The Art and Science Of Fashion Design September 21, 2012

Guest Post By Theresa Fuchs-Santiago, Vice President & Britton Warren, Research Associate , Martens & Heads

 Having met with many designers over the years, we are constantly hearing “a good designer is able to design anything.” But is this really true? I am not sure some of our client would agree so that got us thinking, what are the skills that make a successful designer?

 After consulting with members of my team, we constructed a list of important traits, abilities, and attributes that a designer at any level needs. And of course, as with any industry, personality and cultural fit within an organization is always critical to success.

 1.) A passion and dedication for design. While this might seem obvious, this particular industry/job is a life choice vs. a job. It consumes most of a designer’s life and is a full-time commitment with long hours.

 2.) Creativity with the ability to interpret specific brand DNA successfully, while constantly evolving the aesthetic. A good designer understands what “codes” make a brand special and how to incorporate them consistently, but can also bring a sense of “newness” to the customer. At the senior level, designers begin to infuse more of their own personal style within an existing aesthetic to give a brand its’ own “epoch.”

 3.) Understanding of the business side of fashion. This includes the design process, calendars, pricing, and positioning to create “complete collections” that are commercially viable. Sheer creativity without commercial sense is no longer an option in this competitive marketplace.

 4.) Ability to find trends and filter out appropriate trends for your brand. Just because something is “hot” does not mean it’s relevant to every brand. Neons, bedazzlement, and cutouts all have their time.

 5.) Strong communication skills. While this is important in any field, communication with a creative team about shared visions, concepts, and ideas with team and cross-functional partners are vital to success. Creating a full and cohesive collection is a team effort.

 6.) Solid technical skills. This includes sketching, drawing, CAD, draping, fitting, etc. Knowledge of different fabrications, materials, and trim is important and, depending on the size of the company, you might have to know how to source and develop product.

 7.) Leadership and vision. Depending on level, a designer might be responsible for inspiring and motivating the design teams, as well as sales, marketing/PR, etc. What is your brand and where is it going? How is it relevant or necessary? Why should someone buy it?

 8.) In the case of designers who have their own lines, it’s important to define and identify one’s own brand, aesthetic, customer, and selling point, and stay consistently true to this. In the overlycrowded marketplace, there is little room for imposters or knockoffs. What is your collections’ reason for being?

9.) The ability to work outside of the spotlight is important for junior designers and those supporting big names and major brands. Only a handful of Creative Directors become household names, and many times it’s their support team that has designed the actual collection pieces, without public recognition. 

10.) Resourcefulness! Not every brand and line can afford the most luxurious materials, so it’s important to get creative and turn $1.00-a-yard fabric into something special and desirable. Money is the bottom line, so a cost-conscious designer is vital in all but the most extravagant houses.