What is Fashion Design? Everything You Need to Know

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What is Fashion Design?

Fashion design is the creative process of sketching and drawing outfits and accessories that are pleasantly looking but also functional and comfortable to wear.

Fashion design requires a deep understanding of aesthetics – patterns, motifs, shapes, silhouettes, matching colors, and materials – and fashionstyles, trends, seasons, consumer segments, and even tailoring techniques such as cutting and sewing.

Fashion Design Process
Fashion Design – Source: The VOU

Compared to artistic design, which puts the accent on aesthetically pleasing creations, the craft of Fashion Design reinforces the importance of comfort and functionality in clothes and accessories.




The History of Fashion Design

The design of fashion (outfits and accessories) has a recent construct. Before 1850, the creation of garments was described as ‘costume design.’

In 1858, Charles Frederick Worth, an English fashion designer hailed as the father of haute couture, introduced unique design practices like sewing the artisan’s name into the creations.

Charles Frederick Worth fashion design 1858
Charles Frederick Worth fashion design by House of Worth (France, 1858 – 1956) – Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Compared to the garments made by anonymous seamstresses, Worth’s fashion designs resembled popular high fashion worn at royal courts and reached massive success with the general public.

Personalized fashion design with aesthetics from other subcultures and stylistic influences from previous eras became the norm.

By the 19th century, fashion houses hiring artists to sketch garments and accessories became a common practice.

Fashion design sketch 19th century
Fashion sketch 90th Century – Source: Victoria and Albert Museum

Rather than going straight into manufacturing, the images were shown to clients to gain approval, saving the designer time and money.

If the client liked the fashion design, the patrons would commission the designer to produce the client’s garment in the fashion house.




Modern Fashion Design

Modern fashion designs start as drawings on paper or a computer, sometimes followed by draping fabric onto a mannequin – if the designer is knowledgeable in cutting and sewing.

The design process comprises various steps and procedures and is unique to each designer.

Modern Fashion Design Process
Modern Fashion Design Process – Source: The VOU

When the fashion designer is satisfied with the fit of the toile (or muslin), a professional pattern maker will make a working version of the pattern.

The final part of the fashion design process is testing live samples on fashion models to ensure their wearability, functionality, and comfort.




Types of Fashion Design

The role of fashion design is to draw and combine shapes, patterns, aesthetics, motifs, and colors from previous subcultures in a cohesive final product called a garment or outfit.

The designer will also choose the materials used and the types of cutting and sewing to ensure the final product meets the buyers’ needs.

Accordingly, fashion design can be divided into five main categories:

1. Fashion Design for Haute Couture

Custom fashion design catered to a particular individual is called high fashion, bespoke tailoring, or haute couture.

Until the 1940s, clothes were designed in haute couture (French for high-sewing).

Each garment was made to measure according to the client’s specific measurements.

Haute couture garments are made to order by expert artisans from high-quality, expensive fabrics and sewn by hand with extreme attention to confer unique details.

Haute Couture Fashion Design
Haute Couture Fashion Design

The fit and final look of the garment primes over the cost of materials or the time it takes to create.

Because of the high costs involved (time and money), haute couture design creations bring little profit for fashion houses.

However, haute couture design remains one of the essential ways fashion Maisons showcase creativity and expertise while creating publicity and receiving prestige.

2. Co-creative Fashion Design

Co-creative fashion design allows the consumer to participate in designing their clothing.

Co-created fashion or ‘Half-way garments’ design technique is an alternative to ready-to-wear or prêt-à-porter fashion.

Co-creative Fashion Design
Co-creative Fashion Design – Source: The VOU

Half-way garments are intentionally left unfinished by the ‘primary designer’ and shared with the ‘passive’ consumer to encourage the process of co-design.

In their study, Fashion Activism through Participatory Design, Hirscher and Niinimaki found that consumers’ involvement in the garment-making process creates a ‘meaningful narrative’ by establishing a ‘person-product attachment’ and increased sentimental value.




3. Ready-to-wear Fashion Design (prêt-à-porter)

Fashion design for Ready-to-wear garments (in French prêt-à-porter) is a cross between haute couture design and the industrial design of clothes for the mass market.

Ready-to-wear fashion design does not cater to specific customers but to a segment of people interested in a particular fashion style.

Ready-to-wear Pret-a-porter Fashion Design
Ready-to-wear (Prêt-à-porter) Fashion Design – Source: The VOU

As such, the aesthetic choice, motifs, patterns, materials, cuts, and colors are essential in Ready-to-wear fashion design.

Ready-to-wear clothes are made in small quantities to resemble Haute Couture’s sense of exclusivity, and the price reflects that it is cheaper than Haute Couture clothes but more expensive than mass-market clothes.

Ready-to-wear fashion design clothes are part of the collections presented by fashion houses during Fashion Weeks on a citywide basis twice a year – spring/summer and fall/winter.

4. Fashion Design for Mass Market

Mass market fashion design provides over 94% of the garments the worldwide fashion industry sells yearly.

The mass market fashion design is copying and replicating unique designer creations that have become trendy among the general public.

Fast fashion design
Fast Fashion Design – Source: Reuters/Andrea Comas

Mass-market clothes are made by machines on industrial production lines, from cheap materials meant to last a season so customers repeatedly purchase new trends.

Fashion design for the mass market is also known as fast fashion.

5. Sustainable Fashion Design

Sustainable fashion design is the creation of garments and accessories by using eco-friendly and recycled materials that satisfy consumers while protecting the environment.

Sustainable fashion designers pay close attention to the initial selection of materials, products’ longevity, and post-consumption reuse to avoid waste.

Sustainable Fashion Design
Sustainable Fashion Design

Sustainable fashion has indices that help designers choose materials according to their environmental impacts throughout the garments’ life cycle.

Examples of such sustainable design indices include NIKE Inc.’s Materials Sustainability Index, Timberland Green Index, the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco-Index, and the Higg Index of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, endorsed by over 50 industry-leading brands, retailers, and suppliers.

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After years of managing hundreds of fashion brands from London's office of a global retailer, Mandy has ventured into freelancing. Connected with several fashion retailers and media platforms in the US, Australia, and the UK, Mandy uses her expertise to consult for emerging fashion brands create top-notch content as an editorial strategist for several online publications.

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