We used to stand in front of the mirror for hours. Donna, the design team, fit model and whatever fabric we were in love with. Donna would drape, re angle, play. Over the years we had developed an understanding and didn't really need to speak. The other designers and I would hold the fabric in place on the models' body , occasionally moving it to suggest a new line."What if....?".. sentences were not always completed, they weren't needed, a gesture would suffice. And then, there would come those moments. Suddenly, out of fabric and hands and pins, art would happen. A shape, a proportion,a new silhouette would emerge. We all knew when it was happening. You could feel your skin tingling. Donna's demeanor would change and there would be a moment of stillness. "photo please" someone would say. A camera would always be ready nearby to capture the new creation, from all angles possible. Everything would stand still for a moment and then we were off again: draping, re-angling, playing.
We would follow a similar process on our desks, draping ideas on our body forms, 2 or 3 at a time. A muslin clad army surrounding us. Donna would roam around our desks. If there was something that spoke to her she would play with it and re create it, sketch out more ideas.
Then came the hard part, capturing that moment, that gesture, and transforming it into a finished garment that would carry the emotion we felt whilst creating it down the runway. In the process of realizing a design, it is tempting to dot all the i's and cross all the t's. To produce something airtight, perfectly packaged and perfectly finished. Doing so often squeezes the humanity, individuality and emotion out of design. It looses energy and life. It is much harder to know when to stop, what to leave unsaid, unfinished. where contrast needs to be shown, what are the jarring elements that are necessary.....when to say when.
A design that is stopped intentionally, because it is capturing a moment and saying what it needs to, as opposed to answering all the questions, requires engagement and understanding from both the creator and the viewer and is, ultimately much more fulfilling for both.
If the moment was lost in translation, Donna would always know. If it was captured, it would become the start of another journey in search of another moment. And this is how each collection was built: a relentless process where mediocrity was not tolerated, but we were not aiming for perfection. Instead, we were looking for expression. It was in turns exhilarating and torturous, deeply frustrating and satisfying at the same time. I was aware, then, that this was a once in a lifetime experience. So much has changed in recent times. Trends and desires move so fast, that the process is getting sacrificed in many cases.
Time stood still in front of the mirror. And there I became a woman, a wife, a mother. Most of all, there is where I learned everything I know that is worth knowing about design. I would not give back a second of the time spent there. The late nights, exhaustion, tensions, were all worth it.
Donna: thank you for being a mentor, an inspiration a teacher and a mother.