Copyright, Style, and Fashion , or How DO You Come Up With Ideas?

Today I was going to write about the most recent foray into legislating fashion copyright presented by NY Representative Charles Schumer this month, but then I got distracted. However, we will return to this fascinating topic because it needs to be ripped apart and really examined. Suffice it to say, nice try, guys, but no Oreo.

But I digress.

I just finished my most recent textile collection, Carriage Trade’s Faster, which features, as one might imagine, horses going fast. Specifically, it features big athletic chestnut & bay thoroughbreds going fast on the track, beach and over fences.  As I was happily ticking off the ‘available for sale’ forms, someone meandered in and looked over my shoulder and said, how do you come up with these ideas?

Which lead into a discussion about design versus product development (at the point where I’m releasing the collection for sale the design is kinda long ago and long done, for me at least.) Once we got that clear, then we went back to the original question. How do you come up with designs, and how can you make sure they don’t infringe on someone else’s copyright?

I pointed out that at this point in our human evolution, pretty much every sort of style fillip has been tried. As a species we’re not all that old, and we have been bilaterally symmetrical since we stood upright and started our species’ flirtation with back and foot issues. We aren’t terribly complicated forms (2 arms, 2 legs, head, body) and we have had the same basic needs to cover and protect our various appendages that we’ve had for the last half millenia.

As you look back over recorded history, you can see all sorts of fashion styles that went in and out – some because of religion, some because of changes in materials and manufacture, some because of celebrity, some because of legislation, some because of climate change, political change and some just because one or more human animal craved difference and was the earliest trend setter.

Does any of this sound familiar? Good, because while it seems that fashion changes happen really fast the truth is innovation itself, new ideas, new concepts, is not easy and doesn’t happen all that often. (And I personally really, really, really dislike the hijacking of innovation and innovative, since true innovation is really hard and most so-called innovations aren’t.)

So how do we come up with our styles, especially high-volume designers like yours truly?

We spend a lot of time looking at things. We look at things in nature, things in the man made world, we do a lot of web surfing (I love Jeremy Gutsche’s Trend Hunter, Pantone’s news letter, the IEEE web site, and the Materia database web site), we ‘go out into the marketplace and review and sample’ other designer’s work (In other words, we shop and buy). We go to museums. We look at art.  Maybe we listen to music. We read the trend reports. We handle materials. Sometimes we just start doodling and see what emerges.

And then maybe we’re ready to design. How do we come up with our ideas….let’s go back to the concept that innovation is a bitch, and that most styles have been done in one form or another. Most designers are not haute couture designers who are creating runway style.

This is a really important concept because it means most of us are not trying to be unique or innovative. We’re actually trying very hard to deliver styles that will sell into our marketplace, whatever that marketplace has been determined to be.  We’re following what the trend reports say are important styles, memes, colors, concepts. We’re picking up on what the name designers are showing on the runway, and we’re lensing and interpreting all of these things to make what we hope will be a commercially successful collection.

The haute couture designers who are showing new on the runway have a tough job because they have to at least try to innovate. That’s why you get such visually off the wall collections like Amsterdam-based Viktor and Rolfe’s 2007 collection with self-contained lighting.  It was certainly unique, and weirdly stimulated a desire in the marketplace to have clothing with lighting on it. I was asked to prototype some handwear (gloves to you non-practitioners) that featured lighting, intended for the juvenile mass market.

Making light-up gloves was hardly a sweeping new innovation – it wasn’t even my idea. But the way I approached the challenge was unique, the ways I chose to execute the style was unique, and the ultimate sample was very unlike runway models with huge Kleig lights as shoulder pads.

As for the Faster collection, it simply built off a pilot project I’ve been working on for the past two years. It just made sense to me to do the Thoroughbred-centric collection now. I wish there were more glitter and fairy wands involved here, but alas, it was just common sense of where the Faster concepts came from…

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