Once upon a time, lets call it the 90's-ish, I trained as a costume designer for live performance (theater, dance, etc) and when I started my first label it was actually as a costume designer for the budding burlesque revival. So I've created more than my fair share of costumes and custom pieces, and I'd like to share some tips and what to expect, for those of you who are planning on getting something custom made.
It can be scary, because a custom made piece can be expensive, and time consuming and you can never be 100% sure exactly what you'll get. Its amazing to think that before fast fashion, and ready to wear, everything was custom made and it wasn't really that long ago, just a century or so!
So these are my top 4 tips for getting the perfect custom made garment.
Monet Petite Shot by David Woolley - In Custom bra and knickers by me!
Research! Its the most important thing, research what you want and where you are going to get it.
Knowing what you want is really important and Pinterest is great for that, find lots of images that are vaguely what you want and then refine it down to a couple that you could show your chosen designer. I dont recommend asking a designer to copy a specific piece, its just really unethical and not ok.
OR, the better way might be to find a designer that does the kind of work that you like and work on refining and developing their current designs into something that's perfect for you. In terms of getting what you want, I think this second method is the most likely to be successful, because you are looking at the work that designer has already produced so its very likely that they are going to produce similar styles, fit and quality for you. For this method I recommend etsy.com where there are a vast number of independent designers who are more than happy to create something for you.
This leads us to:
Sydney's Hooping Harlot wearing a full custom set by me!
Get recommendations and read reviews, sometimes a designer can have quite a bad reputation for a particular thing and most commonly that is not delivering on time. But don't take one bad review as a reason not to work with a designer, this can be a really tricky relationship, and while I've never received a bad review online (I obviously have no idea whats said between friends but I hope its good) I do understand how it can be difficult to match a customers expectations to whats actually possible. So if a review states that the work was late or the fabric colour wasn't as expected, then simply make sure the designer can work to your deadline (personally I love a deadline, its motivation to get it done) and perhaps ask if they will take an initial deposit and then the rest when the work is done. Or if your concerned about the fabric, ask to see fabric samples before construction starts.
A simpler customisation that just involved adding a hood and long sleeves to an existing design. Please forgive the lo-fi image!
Find the best way to communicate your ideas and expectations, images are great for this, also if you don't want to email, see if you can talk over the phone or via skipe. Reference the designers previous work and outline your ideas for modifications, and perhaps give examples of other things that you like. This is a delicate process and you have to be open and flexible in your approach. The designer will make suggestions that they think will produce the best results and its wise to heed those suggestions, chances are they know what they are doing. I also find that more often than not a loose brief and a whole lot of faith will get you the best results.
Pricing, make sure you know what your getting into. If you can get an idea from other work that the designer has done that's great but your piece might be more involved or labor intensive so you do need to have the cold hard cash conversation. Sorry.
Also, stay in touch, don't wait until the week before show day to ask how things are progressing, its always OK to ask for an update it will ease your mind and keep you in the loop.
One of my favourite images, this New York Bride in her white swiss dot bodysuit, made by me!
There is nothing more disappointing than a poor fit, and if you cant have a fitting at least make sure that you give your designer the correct measurements - brides I'm looking at you! If the fit and/or design is complicated a full measurement chart might be required. These generally have a diagram with all the measurements marked on the body and its really important that you get someone else to help you, because you can't do it yourself. Also don't guess about how much weight you are going to loose, give your current measurements and let them know you anticipate loosing weight. Its can be easy to take something in, but its not easy to make something bigger.
So I hope all of that helps, because this whole process can be so much fun, and having something that is completely unique to you is so very special. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask and I hope I can help.
If your a designer, I hope this information was helpful with your process, happy to help any way I can. The more people who turn to individual designers the less we rely on fast fashion, and that pleases me greatly. :)
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