shape \ sheyp \ n 1: the quality of a distinct object or body in having an external surface or outline of specific form or figure. 2: this quality as found in some individual object or body form. Something seen in outline, as in silhouette.
Fashion is a form of sculpture. Amazingly, it works with a medium weight (fabric) that is basically two-dimensional, to create three-dimensional silhouettes and shapes, whether on the garment’s surface, in the shaping of its components, and/or in its overall appearance. In the atelier, fabric is either cut flat by instinct, with flat patterns, or draped on a dress form or model to create the patterns for reproduction—there is no absolute method, and there are many approaches. Individual pattern pieces that come out of the creation process are a set of two-dimensional shapes that, joined together, build the three-dimensional one. The basic fitted pattern shapes are called slopers: a basic sleeve, bodice, shift dress, princess-line dress, jacket, pant, and skirt pattern. From these basic fitted pieces, using a traditional dressmaker’s approach, new pattern shapes can be created, controlling the actual shaping of each seam or panel, and thus, the shape of the finished garment. Pattern shapes can be combined to create new shapes. For example the sleeve can be morphed with the bodice to create a one-piece front and back if the armscye is dropped and the shoulder seam extends all the way to the wrist, as in a dolman, batwing, or kimono sleeve. This gives a line that can be manipulated and shaped, adding or subtracting volume to the designer’s will (if the fabric cooperates) to create a whole range of silhouettes.
This dress pieced from semi-sheer and lightweight nude and cream tones reveals the shape of each pattern piece, carefully formed to create this silhouette and follow the body’s contours. Seams are curved, and subtle color differences in exquisite fabrics emphasize the design and craftsmanship of each panel.
Sonia Rykiel’s ribbed, heathered knit sculpts the body softly and comfortably into a tailored suit shape for a woman’s needs. The front has slight shaping into the waist seam, but the silhouette is really defined in back by a peplum waist and vertical seaming releasing into swaying flares below the derriere. A warm roll of functional collar builds the shape beautifully.
“A bag on her shoulder and a child in each hand,” according to Sonia Rykiel, is the Rykiel woman. Sonia Rykiel was born May 25, 1930, Russian-Romanian Jewish, the eldest of five daughters, in Neuilly, France. She has had retrospective exhibits and is known as a successor to Chanel for her simple, innovative, modern, and feminine fashions. A self-declared “universal women’s designer,” she addresses work, dreams, and family life in her designs. Known as the Queen of Knits in the United States, she, to this day, does not know how to knit. Jean Paul Gaultier is known to tease her for this. Rykiel fell into fashion design (and, ironically, says she spent the first ten years trying to get out of it) when she became pregnant and wanted to be “the most beautiful pregnant woman.” She had married the owner of a French boutique called Laura and started designing knitwear when she couldn’t find any fashionable maternity clothes. She used one of her husband’s knit suppliers to produce her first pieces and continued designing for the well-to-do French women who shopped at Laura through the 1960s. Rykiel started to build a following in the United States, known for her “poor boy” sweater and skinny knits in neutral, muted colors and striped patterns (although she prefers to wear black herself). She has been quoted saying that she couldn’t relate to the first fashion she made, even though it was fashion … it didn’t relate to her life, the life of a woman, mother, and worker, and that she envisioned her woman surrounded by “bags and children,” busy, out and about. (She has two children of her own.) This is what guided her work, along with her professed value of “seduction.” Her passionate singularity of vision has been the foundation of her success. Rykiel wanted to “undo” fashion until it would meet her life: clothes that traveled, stacked, reversed, transformed from day into eveningwear. One of the first deconstructionists, she started putting the seam allowances on the outside. She was also an early proponent of “high-low” fashion, mixing the expensive with the inexpensive. In the 1990s, she designed in a range of fabrics, including crepes, tweeds, velvet’s— all popular with the body-conscious, gym-toned bodies of the era. Her clingy knits are combined with loose, boxy, and flowing pieces. She has designed two casual collections per year since the 1980s, consisting of a dress, trousers, pullovers, cardigans, and jackets combining to create clean silhouettes. Rykiel has authored many books and considers herself “more of an author than designer” who writes a “new chapter” each season, based on the life she sees around her. Also, it is common to see English or French words blazoned across her garments, such as Plaisir (pleasure), Artist, or often her own name. Her Boulevard de St. Germain lifestyle boutique opened in 1990, and her first Paris boutique celebrated its forty-year anniversary in 2008. Today, she works hand-in-hand with her daughter Nathalie, who also maintains that no matter how many people are helping, she needs to be at the center of her business for it to succeed.
These garments feature a squared, built-up sleeve cap and collar shape. Armhole and neckline seams are replaced with a single overarm/ shoulder seam shaped at the collar, shoulder, and sleeve hem for a distinctive, clear silhouette.
Strong overall triangular form with soft, flared finish at the hem balances angles with curves. The secondary shape story is the full-circular cut of the cape, over a minuscule pattern of circular snaps trailing down the pants leg, and square belt buckle.
Sketchbook. These sketches show variations on a blocking-only theme using lines, angles, and panels to create an evening group with widely varied silhouettes. The shape of individual garment panels is explored as much as how they relate to the overall shape.
Using a single, solid, and firm fabric with classic dressmaker details emphasizes the importance of the overall shape reminiscent of the fifties: fitted bodice, darts and pleats, full skirt, cap sleeve, and belted waist for nostalgic elegance. The expert fit lends its shape to the body inhabiting it.
In another example, the sleeve can cut into part of the bodice, creating a raglan line that can extend into a shaped stand-up neckline in-one with the bodice. Similarly, a two-piece jacket-sleeve cut has many more shaping options than a sleeve with only one seam. A basic straight skirt can be slashed and opened at the hem to create an A-line, flared, or full-circle skirt. If volume or length is added to only one side of the pattern, the result will be asymmetrical shape. Necklines, armholes, hemlines, and princess seams (vertical seams dividing a garment into usually fitted panels) all are vulnerable to the designer’s vision and are able to take on the specific cut-out shapes desired. Alexander McQueen, Francisco Costa, Byron Lars, and Thierry Mugler are some masters of shaped seaming exploration. Patch pockets, pocket flaps, collars, lapels, belts, yokes, and waistbands are other garment foundations that can be bent and twisted into any shape that can be imagined, while still retaining the use they were intended for. Prints, patterns, and textures are the more minute carriers of shapes, but when used this way, shape remains two-dimensional.
The basic shift-dress pattern, anchored to the right shoulder, is slashed and opened down the left side seam, adding godets’ of fabric excess, which are then lifted and tacked (stitched with right sides together to expose 4 inches [10.2 cm] of seam allowance falling outside). All in richly colored silk, the basic shift’s shape is retained but with all of that added weight. The shoulder seam also joins in the flow.
A straight, raglan-sleeved column dress has a busy geometric print (micro-shapes arranged in horizontal rows) that takes center stage. Its shape is punctuated by a wide, contrast-pleated neckline ruffle and floor-length, circular flared sleeve ruffles with square hems.
Shaped edges are explored using solid colors for clarity, whether in soft silk or firm gilded woven fabric. Asymmetry through overlap is part of the theme.
The clean-cornered collar and shoulders and shirt-sleeve cuffs in this shirt-dress pull maximum drama by contrasting with rounded shirttails elegantly, softening the A-line silhouette.
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