There is a lot more to fashion design than meets the eye. It is an art form, and like all others, it begins and ends with creativity.
Tracy Jennings, chair of the blossoming apparel design and merchandising department at Dominican University, recently published a textbook highlighting that very concept.
Creativity in Fashion Design: An Inspiration Workbook marries the realms of creativity and fashion. While the relationship between the two may seem self-evident, Jennings said it’s not always so.
“In my doctoral studies, my whole dissertation was on creativity,” she said. “Although it’s pretty obvious that you need creativity in fashion design, in a lot of textbooks, it’s not really explicit.” Instead, Jennings often noticed the creative dimension was mentioned almost in passing, in a paragraph or two.
“I thought the two of those things need to come together,” she said. “And I decided to put a whole book together on making the most of your creative potential.”
The book was released in January, and while its popularity among design educators likely won’t be seen until the fall semester, Jennings said the concepts are already being applied at Dominican.
“We’re using it in our design class,” Jennings said. “I’m not using the whole book, word for word … but I’m using several of the projects.”
As it happens, some of those projects might be recognizable to Dominican students.
“All through the book, I needed examples of what I was talking about,” said Jennings. In some cases, she looked to her students for those examples. “I have a picture of one of the design students showing her design, and in the background are all the other designs,” she said, referring to a student critique session.
“In one chapter, there’s an entire case study,” she said. On that occasion, she was acting as an advisor to a student working on an independent study project. “She was combining art and fashion, and so I actually put her whole project in [the book],” said Jennings.
The department has grown in recent years, both in terms of professor reputation and student talent. “We’ve had a little higher profile the last couple of years,” she said. “We were able to get a couple more faculty members on board. We’re trying to do a little more outreach with community.” For instance, she’s leading a service learning project in which students offer custom-designed clothing at affordable prices to shoppers at a local consignment shop. There’s also the long-running annual spring fashion show, where students showcase their designs.
“That brings in a lot of people from the community,” said Jennings.
The program also recently launched one student into a prestigious design program downtown. “The Chicago Fashion Incubator is a nonprofit organization established to help young designers get their foot in the industry,” said Jennings. Each year they choose a handful of students considered to have a great deal of potential for enrollment in the program. A Dominican University design student will graduate from the year-long program this year. “[The program] is actually pretty competitive and they only take six people,” she said.
Jennings has long been interested in the field of fashion, dating back to her early days of college. As an undergraduate, she majored in fashion design and merchandising, and minored in art. She spent a summer at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and after graduating, entered the Chicago fashion industry as a pattern maker at a store called Caron, which has since closed. She eventually moved up to designer. But as the industry changed through the 1980s and ’90s, she found herself wanting more.
“I decided to move my career in a different direction, so I went back to school and that’s when I got my doctorate,” she said. “I decided to start teaching.”
The idea for the book came several years ago, and has taken a large amount of focus ever since. “It’s a long process,” Jennings said. With writing, proposals and reviews, it was a work in progress for more than two years. But she had her Dominican students and colleagues to fall back on when things got stressful. “People were so supportive of it. I can’t say writing was easy, but that just made it easier. The students, of course, were happy to help out and give me permission to use their work and their examples. And the administration here is very supportive too,” Jennings said.