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The Art of Fashion Design

Showcasing the design process from renowned experts in the fashion industry

Fashion is many things. It is both an extension of our personalities and a representation of who we want to be portrayed as. Fashion is also history. Whether you are well-versed in the fascinating world of fashion or not, any individual can understand that at its core, from mass-market products to custom couture, fashion is art. 

Speaking with several local fashion experts, you can see how fashion design meets the eye of the beholder, but that the design process is anything but subjective. 

Sonya Abrego is an independent scholar specializing in the history of design and 20th century fashion, holding a PhD in decorative arts, design history, and material culture studies. 

Abrego eloquently explains that fashion connects with everything from business to economics and of course, design and style, stating the best part about her job as a professor is “combining the visuals and putting them in their historical concepts.” 

She provides the example of a man’s classic three-piece suit, a look that came to the fore at the turn of the 17th century, and is lasting well into modern-day, indicating an astute and remarkable signal of what exactly the three-piece suit signifies. 

“There being a push for the three-piece suit to be an unchanging constant that ends up following these standard garments of the business attire for the gentleman who is masculine, serious, and business-like, is much of what we explore,” Abrego states of her lectures. 

If you think about the cultural and historical implications of why the vest, jacket, and pant became so standardized for such a long period of time, it speaks volumes of societal norms and pressures, bringing into question why we don’t have that same standardization for women. 

“It’s a really rich way to see how people exist with the past,” Abrego states. “It tells a lot about the relationship someone has with a certain period of time.” 

Kim Nelson, Assistant Chair over the Jewelry Design Program at The Fashion Institute of Technology, provided insight into his work as a high jewelry designer including the arduous process that designing an exquisite, life-lasting piece can entail. 

“What I love is the mastery of the high jewelry world,” Nelson states confidently. “Keeping the traditions and skill-sets alive, we insist on doing things by hand at FIT, as well as design on the computer.” 

Speaking in conjunction with the fashion industry, Nelson confirms that the high jewelry (or fine jewelry) world “moves to different cycles,” as fashion, for the most part, is seasonal.

“It has a very different relationship with its customer,” Nelson compares. “People buy high and fine jewelry with the intent of wearing it for the rest of their lives. It fluctuates very little within a decade.” 

Working in illustration for eight years with publications like Business Week and Forbes, Nelson’s pivot to designing jewelry felt somewhat seamless. He credits his infatuation with jewelry to his grandmother who liked to wear black diamonds. 

Viewing jewelry largely as sculpture, Nelson has worked with some of the finest gemstones in the world that have been around since the 15th century. Much of his work is stone intensive, centering around precious sapphires, rubies, diamonds, and emeralds, and exploring more esoteric stones such as tourmalines, garnets, and heliodor. 

Working digitally allows Nelson to draw and paint his designs with 100% precision. After CAD modeling, the parts get cast into metal, to which he contracts a jeweler to do the final fabrication. From there, the piece gets fabricated and polished, then delivered to the customer. 

“You want it to be permanent,” he concludes of the design process. “You're taking natural materials and setting them up in precious metals and using a tremendous amount of labor. It's about longevity and uniqueness.” 

Wedding and evening gown designer Lara Knight matches dress design to being like a paint and paintbrush — “from the fold of the fabric to the shaping of a dress, you’re creating different draping and beading that results in a wearable art form,” Knight says. 

Designing wedding and evening gowns for 20 years, Knight acknowledges that fashion is created with imagination and skill, attributing her talent to an innateness she feels she was born with. 

“The biggest thing I use is the human form, manipulating it with my corsetry and bustling,” Knight commented. “I once made a corset out of copper (a full metal corset), playing with the shape of the human, getting to manipulate the lace and the beading. Right now I’m making a dress with a delicate chain mail which has a warrior sense to it.” 

Alongside art, Knight reveres fashion design as a representation of time, history, and people. “To me, fashion is almost a timeline,” Knight says. “You say fringe, you think flapper. You say black turtleneck, you think Steve Jobs. It’s an identifying trait that transports you to the time period of your choice.” 

She interprets design as telling a story. “From working with the muslin to seeing the gorgeous fabric show up and fitting it to their bodies, it’s such an intimate form of design that has an indelible mark on an unforgettable time in their life,” she states. “Being able to create that kind of beauty is unlike anything else.”

“You say fringe, you think flapper. You say black turtleneck, you think Steve Jobs. It’s an identifying trait that transports you to the time period of your choice.” -Lara Knight

  • Jennifer Zarine Photography
  • Jennifer Zarine Photography