Friday, July 31, 2009


So recently I was thinking about importance of details in both fiction and clothing design. I guess it could be said about just any art, but these two have been on my mind lately.

Just reading work by the beginning writers, one notices that very frequently there's lack of texture -- that is, the details that would make story alive and interesting are not there. There are houses instead of, say, three story brownstones, and the protagonists get into cars instead of beat up hutchbacks with busted shocks. Everything is so vague and generic that there's nothing for the reader's mind to catch onto, words and sentence slide in and out meaningless, impressionless. Details not only give the fiction the sense of veracity, but also texture -- that variation between the piercing and soft, rough and smooth -- that makes any story worth reading.

Now, texture of course is very important in clothing. Textile arts, for example are pretty much entirely dedicated to texture and patterns, as can be seen here:

This is a shawl made by Vilte, a Lithuanian fiber artist who employs a unique felting technique to create this incredible detailed landscapes, using only one color. This is what texture does. And in fiction, one has to create texture with words -- that is, by definition, a very uniform medium. So the variation in texture -- syntax, sentence length, etc. is necessary to make the work interesting.

And I know I've been talking a lot about designer wear, and what makes it different. Attention to detail is what sets apart really special items of clothing, and designers who become famous do just that. For example, take this simple woolen shirt by Catherine Malandrino:

What makes it truly amazing is the sleeve detail, enlarged here:

The ruching there is just exquisite, and it's a small detail that makes this piece so different from everything else. Lesson for a fiction writer: a single embellishment may have a great impact.

Same idea here, on this Olga Kapustina's skirt: very simple silhouette, but notice the stitching on the waist:

Now look at this coat by Alexander Wang:

It's a woolen peacoat that drapes absolutely beautifully. The appeal here is in unexpected combination of a traditionally coat-like silhouette with a more sweater fabric. This little jolt of unexpected elevates both items of clothing and short stories above the average. A beautiful shape is a must. (

Embellishments in both fiction and design can get excessive, and in both cases the lavish decorations might work. For example, a blouse by Anna Sui:

Lots of lace and pleating and a bow. It works because the details, even though abundant, are not slapped on randomly but rather are very intentional:

Notice the curving edge of the lace, and how accurately it is fitted. (BTW, this blouse is being sold on ebay as we speak. Just saying.)

On the opposite end, something very spare can be very beautiful -- your simple prose equivalent:

This dress by Ports 1961 is very simply and cleanly cut, but also it has this cowl on the back:


Now, this is important for writers too: not all the work you've put into something should be out there, slapping the reader in the face. Some things will be subtle, visible only from certain angles, and yet it is those underpinnings, this almost-hidden craftsmanship that makes the whole hang together.

And some details remain hidden entirely, only to be discovered once one gets very close to a particular item. In fiction, we call them Easter eggs -- little unexpected surprises, inside jokes for those who are paying attention. You can get the same in clothing -- Betsey Johnson's work is a great example of little hidden images. This is what's on the lining of one of her raincoats:

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