On Teaching Fashion: A Philosophy of Fashion?

Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly. – Epictetus  (55-135 AD)

There comes a point in the semester when I discuss design philosophy with my students.  I particularly like this quote by Epictetus to start a discussion.  Philosophy can be a dirty, intangible word to many.  There are countless misconceptions about philosophy, particularly when I talk to fashion designers early in their careers.  Most students become so engrossed in learning the basic skills of sewing and pattern making, that they assume their identity as a designer will just magically appear one day.  When asked about their designer philosophies, many simply ask : “A philosophy?  Of fashion?

Image courtesy of optikoeyewear.blogspot.com

I truly believe that fashion designers are the great philosophers of our day.  Fashion designers manufacture more than clothing. They manufacture principles.  They manufacture identities.  Therefore, having a clear set of core beliefs, goals and unified aesthetics is essential to being a successful fashion designer.  Defining a designer philosophy doesn’t happen overnight.  But it can develop over a semester with some planning.

There are several questions I pose to my students through the term.  I have them keep a journal and ask them to respond in depth.  Included below are several common interview questions from the book Fashion Now:

What is most important to you, the process or the product? Why?

How would you describe your work?

What are your design signatures? (Themes/elements that continually show up in your designs)

What inspires you?

Is designing difficult to you?  If so, what drives you to keep going?

Who do you have in mind when you design?

Is the idea of creative collaboration important to you?

Who is your favorite designer?  What do you admire about their work?

It’s important to stress that there is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions.  Rather, it should serve the student to develop a unique style and approach towards designing.  As their answers become more tangible, introduce case studies on other designers.  I encourage my students to read interviews in Fashion Now so that they can see how designers in the industry answer these questions.

For more great posts on a philosophy of fashion, please see Lucy Collin’s posts.



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  • Friedrich Nietzsche February 24, 2012 08.12 pm

    I believe the great philosophers of are time would be more apt to be found in… you know… philosophy. Having a philosophy doesn’t make you a philosopher any more than brushing your teeth makes you a dentist.

  • Friedrich Nietzsche February 24, 2012 08.13 pm


  • lisa February 25, 2012 08.41 am

    Thanks, Monica. Love the quote and the simple approach to a serious question. I will definitely incorporate into my classroom. The idea of “manufacturing identities” is great; it could inspire another question: “If you could create your own world, where would it be? What would the inhabitants look like? How would they look?” Thanks again!

  • lisa February 25, 2012 08.43 am

    oops, for the final question, I meant to say, “How would they act?”

    In my dream world I would always re-read before hitting “send.”

  • A Philosophy of Fashion | Monica D. Murgia
    March 2, 2012 - 9:20 am

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