By  on April 7, 2006

Those who believe that designers spend all day sketching in their ateliers should reconsider. It takes a mountain and then some for designers to convey their message.

Be good-looking, media-savvy, aware of global issues and clever enough to bottle all this into a brand identity that speaks to the consumer. Oh, and don't forget to bring along design talent.

That's the advice those in the know offer to anyone who aspires to the vaunted title of fashion designer. Whereas designers once spent their days - and often nights - sketching, sewing and draping, the role has shifted as fashion has evolved into a billion-dollar global business over the past two decades.

As a result, designers have to represent their labels 24/7. Ideally, they should become their brand. And, while they're at it, they shouldn't neglect world events, a point that some of the most lauded fall shows drove home. Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada both presented a darker, more sober view of fashion. Both led a pack of designers who offered a more covered, layered look with little color or embellishment and hardly any skin in sight. "It's time to go back to the streets of the world, showing anger and being a little bit savage, to be ready for life," says Miuccia Prada, whose membership in the Communist party in her student days is frequently cited as an explanation, justifiably or not, for heady fashion moves that often seem to transcend the blouse on her customer's back.

The sober season made fashion people discuss at length whether their métier needs to reflect the times we live in or should offer an escape from all the tragic events in the news.

Donatella Versace, who embodies the glamour and dazzle of her collection with her jet-set lifestyle and circle of celebrity friends, says she doesn't like to intellectualize her work. "At the end of the day, I just want to put out some great, contemporary, elegant collections that work," she explains. But even she is not immune to the world at large. "Versace takes in all the shifts in today's culture," she continues. "Music, art, movies and travel are what influence my collections. Versace is a brand intended to make people look glamorous and sensual while having fun with fashion."As for the renewed sobriety, Versace has one explanation: "I think that we have come through a period of flashy, ostentatious dressing, and designers are now reacting against that and rediscovering a sense of sophisticated restraint," she offers. "Fashion works like that - out with the old, in with the new."

Designers must also predict what their customer will want - months before she knows herself, essentially tapping into their customer's subconscious. "Fashion is meant to be escapist, fun and fantasy," says John Galliano. "A girl does not want to walk into a store and think what political statement she is wearing. She wants to think about what guy will catch her eye if she's looking foxy. Fashion is to show off your curves, to show off your personality; of course, it can reflect the mood and the attitude of the time. One of the things that influenced the couture in July was the unrest in Paris, but it was only one part, and it was more catching a mood that pervaded the studio as we were designing. Fashion conveys moods without words, a bit like a silent-movie star."

For the complete article, see WWDThe Magazine, a special publication of WWD, available to subscribers.

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