Are the Abilities to Sew and Draw Critical to Being a Fashion Designer?

Famous Fashion Designers that can’t draw or sew.

After receiving rave reviews for her first collection, pop singer-turned-fashion designer, Victoria Beckham, found herself being quizzed about her technical ability in fashion. “Do I draw? No,” she said, “Then again, nor do lots of designers.” I wouldn’t say this is the fashion industry’s ‘dirty little secret’, but Victoria is right. Fewer top designers can either sew or draw that you might imagine. And very few are good at both but the area where all fashion designers must excel is creativity.

A lot of top designers came from other professions. Hip Hop artist Sean John Combs founded the multi-million dollar Sean John fashion label. Former model Kimora Lee is currently the CEO of Phat Fashions (and was previously the Creative Director of Baby Phat). Socialite Nicky Hilton is the founder of Chick. And actress Rachel Bilson has even designed for DKNY. Other fashion moguls that aren’t experts in drawing and sewing include Mark Ecko of Marc Ecko Enterprises and Ecko Unlimited, Jay Z, Justine Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Russell Simmons, and designer for Byron Bay Swimwear, Colin Heaney. The list goes on. In fact, once a clothing label reaches a certain level of success it will be hard for the head designer to still find time to sew anyway with so many other functions to perform.

Recently, too, Kate Moss began designing for the British fashion company, Top Shop, which has just launched in the US. In an interview with Fashion Week News, Moss acknowledged, “I’ve never been to school or been trained. I can’t draw a dress, really. But I know what I like.”

Knowing what you like – and what you don’t like – is probably the most important aspect of fashion design. Understanding style, knowing how a garment could be improved, and styling a fashion collection, doesn’t require skill in drawing or sewing, contrary to what some people might think.

“There are a bunch of naysayers who think they are authorities on the subject telling people that if you can’t sew you can’t be a fashion designer or a successful one which is totally untrue. It’s like telling a singer they can’t be a singer if they can’t write a song. The term I use to describe this nonsense is classical mess!” -Jay Arrington

Although designers often begin a collection by making rough sketches, and although every fashion company will need technical illustrations to send to their clothing manufacturer, this process has been made simple with fashion design software, which provides plenty of shortcuts and doesn’t demand traditional drawing skills.

“Fashion Designing software enables you to draw fashion illustrations more efficiently. While this is not a knock to hand sketching, it is giving kudos to fashion designing software. In fact, most manufacturers if not all of them want clothing designers to send them computerize illustrated sketches over a hand illustrated sketches.”-Michael H.

Most designers will also work with a pattern cutter or seamstress if they can’t sew to help cut and make up the garments (usually from the fashion designer’s sketches). Of course designers who are just starting out might hire a pattern cutter and/or machinist for a few hours as necessary in order to keep their expenditure down. Established designers will probably have a full time pattern cutter or two. As award winning fashion designer Betty Jackson told Vogue magazine last year, “I’m very bad at sewing … Luckily, I have people who can do it.”

Not being able to draw or sew hasn’t stopped some of the biggest names in fashion. And it shouldn’t stop you. With vision, drive, and the right tools, you too can succeed as a fashion designer. Just remember, if you don’t know how to do something – either learn how to do it or surround yourself with people who can.

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