This dream started the way that many fantastical dreams do– out of admiration for a comic book hero(ine). I was in college, aged 20, in my last year of studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, while I also happened to be reading a comic series called Gokinjo Monogatari. It’s about a high school girl whose dream is to start her own clothing line. There were lots of things that struck me about this girl. She had a strong personality. She was determined and a workaholic. It wasn’t that she wanted to be famous or rich, she had a vision, an unusual sense of style, and the clothes that she wanted to make were unlike clothes she could find in a store. Her clothes were so interesting and well drawn that, I wanted to wear those clothes too, after seeing the comic. I was so impressed and inspired by this girl that I felt a huge urge to toss everything I had done for 4 years, and become a fashion designer.
It was a particularly ridiculous dream considering my upbringing. My parents gave me 50 books for every stuffed animal, legos instead of plastic jewelry, a microscope but never an American Girls doll. In highschool, my budget for clothes was $5 for shirts and $10 for skirts or pants. It was just as well that I bought $5 clothes, because all the clothes in the stores in town were boring to me. I always thought to myself that I was beyond caring about fashion, that I’d much rather spend my time reading about the possibility of subsurface oceans on Europa and spending my money on art supplies. But at the same time with those art supplies I drew a lot of comic strips and sketches in random notebooks, and the people that I’d draw would be wearing clothes that I’d make up myself. It wasn’t until I was in San Francisco some summer of my college years that I looked in a boutique at some strange asymmetric dress and thought to myself– “This. This is the kind of clothing that I have been looking for all of my life.” It wasn’t an exact match, of course, to the drawings in my sketchbooks, but it was close. And it was a weird revelation to me at that moment that I really did care about clothes.
Anyway, after reading Gokinjo Monogatari, I had a go at designing and sewing dresses. Armed only with trigonometry and the dorm’s community sewing machine I attempted to modify sewing patterns to fit my ideas. The whole thing was a failure. Reading sewing patterns was hard. I didn’t like any single pattern exactly as it was, but imagining how any changes I made would affect the dress in the end was hard, too. There were tons of books on the subject, but it was still all so complicated to me. After spending hours on the dresses, they looked cheap and horribly made. I shrugged and went back to my resistors and multimeters. Well, it was kind of ridiculous anyway. But, this whole escapade still affected me. See, it had happened because I had been feeling worried re: my major and deathly afraid that I’d end up with a tedious job, and the little comic heroine reminded me of why I had become an engineer in the first place– because I really like making things. There are fewer things in this world that give me joy in the pure way that making things does. It makes me feel alive and powerful, it encourages me to be creative and resourceful, and at the end of it, I have something that I or other people can actually use. Every once in a while, between bouts of studying, I thought about the dress-making problem again. Maybe I could still do this, but in an engineering way. Maybe I could design a program that would let me draw and design a dress that I like and it would take care of the pattern making aspects– there must be an algorithm for that, right? I tucked away the dream for a couple years, but when I saw an opening for a position at a user-interface/computer graphics research lab in Tokyo, I knew exactly what I’d write up for my proposal.
After six months of working at the design interface lab at Tokyo University, I did make that program. It lets you draw a dress in 3D on and around an actual mannequin with a motion capture system; I made the dress in the photograph by drawing armholes and cutouts and skirt and seams in the program and having it generate the pattern automatically (using a rigid transform from 3D to a plane). It’s not flawless, but it’s a dress that I’m finally happy with, because the design was just as I wanted it, and it fits my body perfectly. For me, that’s a first. Maybe it says something about the kind of person that I am, that instead of learning how to make patterns, I made a program to figure out the pattern making for me. But everyone who tested it (including the super sweet & talented hello sandwich!), people who’ve never sewn/designed clothes and people who sew as a hobby or profession said that they loved using the program to tweak the dress to exactly how they wanted it to look and having the computer figure out the pattern. Now, I want to translate that to a 2D version that anyone can use at home. I’ll keep working on it because it’s really important to me to have it available for anyone to download. (And you can email me/comment/check back here for updates when it’s ready.)
I believe that people should follow their deepest dreams, no matter how silly, crazy and frivolous. That these dreams are important, and you have them for a reason, that you will find out once you pursue them. I believe that “Because I think it would be awesome!” is a perfectly justifiable reason for working hard at something. But meanwhile, I’m still often struggling to justify to people that think I’m frivolous why I like clothes, how I can care about clothes and still be a feminist, how I can care about clothes while there are more important things that are going on in this world.
Most people at least care about clothes in that they have an opinion on what they would not wear. That’s caring about fashion. I mean, it’s evidence that you have personal style. A personal style you feel so strongly about that you won’t compromise.
I enjoy decorating my living spaces so that they make me feel happy and productive. I enjoy decorating the immediate area around/on me in a way that makes me happy too, a bubble space that i can take everywhere i go. Clothes are functional art. Clothes are practical art. Sometimes they’re even powerful societal statements, like the first time women in the west began wearing pants.
I often look to runway styles and fashion magazines as inspiration. But I have enough of an imagination that I have some ideas for things that I don’t see anywhere. Mostly, I want to be wearing the clothes I imagine in my head. Shopping, for me, is an exercise in finding the non-linear least squares estimate to the ideas i have in my head. Sometimes there’s no convergence.
It’s strange to me that clothes are probably the most personal things we have, we wear them on our bodies, but for the most part they are mass manufactured. But unlike other art forms like painting or drawing there’s a high requirement of skill needed that deters most people from making their own. I love the idea of technology eliminating any difficulties besides creativity; I think it would be interesting to instigate a ground-up fashion revolution, similar to what’s happened with digital cameras and flickr and youtube. Anyone can be a photographer these days. Anyone can be director. It’s already sort of spread to fashion, with fashion bloggers like Jane of Sea of Shoes and Tavi of Style Rookie inspiring fashion designers’ collections. But that’s still limited to high-profile fashion bloggers. If anyone can actually design and make their own clothes easily, it won’t be fashion houses dictating what to wear or not wear this season. It’ll be your dreams dictating what you wear or don’t wear, forever.
I don’t want to make any money as a fashion designer. And it’s not that I think I have a great sense of style. I don’t have any delusions that I’m a fashion genius or anything. To be honest I don’t think anyone would want to wear the clothes that I design but me. But that’s enough, for me– it would be worth making my own clothes so that I could wear them myself.
See, I agree with some objectors to fashion– that it’s consumerist and self-obsessed. If people could more easily design and make their own clothes– it takes away the most valid arguments about why fashion is frivolous– because it’s focused on consuming. Instead it would be focused on creating.
I don’t think that it’s wrong for anyone to care about beauty and to want to be beautiful. It’s more bothersome that people feel that they have to conform to some authority who will tell them what is beautiful. I think it’s ridiculous when a fashion magazine says “This season, beiges and grey are in!” It’s fine if you want to wear beiges and greys because that’s what you feel like wearing. It’s fine if you’re inspired by designers, because they’re talented and creative and visionary. But I want to live in a world where girls and boys can decide for themselves what it means to be beautiful, and have the power to make themselves their own definition of beauty. And to know the satisfaction that comes from building and making their own things.
Also, i’m doing it because i’m curious. I want to know what your dreams, and yours, and yours are, or would be, in clothing form. Imagine it– walking down the street and everyone is dressed in their dreams. Wouldn’t that be great?