After a Fashion

Our Style Avatar's career in fashion design dons funeral black.

REST IN PEACE The fabric and sample sale at IDoL Gallery happened recently -- notable, perhaps, only to me: I sold off the contents of my design studio, lock, stock, and sewing machine, and retired from the design end of the fashion business. After two decades of amassing a collection of magnificent fabrics and trim, as well as extensive supplies and equipment, I have come to the conclusion that the fashion business is a dead end. I'm just sorry it took me so long to figure it out. Not that I didn't enjoy it; I garnered the deepest creative satisfaction out of it. Seeing my designs in virtually every store on Fifth Avenue a few years ago was one of the supreme achievements of my life. But I kept making the one mistake (out of so many) over and over: wanting to produce the finest product I could, lavishing love and incredible attention to detail in every stitch. I was trapped in some sort of time warp in which people cared about quality and knew the difference … but that must have been centuries ago. Anyway, it didn't work out. After declaring bankruptcy two years ago, I held on to everything, thinking that I could reorganize everything, but what needed reorganizing was my thought process. What I should have understood, was that people don't want to pay for quality; they want to pay for an association with a celebrity.

Many people believe that if you make something for them, it should cost less than if they bought it at the mall. Perhaps they are imagining poor-quality sewing and cheap fabrics. Yet, I can't think of any independently working designer that does not care deeply about every aspect of the garment they are producing -- as opposed to the mall, at which you will probably purchase a garment produced by a faceless Third World slave in a sweatshop. At my studio sale, I overheard the appalling remark, "My daughter's such a snob, if it didn't come from the mall, she doesn't want it." That's snobbish? Hell, darlin', the mall is ground zero for poor quality and cookie-cutter fashion. What's snobbish about having the exact same T-shirt as all your friends? The only thing that tells people is that you have no originality, and do not understand the concept of personal style.

Personal style is what design is all about. It is a passionate pursuit, encompassing all of the senses, and the elements of all of the elements of high drama. But some things run their course, and the drama and the form of expression can somehow lose its enchanting hold. Selling off the detritus of one's former career can be devastating. Each ribbon and length of fabric carried in it a part of my history, and I always remembered how long I had had it, where I bought it, who I was with, and how I had used it. The things that had meant so much were being pawed at by strangers who would thrust something at me, asking "How much?" How could I put a price on the sentiment? I couldn't. They weren't there to buy sentiment; they were there to buy fabric and supplies as cheaply as possible. And I was there to sell, and sell, I did. Afterward, IDoL looked like a bomb had gone off, with memories and mess strewn everywhere, and I was numb with the success, as well as the heartache. Several of the buyers were starting their own design studios. I was pleased to see my belongings going to them. The vision of style and beauty is a potent one, and those possessed by it are powerless over it: They must create or die. Good luck: the Small Business Administration says that clothing businesses (and other design-oriented concerns) are the second-most likely businesses to fail … after restaurants. The passion doesn't die only the business. The world is littered with failed designers, and when someone like the venerated Anna Wintour tells us that Sean "Puffy" Combs is "an incredible designer," design's collective stomach turns, knowing that there is no such passion and love involved, only a desire to make money off the folks that think the mall is the coolest place on earth. May they rest in peace.

TIKI TAKEOVER Is the theme of Cindy Crowe's new collection of paintings and accessories. (I raved about her new handbags in last week's column.) Being given an appropriately stylish launch on March 9, 7-10pm, at Under the Sun (1321 S. Congress), it is the first of many events that Steve & Lisa Dean will be hosting at their space during SXSW.

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