comments. Your tutors, being respected professionals in the fashion industry will most probably know more than you.. SO, always listen to your tutor and try their suggestions first. If it really doesn’t work, then argue another way. Show your tutors that you have taken in their feedback but it just doesn’t align with your vision.
8. Trace + Sketch + Design
After collaging and experimenting, you can start sketching. If you have developed interesting silhouettes through experimentation, you can trace them onto vellum or tracing paper and transform them into more garment-looking designs. Note that the actual designing only happens after a longggggg process of experimentation!
9. When stuck…
When you feel lost and stuck in your project, take a short break and review your past pages. Show your peers and see what they think. Ask what kind of feeling or sense do they detect from your work. If they are describing the exact feeling you are crafting, you are in the right direction! If not, continue to adjust and edit!
You can also observe what your peers are doing with their project. Is there a technique or experimentation that you can try as well?
10. Work Hard, Play Harder
Designing should be fun and playful! To me, designing is about experimentation, trial and error. At times, it can be intense and you don’t know if your concept even makes sense, and just want to rip it all out. But it is all part of the design process. Work hard, but play harder with your ideas, and it will surely take you somewhere.
These 3 weeks at CSM was incredible, I will do it all over again in a heart beat.
If interested, definitely check out the CSM short courses here!