In todays post, we continue discussing Dieter Ram’s five remaining design principles while the designer sketches.
Good Design is Honest
There is truth in what you wear. Take the ubiquitous white T-shirt. Its basic promise to you is coverage, providing warmth at the price-point you need in the most unobtrusive way. Whether it’s from Hanes or The Row is beyond the point. One’s not better than the other. Both do what they say they’ll do. No more, no less.
It’s also why I think companies like Zara and Celine could coexist peacefully. Zara modestly offers you fashion at a humble price point, while Celine (should you have the means) offers unparalleled luxury and the feeling of power.
So even though Zara, at times, is heavily influenced by Celine’s offerings— to the point where working gals breathlessly await for “Zalines” to drop— their prices cater to wholly different economic backgrounds. I sure as hell can’t afford Phoebe Philo’s look #16 from the Summer 2016 collection, scraping by with a mortgage in New York City, but if Zara has an inspired version at a price that won’t break the bank? Hey, I’m there!
There’s no shame having champagne taste* on a Colt 45 budget. We all want the same thing: Fashion that’s appropriate for our budget, and good design done honestly. That’s why designers keep sketching.
Good design is long-lasting
Aside from solving your outfit needs regardless of price, good design has staying power. T-shirts were mentioned earlier. Want to see more examples? Look no further than the designer MVPs. That’s right, the actual style-setters who dress the starlets and common folk.
Funny woman Tina Fey recalls a conversation with a friend, “Don’t wear what fashion designers tell you to wear. Wear what they wear.” Take Tom Ford—he’s a veritable walking fashion empire who rap artists name drop all the time. Remember that ad campaign where a man (face unseen) artfully trims the pubes of a kimono-clad woman into a “G”?
He’s the mastermind of bringing sexy back to Gucci in the 90s and yet, the man wears his trademark shirt and smartly tailored pants like a pro. Aside from the shirt being unbuttoned all the way down there, that is. He’s a study in well-fitted classics.
Most designers go for endurance when it comes to dressing themselves. Look at Phoebe Philo. Alexander Wang. Jenna Lyons. Avoiding trends like the plague, they don turtlenecks, Levi jeans or Converse shoes. Their Persol glasses and Stan Smith trainers have endured the test of time.
If a design is relevant, it will last many years. The jean. The shirt. The slacks. That white T-shirt again. It never gets old. These are every designer’s equivalent to the Holy Grail.
Good Design is Environmentally Friendly
Eco-friendliness is not something the apparel industry does well. In mid-to-moderate level markets where there’s so much noise, companies feel the need to differentiate from the pack by sticking additional tags on garments with stickers, chains…you get the idea. It’s unnecessary.
Fabric and trim selection are areas where designers can make an impact. Thousands of trim cards and fabric headers pass through their hands during any given season when aesthetics and function are considered along with price point. Price-friendly and production-ready materials are not usually environmentally friendly, so savvy designers partner up with mills to innovate and encourage efficiency in this area.
Good Design is Thorough down to the last detail
Brands that shine are the ones that see finishing touches as opportunity.
Attention to detail translates to sales. During an exhaustive search for leggings, I found a pair from Patagonia with a gusset at the crotch. This brought me joy as it meant less chafing from where there’s normally a crotch seam, thus increasing mobility and preventing the dreaded camel toe.
The consumer notices. They’re not stupid.
Good Design is as little design as possible
Discerning customers take note–Tina Fey’s friend is on to something. “His point being that most designers, no matter what they throw on the runway, favor simple, flattering pieces for themselves.”
When you study the wardrobes of fashion insiders, they don the simplest uniform of t-shirts and jeans with sneakers. The most consummate of tastemakers are not burdened with non-essentials. Instead, they concentrate on simplicity. Even the IPhone follows the same code. As a tool, it does a lot, but it’s visually edited down to what’s necessary.
Shirts, trousers and sneaks. The perfect pump, ballet flat, watch. These items are boiled down to the bare minimum. Less is inherently more.
Such conversations flit in and out designers’ minds at any given moment when they sketch. Is it innovative? Beautiful? Useful? Is it simple and understandable, with no distractions? Is it honest and thought through? Dieter Rams ten product design principles filter out the useless, winnowing down the entire fashion design process to one question: Is this design good?
And if it is, only then does the pencil go down.
*Savvy trendsetters such as Garance Dore and Amanda Brooks perversely pepper Zara or their “Zalines” with the real Celine in their wardrobes.