This post was written with fashion designers in mind, but it totally works for designers in other fields and stylists.
When I was in college a few years ago, I took a class called Concept & Line Development. That class taught me a lot in terms of narrowing down a collection to a good theme. According to our professor, young designers come up with sketches out of random and title them instantly, or start with one design and try to come up with more that relate to it. If these techniques work for you, Kudos! But for most of us, that is the wrong way to start. I know because I was guilty of doing them too and struggled horribly to design.
Like professional artists, you too should have a story or mood behind your work for it to be inspiring and thought-provoking. If you were to research designers in your field (which I highly suggest, since being a designer, you need to know names), you would notice that every single designer has a concept behind their collections.
An example of one of the absolute geniuses in having amazing concepts is late Alexander McQueen. This page shows all of McQueen's mesmerizing work and what his different concepts were about. As shown, everything around the world can be used as inspiration. From the colors in a painting to the shapes of a building to a birds feathers or a sea in a specific country. Telling a story and trying to get some type of emotion from your audience is the perfect way to go.
THESE ARE MY 5 TIPS TO CONCEPT DESIGN
1. Research a couple key words of what you want to use for your concept, by themselves and with the ending "...fashion editorial" or "...fashion shoot" or "...photography." When you include those endings, see what photographers have done with your concept and where it leads you.
To research the concept in my post image, I knew I wanted to find images for a quirky but edgy 1820s inspired collection. I googled "1820s fashion" and used 3 images on my board. Then "1820s hats", where I found an image of a woman with black lips. So I googled black lips fashion editorial and used one image for my board, along with another image that didn't have black lips, but I loved the chains. For colors, I wanted pastels, so I googled "pastel fashion editorial" and found some with cotton candy hair. That was so cute, so I googled cotton candy and cropped it into my board. Lastly I googled pastel stars and found that cute set, which I cropped and edited some of the colors.
2. Narrow down and summarize your entire idea in as few words as possible (this will be your title). If you can’t figure this out, though, maybe you need to shorten your ideas or change your concept. Having too many things as inspiration can get confusing, and your collection won’t be tight/fixated. Your audience won’t know where you’re trying to go and loose interest. Also, mix ideas unexpectedly that you would have never thought worked together.
Taxi Driver, It’s Only a Game, Baroque Meets Religion (By Alexander McQueen)
Battle in the Sun
Aliens versus Nature
3. Time periods are so much fun to work with, but just picking the period is too wide an idea to brainstorm from. Select a specific aspect of that period to branch out ideas, such as art, clothing, events; and even from here you have to narrow that idea even more. There is a wide variety of art for each time period, not just one type. Clothing can be divided to menswear, childrenswear, womenswear, and even Daytime, special occasions, etc. As you can see, EVERYTHING always has something else to divide it into. Once you’ve narrowed it down as much as possible to what you want, then you can expand a little to another idea and combine them together if desired.
Mixing 1820’s menswear jackets and structural womens dresses with poppy colors and prints
Selecting specific sleeves, hemlines, colors of the 60’s
Creating prints inspired by Mondrian art pieces in the early 1900’s
4. Ask people what they think of your concept and if they understand what you’re trying to say. Yes, people might say nice things and like everything you design, but getting good comments all the time is not helpful to creating a successful line/collection. Try to find honest supportive family and friends to give you useful feedback.
5. Once you’ve narrowed down your concept, pick features and materials from it that stand out to you the most, and you can use in your fashion collection using the Elements of Design and Principles of Design. Remember, don’t overdue how many elements and principles you pick, only what stands out as MOST important.
Lines, shapes, and proportions seen in architecture
Colors and textures of fall leaves or cherry trees, etc.
The shapes, soft neutral colors, and movements in lit candles
There are endless possibilities as to what can be used as inspiration for design concepts!!! And that is what drives my passion for this art. Fashion is a type of expression of the self with the ability to create communities. Just like painters use canvases, our media is clothes on the body form.
A massively valuable tip I can also give to others, is to not be limited by the body. Alexander McQueen knew this, and he created beautiful works of art.
Everyone has different tastes and styles though, and that is what makes fashion so interesting and fun.
I hope I helped other designers out there! Let me know your experiences and share your work in the comments below.