Sunday, February 22, 2015

NYFW Red Dress Diary, Part I: Drape, Sew, Fit, Repeat

When the board of the San Francisco Fashion Incubator asked me to create a gown for the prestigious Go Red for Women runway show at New York Fashion Week, I initially didn't know what to say. As the only lingerie designer in a program mostly populated by womenswear designers, this amazing opportunity was quite the surprise, and, frankly, a challenge I was at once thrilled and a little nervous to take on. While Evgenia's focus is lingerie, I'm not a stranger to making dresses and gowns - in fact, my education at FIDM was in womenswear.

Initial sketches, preparing for the first drape, padding the dress form

I was asked to submit three initial designs, the first of which was my absolute favorite - a 1930's-themed bias cut gown with star lace appliqués throughout. After some celebrity changes (my first assigned celeb had to back out due to schedule conflicts), I was eventually assigned to dress celebrity chef Carla Hall, a former model who stands at an astonishingly statuesque 6' tall. I was told that she loved my first sketch, was given her measurements and got to work preparing to drape my gown. Because the mannequin I was working with was scaled for a shorter woman, I had to pad her out a bit to fit one considerably taller. With the help of FISF's resident sewing, pattern making and apparel construction expert Dorothy Yuki, I created a totally new form on which to drape.

Carla had requested that I pare down the star detailing on the dress, something I was more than happy to do. My first sketches were on the more fantastical side and after some thought I wasn't sure how they would translate to the runway. A more measured approach to embellishment seemed to be more fitting for a Fashion Week show, so I removed the center sash star and a bunch of the star appliqués throughout the top portion of the gown. Because of Carla's past runway experience, I thought adding a sweeping skirt would create a beautiful motion during the show for a confident walker.

First bodice mockup

I actually did two separate drapes, one for my first assigned celebrity who as 5'2" and the second for Carla Hall. In all, I sewed the bodice four separate times, three times for Carla's gown. Many of the design elements I dreamed up proved to be a bit more complicated to execute than I'd initially thought. For example, the gathering at the bust caused some issues with the waist seam (see above) which I had to allow extra ease for. The hip yoke was cut on the bias to allow for maximum fit flexibility, but as any dressmaker knows, bias is a whole different ballgame and can be quite a challenge to work with. After meeting with Dorothy to make the proper pattern adjustments following my first draft, I figured it was time to move into my final fabric with only 12 days to go until New York.

Second bodice mockup with skirt

The second draft of Carla's bodice was a million times better with some minor, easy-to-fix issues. At that point, I drafted the skirt pattern and tried it out in some extra silk I had lying around. Dorothy and I agreed that we should allow an extra 6" for the bottom hem to allow for the possibility of sky high shoes.

Star appliques and snips

Once I was happy with the final skirt shape, I began cutting in in the final fabric and adding the star appliqués one by one with the help of my intern, Lux. Each of the four panels of the skirt had between 12 - 15 stars on it, each hand-basted, appliquéd by machine and snipped by hand with sewing scissors.

Second bodice mockup (left), fitting with Michelle Byrnes, final gown before finishing

Once the skirt was finished, I was desperate to try the gown on someone with similar proportions to Carla, but I didn't know anyone 6' tall with shared similar measurements. Then a friend suggested I call up 2013 Designer in Residence and kickass designer in her own right Michelle Byrnes. She's not 6' tall, but she's pretty darn close, and pretty close to Carla's body measurements. She came by the Incubator and we tried on the gown. There remained some small fit considerations, but it was clear I was getting a lot closer to the final product! I ended up lowering the waist seam, lengthening the bias yoke and extending the shoulders which yielded…

The final gown

…the final product! Per Dorothy's recommendations, I left large seam allowances at the side seams to manage any potential fit issues that would pop up. Remember, I didn't have a chance to fit Carla in person until my arrival in New York, at which point any major alterations would be out of my hands.

Next up, my final fitting in New York and the NYFW Go Red runway show!

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