NEW YORK — Jhane Barnes practices a sort of visual mantra every morning. The men’s wear designer spends her hour-long morning rail commute pouring over an endless stream of computer-generated patterns mutating kaleidoscope-like on the computer screen perched on her lap. She stops the program every so often to redirect the “growth” of the design or freeze an image that strikes her as “a possibility.”
“I’m a software junkie,” Barnes told an assemblage of New York’s designer community at a symposium on her use of computers in design.
What looks like a hypnotic electronic game to Barnes’ fellow commuters, and did make a few at her symposium dizzy, is work for the designer. Barnes must be alert for usable patterns as they take shape on the screen. Once the pattern progresses on some programs, the prior form is lost forever and Barnes must start the program again from the beginning to create a similar, but never identical, pattern.
“Yes, these programs do a lot of work for you,” Barnes said. “But you have to be in the right mood to work with them. You have to be alert and able to make split-second decisions on whether or not a design is good because you can’t go backward.”
Barnes has become so enamored with the process that she based her spring ’95 collection on computer-generated designs. Images born on her laptop during her morning commute will also anchor her fall collection.
“The main inspiration for spring ’95 was fractal geometry,” Barnes said.
Barnes used two programs that employ fractal geometry to grow patterns like crystals on her computer monitor. One, called FractaSketch, was developed by Dr. Peter Van Roy. Based on “linear” fractals, it repeats single lines juxtaposed at predetermined angles to form patterns. A second program, MandelMovie, deals in “non-linear” fractals. Developed by Dr. Michael Larsen, it “grows” patterns based on mathematical equations. Barnes said the patterns retain a structure defined by the equations, but visually seem to be constantly changing.
“It wasn’t until the advent of the computer that you could explore the beauty and intricacies of these designs,” she said. “When I got FractaSketch, it was really a doodler to me. I never though I would use it to design.”
But she did. And she’ll use the program again in the fall ’95 collection. “Next season’s collection is all based on fern motifs,” she said. The program can build fern patterns based on the repetition of a single line in a way that mimics the way the skeletal forms of ferns are developed in nature.
“Intricate repeat patterns are very difficult to draw by hand,” Van Roy said. “But repetitions are very easy for a computer to draw. The whole object is made of small exact copies of itself.”
Barnes uses the MandelMovie program to produce much more irregular patterns — patterns that seem to take on a life of their own. The program maps out the Mandelbrot Set, one of the best known non-linear fractals. Barnes uses the program to zoom in on the “coastline” of the amorphous figure. Once she does, she can pick out forms that will then be repeated in a pattern that would grace a shirt, vest or tie.
These programs, and others, are a shortcut to pattern and design generation for Barnes and her staff, and the designer’s use of them is increasing. “Sometimes we use 30 different programs in the space of two weeks,” she said.
A Few Good Men
Behind every good woman, there are seven men. Well, at least that’s the case for Barnes, who enjoys a vibrant creative relationship with seven of the men whose programs she employs.
Van Roy, Larsen and five others trooped out on stage at Barnes’ symposium — all sporting black jeans to set off the shirts or sweaters Barnes designed using their programs. Each took his turn at the podium to tell a little about how the programs work, while Barnes periodically stepped in to expand on how the programs are applied to fashion.
“It’s nice to see them all dressed up,” Barnes said. “I love to dress up men.”
“And we love when you dress us up,” a grinning Van Roy countered.
Besides Van Roy and Larsen, the group included John Stokes 3d, Bernt Wahl, Timothy Binkley, Dana Cartwright and William Jones.
Stokes wrote a program called Expan-sions that uses vectors or arrows to build intricate patterns. Users can key in rules that dictate how the vectors are created and what will happen when they collide. Once the collisions occur, however, the program proceeds with a life of its own.
“All of these programs are like little pattern generators,” Barnes said. “They’re like little engines that create patterns on screen. I just tell the computer which direction to grow the pattern in.”
But there’s a lot more to it than that on Barnes’ part. She can’t just choose any pattern. The patterns that make the cut must be producable on jacquard or standard looms. And Barnes makes many creative decisions. They range from the colors used and how those colors surface when the pattern is realized on the loom, to deciding how different fibers will effect the look of the fabric and the finished garment.
“I’m constrained by fabrics,” Barnes said. “I can only do things that can be made with warp and weft thread.”
Barnes must also temper some of the more fluid, amorphous designs to make them more suitable to men’s tastes. Though many men may cut loose with a wild tie, a sport shirt is an entirely different story.
“Some of the designs are almost Dr. Seusss looking,” she said. “So I have to work a plaid into the pattern with them to make them more masculine looking.”
Barnes relies on Binkley’s program, Symmetry Studio, to produce marketable, masculine patterns. The program produces symmetrical patterns by coordinating the repetitions of points, lines and planes.
“Symmetry is especially useful in men’s wear because men like things to be symmetrical,” she said.
Besides giving the patterns a more masculine look, the plaids and stripes Barnes often integrates into the patterns add depth and interest to the garments.
Cartwright and Jones pro-
duced software that’s especially helpful to Barnes. Their WeaveMaker and Weave-Maker Professional programs deal with questions of woven fabric structure and color arrangements on a loom. Barnes said the programs allow her to work faster “and explore a broader range of design options, while firmly adhering to the discipline of warp and weft.”
“Both Bill and Dana are constantly on retainer with my company, so they keep developing schemes for me,” she said. “Each scheme can create hundreds of patterns, but I still run out of schemes.”
Besides using the software to design patterns and deal with loom limitations, Barnes relies on computers to get an idea of how a pattern would look on a finished garment.
“We are also using the computers to map the fabric out on shirts so we can decide on the right proportion of the design before we make a sample,” she said.
Barnes said she has been exploring the use of computers in design for 10 years. She started playing with an Atari in 1984. When she graduated to a Macintosh four years later, she was drawing patterns by hand, scanning them into the system, then altering them and making repeats.
“Now it’s totally different,” she said. “I’m using mathematics to design with. I give a set of rules to a ‘seed’ element, and the computers generate the design.”
The authors of the software, however, say its Barnes’ understanding of fabric and eye for color and form that lets her apply those programs fruitfully.
“It’s Jhane’s eye for color that brings these patterns to life,” Van Roy said.