After several years of interning for fashion designers, working in costume departments, and training at Central Saint Martins College, Anna decided it was time to start her own fashion label. She now creates made-to-measure womenswear from scratch in her London studio, which she sells through her Etsy shop, annapopovich.
Today she shares the story behind the dress. That is to say, her personal process of designing and making that goes into each and every one of her creations.
Inspiration can come from anywhere — I often find abstract things a good place to start. My S/S collection began with an article in Fashion Theory called “Showing and Hiding,” examining garments which cover the body while drawing attention to particular areas (such as, ahem, the codpiece…). Taking this idea of covering in order to reveal, I looked at intricate drawings of human muscle structure and used the patterns I found in them to re-cover the body. The most literal example is my Marlon bodice, closely based on the muscle structure of the male torso.
[Anna's muscle structure research, left, which inspired her Marlon Bodice, right.]
Next, I collect images — postcards, newspaper cuttings, photocopies, and my own scribbles. I like to put them on the wall in my studio, shuffle them around and start to pick out common threads as well as juxtapositions which I think will translate well. From these ideas I’ll draw hundreds of garment designs which I then edit down. As I’m doing this, I’m also thinking about colours and will be collecting fabric and trimming samples.
Before getting too set on how a dress is going to look, I’ll start draping fabric on a mannequin to help me think in 3D. You can have some wonderful accidents while just playing around with a length of fabric and a handful of pins. I’ll take photos at every stage and add them to the research pile. Through sketching, draping and collage, I gradually refine my ideas into the finished drawings of the collection. Then I’m ready to start pattern making.
[Early stages of draping Marilyn Dress on the mannequin.]
The next bit makes my head hurt, but is so satisfying to get right. There are two main methods for making patterns, and most of my pieces will be a mixture of the two. The first involves manipulating basic bodice, skirt and sleeve “blocks” (2D card templates) to add volume, details and place seam lines. The other method is draping cheap fabric such as calico or muslin onto a mannequin and then cutting, pleating, draping and tucking until you create the form you want. After that, you mark the fabric and then trace its shape and your markings onto paper.
From the pattern, I create a toile (mock-up) of the garment in calico or muslin, which resembles as close an approximation to the final design as possible. I make toiles to my measurements so I can try them on to check the fit, how they hang, how they react to movement and whether I still like them. This is an exciting stage – being able to see the progression from my sketch to something which can be worn. Often I’ll return to the pattern to make changes and alter or remake the toile. If something still isn’t right, I might change the design or even abandon it altogether.
Once I’m satisfied with the patterns, they are pinned to the final fabric and cut. The garment pieces are notched and marked with thread so I know the placement of darts and pleats. For a dress like Marilyn, the sheer number of pleats mean that this can take a good couple of hours, after which it’s ready to sew. I do most of the sewing with my machine, but many of my designs have draping which I arrange and stitch by hand. This is my favorite bit, as it really feels as though I’m sculpting the fabric.
[The finished Marilyn Dress]
When the the collection is finished, I pester a photographer friend (Alice Turner, a.k.a. afternoonoutings) to arrange a shoot. I pose, she clicks and we hope it doesn’t rain.
When a customer orders a piece from me, we discuss design adjustments they might want and their choice of fabric. I re-cut the pattern to their measurements to ensure a perfect fit then finally, very carefully, I’ll cut, sew and drape their dress.
Clearly it’s a long process. I don’t know about sweat, but there are usually some tears (though strictly not on the dresses) and more than a few pricked fingers. However, I wouldn’t change a thing about my work. Though I get very attached to the dresses I make, each individual piece is created with the buyer’s input, so there’s always the comfort of knowing they’re going to an appreciative home.
[Lawrence Dress design process]
Many thanks to Anna for giving us such a fascinating insight into her process! Check out some of her amazing designs in the Seller’s Items below. You can also follow Anna on Twitter.