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Tips about Contracts and your [successful] Couture Business

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As a business operator, and yes this includes artists, dressmakers, couturiers and tailors, we all use contracts, everyone should be aware of and know what a legally binding contract is.

Very few creative types like to talk about them, and like even less to think about them until something goes wrong. The purpose of designing your own contract for your business is not only to secure work and lay out the terms of getting paid, but also planning what would happen if [or when] something doesn’t go to plan.

So, exactly what is a contract? More specifically what are the elements of a legally binding contract. We kind of make and fulfill contracts everyday without realizing it, like agreeing to meet up with friends for lunch and you promise to pay for desserts ‘if’ you all go the restaurant of your choice this time. This is a contract if your friends mutually agree to it – by phone, email or text message. What?!

If one of your friends couldn’t make it to lunch, not really a problem for you, but likely hugely disappointing if no one turned up but you. But what if everyone turned up but you? I’m guessing hard feelings would be one major downside, but you also did break an agreement or rather you breached a contract. Your friends could take you to task over it (in court), especially if they could prove your offer, that you broke your promise and they were put out of pocket as a result! Say what?!

In all seriousness though, that probably wouldn’t happen, but it could be enforceable in a court of Law. [Very briefly, Contract law covers contracts, etc. as differentiated from Criminal Law: conduct perceived as threatening, harmful, or otherwise endangering to the property, health, safety, and moral welfare of people.  But a breach of contract could certainly overlap with breaking a criminal law]. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t have all the details, but I do know this from my college business law class.

A legally binding contract has 3 crucial elements (plus 2 provisions).

  1. An offer. You offer your couture service or offer your creation for sale [see point 5] personally, online, by email, however you put it out there.
  2. Acceptance. Someone accepts your offer [see point 4], personally, online, by email, however they let you know.
  3. Consideration. There is an exchange of something of value: cash, services, goods or specifically to withhold an exchange of cash, service, or goods.

Provisions:

  1. You must be of legal age of consent, and/or of sound mind and body or fully competent to participate.
  2. And the object must be legal. If what you are selling or buying is illegal, then the contract is not valid or void. The object is not misrepresented.

Both written and verbal agreements are legal. Verbal agreements are legal contracts even though they were not memorialized in a writing. Assuming the contract is valid, the verbal agreement between two parties is binding although it is very hard to prove if it were in dispute. Beware, even emails and text messaging can constitute a legally binding agreement!

The body of a contract also should include essentials like date(s), the names of the signatories, the details, and the ‘what ifs?’ What if something were to go sideways, or someone didn’t fulfill their end of the agreement, such as non-performance or interference with the other party’s performance. This then would become a ‘breach of contract’ or a broken contract.

It’s prudent to identify what happens if your client doesn’t turn up for an appointed fitting, or doesn’t have the money to pay you on time. Or what if your client is unhappy with your work during the process, how can you prevent that from becoming an unsolvable problem. If everyone knows in advance, what the possible problems and consequences are, commonly known to happen from time to time, then all parties do much better in preventing them from arising in the first place.

Informing all parties involved about what is expected of them and what they can expect from you prevents heartache and hardship. Try to avoid being overly wordy, but be clear. No one wants or expects things to go wrong doing business, but it occasionally happens. No one wants a surprise ending, everyone wants what they expected.

Every transaction can be a learning experience. You’ll soon figure out what works best for you, and especially what doesn’t. The path to success really does look like this:

success-wiggle-lines

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Ecole Holt Couture ‘Dress Code’ fashion event

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6 Tips for a great fit. Lesson #1.

Does a ‘great fit’ or ‘perfect fit’ leave you wondering what that really means in terms of your clothes? These days with most everything being ‘off the rack’ ‘ready to wear’ or ‘prêt-à-porter’ you may not be aware that your clothes don’t actually fit well at all. Even when special items are ‘custom made’ ‘made to measure’ or dressmaker made you could still be left wanting a great fit or perfect fit. So here are a few tips for things to watch out for. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but let’s start with these.

Example – Let’s assume that you don’t fit the typical fashion model profile or standard size. Actually most people don’t fit into a standard size perfectly, because sizes are determined by averaging a set of statistics by manufacturers.  (By the way, you are the perfect size and shape you were meant to be, so celebrate your curves! Go ahead and look the fabulous person you are.)

These 6 tips are for dresses, tops and skirts.

EHC FS 2016- Elise

EHC FS 2016- Elise (3)

EHC FS 2016- Elise (2)

  1. Enough fabric and ease across the bust line. No straining of fabric here.
  2. Waistline is cinched in at the right level. Notice that the waistline of the dress doesn’t present any horizontal buckling of superfluous fabric or diagonal wrinkling in the front, side, or back.
  3. Ease of fabric draping or flowing over the hip line, no stress or stretched out fabric here.
  4. The hemline is horizontally even from the floor front and back, even in stilettos.
  5. Sleeves are set in at the right directional angle. No two people’s arms hang the same way! Enough room at the sleeve cap, or top of the sleeve, no straining of fabric here either with ample room for freedom of movement.
  6. Fit across the shoulders from sleeve to sleeve is wide enough, ending just at the shoulder joint.  The problem is usually too wide (too much material) or too narrow (not enough material).

Again, these 6 tips are true for any figure, and true for dresses, tops and skirts. Next time we’ll look at some other examples of well fitting points.  Cheers! J

 

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Tools of the trade

389x421We all love the latest in gadgetry or digital technology which most of us want to possess even if we don’t actually use! If you’ve ever observed an artist or trades person using their tools at work, you’ll have noticed that the tools are very simple or very special but, very well used. Painters use the same brushes over and over until the bristles have all fallen out or have broken off. Cabinet makers use the same planes, chisels and mallets that perhaps they’ve inherited or started out with. Hair stylists use their favorite scissors and combs. You get the picture.It is no different with dressmakers, tailors and couturiers. Once we’ve invested in the best tools we can afford, we use them constantly, and stay with us forever if we can help it.

A few examples of tools I mean are scissors, thimbles, sewing needles, yard sticks and tape measures. Tape measures drape around your neck, get rolled up and unrolled, the printed markings become worn, and they gain a few nicks along the edges, but getting a new one is one is just one big hassle after breaking-in the one you’ve been using properly. Yard sticks are good for setting hems, marking lines, and swatting flies when necessary.
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Sewing needles sometimes become visibly plate bare in spots along the shafts, and eventually do get replaced. But to lose one is irritating bordering on disaster and finding one that became lost is a near-on victory! Using cheap needles is total waste of time because they only bend and break.
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Thimbles actually become a comfortable extension of your middle finger. I’ve used very few in my career, only replacing two that acquired punctures in the tops from repeated needle pressure, and it takes a long time to warm up to a new one so I guard mine closely. They need not be pretty, but good quality metal is essential. In the studio, holding up your middle finger is not a rude gesture – it means ‘have you seen where I left my thimble?’ without speaking.
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Scissors and shears become your pride and joy when you’ve invested in high quality tempered steal. Purchasing them really hurts at the time, as they’re rather expensive items – which no one else will understand the value of, and hard to justify when you’re just starting out. Good ones will last 40 to 50 years and longer if you take good care of them!
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We don’t use special pattern drafting tools either, just the basics. Straight edge or T-square, triangle, pencil and eraser. We go through proper tailors chalk like crazy. Pens are banned from the studio. We use ordinary un-waxed wide width white butchers paper for drafting, only using tailors card for patterns we plan to keep and reuse – this 92lb card stock is sold in rolls and is extremely heavy and somewhat expensive.

Wonderful gadgets, fancy sewing aids and swanky drafting tools are a boon for sewing hobbyists. DIY stores offer a specialized tool for every conceivable do-it or fix-it job you might ever do at home. As appealing or impressive as they might look they’re not necessarily manufactured for the professionals. However, it seems everyone wants them and they do look terrific on the collector’s shelf!
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Choosing your Couturier or Tailor

kelsey

Does this sound like you? You fear not getting what you imagined, fear not knowing what to expect, fear not being able to communicate your ideas adequately, and fear hidden agendas. Probably the most common hurdle that new clients face is fear!

Choosing a couturier or tailor is normally very intimidating for those ‘testing the waters’ and can be disheartening to those of you who have gone through an unhappy incident. It is after all, a very personal experience, and should be positive and satisfying at every level.

Whether you haven’t been to a couturier before or have been disappointed, it is understandably daunting.  My advice would be not to take a giant leap of faith, but purposefully take the time to get to know a couturier (or tailor). Explore if it may be a good fit working together. This is most often done during a consultation, but not always. It may begin with a referral, or research into social media or Google, email, or simply a phone call.

Professional couturiers and tailors will have developed their businesses based on their training and experience. It also follows, statistically speaking, that craftspeople, artisans, and creative types build businesses according to their personal set of values.  That’s to say, how they want to live and work and how they view their world. Also, don’t just assess their design sketches.  Look deeper into the quality of materials they use, the ‘fit’ they view as ideally suited for their clients, and their finishing standards outside and inside garments.

Great customer service may certainly be important to everyone, but we all define it quite differently. Whatever the terms may be, it should be mutually satisfactory. Established clients will, of course, be well aware of their couturier or tailors’ open hours, time preference for taking phone calls, business terms and conditions. But, it won’t be obvious to you as a new comer. Therefore you should request this information.

Seasoned professionals will have started out many years ago; likely they will have relied upon traditional methods for marketing themselves. These ateliers will have quite literally developed by word of mouth. As a result, there was no need to put much thought into a flashy website, if they have one at all.

However, the younger generation of couturiers and tailors almost certainly have a better handle on marketing and social media, and most will have considerable information for you. This though in itself, does not at all equate to quality – nor guarantee – the results of their craftsmanship in any way.

It is extremely beneficial that you book a one on one consultation. Plus, view some of the couturier or tailor’s actual finished work to fill in the bigger picture. It is perfectly reasonable to discuss your expectations about what you want, but don’t expect a finished design sketch and cost estimate during the consultation.

Be open about what hope for, your reservations, and honest about what you can afford. Couturiers and tailors need to be convinced that they will be able to fulfill what you expect. That achieved, they’ll become quite willing and happy to take you step by step through the entire process, and keep you informed at every stage.

Consultations are charged for. Be conscious of the fact, as professionals they cannot afford to give time away for free, but they may charge a consultation fee which is later credited toward an actual commission from you. The more research you can do ahead of time will save you money on these consultations. A word of caution, free consultations will provide you with little of any value. In fact you may find a hidden agenda or come away from it feeling frustrated rather than satisfied.

Couturiers and tailors will only give you a cost estimate when they recognize you are serious about commissioning work from them, because everything they do is custom. There is no standard item to charge for, and so projects must be calculated individually, which takes time – valuable time. Often working on their own without the aid of assistants or receptionists, puts this time at a cost to themselves, for which they reasonably expect a return on.

Ultimately, it is still more productive and less stressful for everyone, if after meeting with or consulting a couturier or tailor, you decide he or she may not be the best match for you. Don’t give up; eventually you will connect with the right one. However it does take some time, but will be well worth the effort!

What exactly can you expect a couturier and tailor to do for you, and about trust, in another blog…

 

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Perfect Parka Design

389x421What is your perfect design? It is amazing to me that every EHC student knows exactly what they want in designing and creating a Parka and Windbreaker, which are required projects in 2nd Year, Term 5, at EHC. But when it comes to other garments such as dresses and suits, they are very much more open to suggestion. Why is that?

In this part of the world everyone has had a lot of experience with and needs a variety of weather wear and winter gear – coats, jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, and boots – you name it and everyone has one or several in their closet, and has done since childhood. Everyone can list a number of complaints with them as well. There is a very good selection of styles for any purpose or sport on the market, for instance www.superdry.com, and www.canada-goose.com . Why is it then that amongst the great variety of choice, they can’t get it just right for you?

Or can they? If you ask a firefighter, law enforcement or military type about their work wear they would probably say that they have everything they need built in. Pockets, zips, collars, and closures are all the right size and in the right place. These uniforms are specifically made for their specialized purpose AND are designed with input from people who actually do wear them. What a revolutionary idea!

what are your requirements?

what are your requirements?

You’d want your pockets to be the right size in the right place? One each for keys, phone, wallet and gloves that are easily accessible to YOU; safely secured with poppers, Velcro or zipper that closes at the right end. Need more pockets, not a problem, where do you want them?

Hoods, detachable or fixed, large enough from collar to top of your head, enough room from the back of your head to your face when you wear it with a toque, with or without a built in brim, with or without drawstrings and toggles, with or without malleable wire frame?

Collars that are high enough in the back of the neck, covers your ears and placed in the right position in the front not to rub skin under your chin ranks  high in importance to protect you in freezing minus degree temperatures, wind and rain.

Are your sleeves long enough, and would inside storm cuffs help keep the wind out? Is your jacket free of unnecessary loops which only get caught on everything and hold nothing? Don’t want the wind whistling up the back of your jacket? Could your jacket be warmer in the body, and more breathable in the sleeves? Ladies, does it fit well over your hips and bust line without having masses of bulk in the waistline? Men, is it long enough, too long or just too much fabric? Do you look like an oversize muffin wearing it or are you still humanly shaped in it?

Why hasn’t anyone asked YOU what you want? It may be an impossible ‘ask’ in many ways to mass produce this garment to please everyone – even after doing extensive market research – as each body is unique not only in shape, but also in range of movement, purpose of movement, storage requirements,  your running body temperature, length of time and purpose spent out of doors, etc.

Most production line garments have no extra or upgraded materials or labour costs included; they are considered unrecoverable costs, and so simply speaking designs are reduced to being ‘good enough’, where as other brands such as, www.canada-goose.com , are highly reputable and have indeed done their research to make high performance parkas.

There may be an alternative to this dilemma though, and that is to have one custom made for you. For anyone who has worn a parka or windbreaker that uses high quality and appropriate fabric, fits well and has all the right bits in the right places, has also experienced  how comfortable and much more pleasurable winter can be with the right outerwear. How great is that!

multi-layer design by 2nd Year student

multi-layer design by 2nd Year student

multi layer design by 2nd Year student

multi layer design by 2nd Year student

 

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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

http://www.anekdamian.com/blog/the-new-genius-trend-of-the-art-siblings-fashion-architecture-and-industrial-design/   Photos

 

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The tailor makes the Man

The 3rd year students at EHC are studying men’s tailoring in this Term, and have been introduced to the styles and protocols of what and how to dress men appropriately; the importance of which can not be overstated for future tailors. Where did all these rules come from? As the curator at the Lougheed House pointed out in a recent newsletter, Edward VII – King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India from 22 January 1901 until his death in 1910, had allot to do with it:

Spring is here! As we transition from winter to spring with thoughts of summer and this year’s theme [at Lougheed House – National Historic Site in Calgary] the Elegant West featuring a fashion show with menswear, recalls an earlier era when Edwardian etiquette manuals reminded “it is a duty one owes one’s friends to dress well and it is absolutely true that the tailor makes the man”. Furthermore, these manuals warn “if a man commits flagrant errors in costume he will not be invited out very much, of that he may be certain”. Edward VII was a stickler in matters of dress, and was not above scolding his friends, such as Prime Ministers and foreign dignitaries, if they appeared in anything less than the correct attire. These expectations kept an Edwardian gentleman such as Senator Sir James Lougheed, as much on his toes as it did his wife, Lady Lougheed. Nevertheless, basic guidelines for full dress were a silk top hat, black dress coat and trousers, white shirt, waistcoat and tie.

Modern Etiquette in Public and Private (1903) ensures us:”Plain and simple as the dress is, it is a sure test of a gentlemanly appearance. The man who dines in evening dress every night of his life looks easy and natural in it, whereas the man who takes to it late in life generally succeeds in looking like a waiter”.

While the manual Good Form for All Occasions (1914) reports: ‘For men the proper costume for late dinner (at six o’clock or after) is regulation evening dress. At stag dinners and small informal occasions the dinner-jacket replaces the swallow-tail coat and is accompanied by a plain black-silk tie”.Ian Rogan – Curator

Edwardian style

So what about today? The rules regarding the well dressed man are much the same as they were, however are interpreted in contemporary fabrics with tweaks to some details.Lets show a comparison of yesteryear and today:

Edwardian style

 

Anson's Menswear

 

David Gandy

Photo #4: English male supermodel David Gandy headlines the Fall/Winter 2011 campaign of German menswear retailer Anson’s. Men in black suits are in the League of Fabulously Dressed Gentlemen brought to you by Anson’s.

Alexander McQueen - "McQueensberry Rules"

 

Photo #5: Alexander McQueen gave this tough guy a chic look that had a posh twist with incredible tailoring, perhaps a skill he learned from his training at Savile Row. The exceptionally tailored suit was made with Harris Tweed and had an Edwardian style touch cut very slim to sculpt the body, and of course Alexander presented his art in a highly entertaining way that no one would actually wear, but you get the idea.

Angelo Galassos - New York

 

The tailor makes the man, knows what the rules are; the man breaks the rules by not knowing them; the tailor guides the man; the man bends the rules when he knows them; and then they both win…J

 

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