Act of Genius or Progressive Solution

This topic came up in class at EHC regarding ‘haute couture’, related to a newsletter article, and was worth looking into more closely. Are fashion designers born geniuses or is it a matter of learning?

Designer Madeleine Vionett is considered to be a design genius for her bias cut methods, which was fundamentally different from other construction methods of the time. Christian Louboutin is mentioned as a genius of shoe design. Charles James and Alexander McQueen are referred to as design geniuses. What exactly does genius mean and why are they labelled geniuses?

There is no scientifically precise definition of ‘genius’, and indeed the question of whether the notion itself has any real meaning has long been a subject of debate.

A genius is someone embodying exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight.

According to philosopher David Hume, a person with the characteristics of a genius is looked at as a person disconnected from society, as well as a person who works remotely, at a distance, away from the rest of the world; or Immanuel Kant: genius is the ability to independently arrive at and understand concepts that would normally have to be taught by another person.

According to philosopher Bertrand Russell: genius entails that an individual possesses unique qualities and talents that make the genius especially valuable to the society in which he or she operates … it’s also possible for such a genius to be crushed by an unsympathetic environment during his or her youth.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century American essayist, lecturer, and poet who was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society says of Genius
“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.’’ Emerson discusses two factors that discourage people from trusting themselves: societal disapproval and foolish consistency – “For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure”.

Does a designer have to be a genius to be successful designer, or is a matter of learning from the past.

Jan Michl, teacher of history and theory of design in Norway at GJØVIK University College, says that it is a myth that fashion designers somehow ooze originality from their pores and that true design abilities are the creative application of what went before — the connecting of the dots and those dots were someone else’s effort to do the same in “Design as Redesign, An Exploration of a Neglected Problem in Design Education for… those wrestling with design derivative issues.

No solution is ever the ultimate solution. Each design always begins where others have left off, are improvements on yesterday.

A watchmaker cannot create a watch ‘out of the blue’ – a watchmaker who has designed and made a watch always bases himself on a long tradition of watchmakers consisting of both large and small contributions on the part of vast numbers of watchmakers.

All new products and designs are deeply indebted to earlier products and solutions to earlier designs – the cumulative character of the design process is the evolutionary process of designed objects.

All this does not alter the fact that in reality designers always begin, not from scratch, but with solutions formed at an earlier stage; most of the time by other designers, and they too started on that basis. All designers, whether they want to or not, enter some kind of collaboration with both their living and no longer living predecessors, a collaboration that looks both forward and backwards in time.

On self-worth, Emerson made a case that individuals have not only a right but also a responsibility to think for themselves and that neither societal disapproval nor concerns about consistency should discourage these. He writes that individuals who obey the admonition to “trust thyself” should value themselves highly and consider themselves equal to the great men of history…. »

To sum up Jan Michl:  No designer starts from scratch – they all start from the solutions achieved by another designer.

If (we don’t believe that), then we pay for the satisfaction of seeing ourselves as ‘sole creators’ in the form of mental isolation and fear of underachievement.

We are not alone – not forced to think of everything ourselves, but part of a team of distinguished, inventive, imaginative colleagues that perhaps we have never met, the majority of which are long dead.

Successful design in fashion can be measured in many ways, depending on the desired outcome. Some designs are impractical and for the delight of the senses alone, or purely for fantasy. However, designs must be lifted off the paper and made into three dimensions to be considered as remotely successful. Designs which keep returning to us in somewhat altered forms are true successes. These successes become design classics and who then can take the credit – as being the genius who invented them – becomes very hazy in the distance and blurred perspective of time. Perhaps the design was a stroke of genius, associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight – but only for a short while until it morphs into a design which is better, updated or ‘redesigned’.

From part of an exhibit about Charles James – America

Madeleine Vionett – collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum UK
from the official website of the current house of Vionett


left: Madeleine Vionett – Victoria and Albert Museum   Photos

One response to “Act of Genius or Progressive Solution”

  1. Brilliant post accompanied by some amazing photos of some eclectic creations by designers from past and present! 🙂

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